3 Tips to Help Swim Parents Deal with the Dreaded Plateau

by SwimSwam 30

December 30th, 2017 Club, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

The ever-dreaded plateau. It’s almost as bad as the “shank” in golf. I shanked every iron shot for months. I felt frightened every time I stood over the ball.

The plateau for a swimmer also can be a scary time. No matter what your swimmer does, he or she doesn’t drop time. One of my swimmers was stuck at 1:00 on her 100 free for what seemed to be a lifetime. In reality, she was 13 and it lasted for more than a year.

Coaches and parents of older swimmers told me it’s normal. Plateaus can happen to anyone — 13-14 year olds, high school swimmers or college students. If swimmers stay in the pool, they will break through it. But, it can be very discouraging and some give up.

As a parent, here are three tips to help your swimmer make it through a plateau:


Don’t freak out. Your anxiety will be felt by your swimmer. You need to trust the process and your athlete’s coach.


Reassure your swimmer that his or her coach has gotten many swimmers through plateaus. It’s not our job to coach our kid through a plateau. It’s our job to encourage and reassure.


Keep the swimming atmosphere fun. Have teammates over to hang out, like a Saturday after-practice breakfast. Team fun and bonding will help swimmers through tough plateaus.

Here’s what our coaches did: they had swimmers compete in off events at meets. Swimmers may see success and get best times in events they rarely swim. Also, they worked on specific things in practice like underwaters or breakouts. When swimmers focus on improving technique, their times will eventually get faster.

Swimming is a process. Trust in it.

I’ll never forget watching my daughter break 1:00 for her first time at the Belmont Pool in Southern California. She swam a 57. Her coach asked, “What happened to 58 and 59?” She said, “They are highly over-rated.”

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.

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Thank you! We are going through that process right now with my 12 year old. She’s mostly gaining in some of her best times. Will always keep these in mind.


Remember that your daughter has not hit full maturity biologically. She will improve again! And girls develop so much differently than boys! It’s a real struggle when girls start comparing themselves to others! Just keep her positive, focused on her own improvement (small and large in the pool and in any land training done) and hopefully her coach is mixing things up in practice and in land training to help her improve in her weaker areas!


What if she is 13 and HAS hit full biological maturity? My daughter has bone age of 15 y.


Serious question! What if your child swims in a new program, with a new coach who was not a competitive swimmer? Is there something wrong with them watching videos, say of the Race Club, and the parent working with them? If the swimmer asks for it? In any other sport, this would be fine, and even encouraged! I really want thoughts.

Elizabeth Wickham

I think watching videos is a great idea. My daughter watched Lindsay Benko’s Swim Fast freestyle video over and over when she was younger. In the video, Lindsay talks about her plateau all through high school. It’s available on YouTube through USA Swimming.


Hi! I was trying to find a video and could not… watched Swim fast freestyle with Lindsay but there is nothing about her plateau. Could you share a link, please? Thanks!


Be careful – what message are you sending your child? Why did you take your child to that program? The message you seem to be sending is that you don’t trust the experience of the coach. Which can undermine the entire process of a coach trying to help your swimmer. Be sure to communicate with the coach. And only watch videos if it comes from your swimmer. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with watching videos at home, but you chose this program for some reason. If you don’t feel confident in the coach, you should find a program where you do. Kids can hit plateaus because they are trying to please everyone and they get muddled up. Be… Read more »

Elizabeth Wickham

So true. The Lindsay Benko video was my daughter’s idea and the coach loved it. Also, the question above asked about a parent working with a kid. I say no to that one. Again, communicate with the coach.


My daughter did the same thing with her 50 free and 100 free… when she broke 100 free, she skipped 59 & 58. But her coach kept telling her that’s what is going to happen. Now that she’s 14, she’s going thru another plateau. Breaks my heart watching her going thru it but I learned to leace her alone and hope she gained some wisdom to overcome it this time.

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