It happens every four years following the Olympics-an athlete or group of athletes will have such an outstanding run at the games that millions of kids want to go for the gold themselves. Last autumn, local swimming programs were inundated with new “Be Like Mike” wannabes who wanted to glide through the water like Phelps. Chances are your child was one of them.
Swimming lessons, however, can only take an athlete so far. How do you know if your child is ready for competitive swimming, and furthermore, how do you select a team that will benefit your budding athlete? Along with your swimming team make sure that you get the very best one piece swimwear online that would help you and your team by giving you an edge in the competition.
The lure of winning championship medals is what draws parents and children alike to the sport of competitive swimming. Joining a swim team entails much more than that. For one, swimmers endure hours of practice before even participating in a competitive meet. Secondly, the swim team offers a sense of camaraderie and personal achievement as well as the opportunity to hone a set of athletic skills that will remain throughout a lifetime.
Summer is a good time to try out the swim team experience as, for one, school is not in session, thus putting less pressure on budding athletes trying to determine whether the sport fits them. However, it’s also a good time to try swimming with a team because of the variety of programs that abound during warmer months.
“In summer you can find some very good developmental programs for year-round teams,” said Pat Hogan, director of club development for USA Swimming. “It’s a fertile recruiting ground.”
During the summer, many local park districts sponsor limited-time programs that run at outdoor pools. These are generally less competitive than year-round clubs, but the sight of dozens of swimmers performing laps up and down lanes of a pool can be daunting for a novice. Don’t worry. A thorough program, even at a more informal level will have a number of levels, allowing beginning competitive swimmers to ease into skills to be successful in practice.
Before your child jumps in, however, make sure he or she has the required skills. Each program has different requirements, but it’s a safe bet that your child should be able to swim the basic freestyle stroke comfortably 25 yards down the length of the pool.
“We like them (beginners) to swim the length of the pool in freestyle and backstroke and have the ability to develop a legitimate breaststroke and butterfly,” said Mark Townsend, head coach of the Naperville, IL Mavericks Swim Team.
For the uninitiated, the four basic swim strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Although freestyle is generally the go-to stroke for swimmers, parents should find a program that works on all four competitive strokes, even if your child shows an unusual aptitude for one or two.
“The reason why you want to have a program that teaches all strokes equally is that you don’t want to have a program where they are any false barriers to success,” said Hogan. “The swimmer who is a good freestyler at nine may have a good backstroke at 11, and a good butterfly at 13.”
Growth spurts are a time when swimmers tend to become better in certain strokes. Generally, Hogan noted, swimmers will become better in long-axis strokes-freestyle and backstroke-or short-axis strokes-breaststroke and butterfly. Instruction in all four is important because one does not know how a body will develop as it grows.
Time commitment is another consideration. Proximity is often a deciding factor for beginning team swimmers, but flexibility should be another consideration. Many teams will specify days for practice, i.e., Monday-Wednesday-Friday, or Tuesday-Thursday for beginners. Check, however, to see if your prospective team has coaches available for your level on every practice day. The idea is to allow your child to be able to get proper instruction for your time availability.
Beginning team swimmers should expect a time commitment of 45 to 60 minutes per session, two to three times per week to build stamina as well as refine strokes. Time commitments increase with the age of the swimmer as well as the ability level. Don’t be intimidated, either by the eight-year-old who can swim every stroke well and has outstanding competitive times. Your child will improve with consistent practice. Good clubs have levels that are appropriate for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced swimmers. The same goes for placing beginners in events at meets. When first starting out, competitive swimmers should be placed in shorter events, i.e. 25 or 50 yards, depending on age with swimmers of similar ability level before progressing onto more difficult ones.
The team’s philosophy is important, too. Although you want to see the progression over the various competitive levels, you don’t want a program that emphasizes too much too soon.
“Look at the goals and philosophy of the team to see how well their developmental program moves swimmers from one level to the next, “Hogan said. “For swimmers 12 and under the idea is to introduce them to the sport. The team should structure activities in such a way that younger swimmers can do other activities.”
Teaching stroke mechanics is also important to the core of the program, as is patience in a coaching staff. Children often don’t understand what they’re being taught the first time around. Emphasis on good technique is crucial. Other things to look for are a stable coaching staff and whether the club participates in USA Swimming’s Club Recognition or Club Excellence programs.
Swim team members compete in individual and team events. Individual events consist of swimming a specified stroke or a medley of all four competitive strokes while team events are relay races. The latter are generally freestyle relays, where everyone swims the basic stroke, as well as medley relays where each swimmer swims one of the strokes. Let your team’s coaches decide when your child is ready to enter a competitive event. You are not doing your child any favors by pushing them into an event when their stroke mechanics lag behind others on their level. While some children shrug off a sub-par competitive performance, others start losing interest when they are constantly trailing the field.