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Pre-Teen Swim Training: How Much is Too Much?

01/27/2016, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin Cech

“I’m just not in love with it any more.”

This is a phrase dreaded by the parent of every athlete. Once the love for the sport is diminished, the will to stick with it follows shortly thereafter. Sure, we all want our children to learn lessons from sports like swimming so they’ll have tangible life skills to take with them into adolescence, but sports are meant to be enjoyed, and too often the regimes implemented for young athletes can have the opposite of their intended effects. 

A quick search for what young swimmers need to succeed proves that people are talking about the negative aspects of swim training more than the positive aspects. Here I thought I’d be researching content about training schedules, nutrition and goal-setting, but I’m left with a list of worried parents and coaches as swimming’s hectic training nature drives more and more young people from the sport. 

Look, this is just a mild-mannered community-oriented blog trying to celebrate the love of sport, whether it’s on dry land or underwater, thus it’s frustrating to learn that this iconic sport is struggling with balance. 

With that, here’s a modest list of what swimmers under the age of 12 need to enjoy success in the water. 

Rest & Recovery Time

Most young swimmers are still involved with other sports and activities, which os a good thing. Even Wayne Gretzky believes children should play multiple sports. 

What that means for swimmers is that they’re going to be incredibly busy come the typical summer swim training season. After hours spent perfecting butterfly strokes, many kids towel off and head straight to the field. 

What are the consequences?

  • Diminished physical capabilities
  • Lack of required focus and concentration
  • Strain on family and school time 

A balance must be struck. Sure, practicing specific strokes for hours every day might be beneficial. 

If you’re a robot. 

Human beings don’t work that way. Rest and recovery is at least as important as time spent in the water. 

Related: 3 reasons to give young swimmers a rest

A Friendly Nudge

Alright, let’s give voice to the counterargument. 

How many ten year-olds do you know who are self aware to the point they understand precisely what they need, when they need it? Heck, adults are guilty of giving in to fatigue too, and we’re supposed to be the examples!

Sometimes our athletes need encouragement to get kickstarted, not to mention a ride to the pool! More often than not a tired pre-teen will forget their stress once they’re submerged in a quiet, watery escape from reality. 

Most coaches believe that elite swimmers need to start quite young, so letting a busy schedule win too often could put future potential in jeopardy if it burns the athlete out. This is Rick Madge, a swim coach/swim blogger:

“On the one hand, we have hard and very visible evidence that elite swimmers started very early. Michael Phelps is a perfect example. He started swimming at age 7, and was world champion and world record holder at 15.”

For Rick, it’s important to continuously walk the line between dedication and reprieve. 

How much is too much? It’s probably a question without an answer, but the search for clarification is what truly counts anyways. 

photo credit: Easy Does It, 1954 via photopin (license)

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