Ask Swim Mom: I Want My 12-Year Old in the Senior Group

by SwimSwam Contributors 21

January 31st, 2020 Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

What do you do if your daughter is the fastest in the pre-senior group? She just turned 12 and on our club you can’t be in the senior group until you’re 13. She’s already the fastest and I don’t want to be ‘that mom’ that forces the coaches to move her up, but I still want her to improve.

—Wanting What’s Best


Dear Wanting What’s Best,

I think talking this over with the coaches would be a good option for you. They will be able to explain why they have an age requirement for their senior group. This is a question I have received more than once and there’s lots of great advice from readers in how to handle this including having your child talk to the coach directly. Does your daughter want to move up? If so, let her talk to her coach, which she’ll need to do when she’s in high school and college. This will be a great learning experience for her rather than having mom jump in.

There are many factors to think about when moving into a senior group—besides how fast your child swims—including if you want her training with 16 to 18 years olds and the conversations she’ll be exposed to. Also, will your daughter miss her friends her own age that she swims with now?

Coaches weigh many things like technique, attendance at practice and meets, attitude, age and maturity level. I’ve seen several parents approach coaches and ask for their child to be moved up before they were ready. It rarely turns out well for the child, coach or parent. We want our kids to love swimming and stick with it for the long term and not become part of the statistic where 70 percent of kids quit sports by age 13. For 12 and unders, the focus should still be on having fun and improving skills. The senior group may be less enjoyable with more focus on performance and heavier workloads.

Good luck!

What advice do you have for “Wanting What’s Best” about asking the coach to move up her 12-year-old into the senior group?

If you have a question for Ask Swim Mom, please email Elizabeth Wickham at [email protected]

Elizabeth 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.

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1 year ago

Why assume she won’t improve if she stays in that group for another year? Leading lanes and becoming more of a leader versus staring a feet, there is more to “improvement” than just faster times alone.

Reply to  Erik
1 year ago

I think it depends on the relative quality of the coaches. A 12 year old is going to improve under any coach. But learning how to train at a high level is process that takes years. Why not put her development in the hands of a more competent and experienced coach. If the senior coach isn’t much more experienced than her current coach, or it’s a big club with a really professional junior coach then I agree it won’t make much difference.

Reply to  CACrushers
1 year ago

I find it interesting that we’ve developed a model in this country where in swimming, “the more competent and experienced coach” is presumed to be coaching the older swimmers. If we bang away so hard at “technique is so important for young swimmers!!” why do we view 12 & under coaches as just transients not worthy of the same respect of the high school coaches?

I know that Nitro, which EXPLODED in an already crowded Austin swimming scene, said very early that they didn’t agree with this model. They put their experienced coaches and owners at the age group levels, because they believe that the age groups are the life blood of a program. That made a lot of sense… Read more »

Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

THANK YOU BRADEN! As a swim coach with 20 years under my belt who is now also a parent, this needs to be pointed out more.
I love my 12 & Unders, and I have worked very hard honing my craft. I am often asked why I haven’t moved up to coaching the senior group. My response is always the same: I love teaching technique and I absolutely love the little ones. There is something to be said for those of us that love building the sport and want to stay right where we are.

Reply to  Erik
1 year ago

I disagree. I was faced with a similar scenario on my old swim team. Senior groups tend to have faster intervals, and more room to push yourself and grow. When in the senior group, you can find older, faster people to race and use as motivation. There are more role models. I even switched swim teams because I was 13 an leading a lane in the senior group.

1 year ago

A couple of things to consider:
1. The conversations in the Senior Groups are far, far different than the conversations among the kids in the 12-under group. Nuff said there

2. Burn Out: While we all want our child to maximize their potential, our kids at 12 years old still have another 9-10 years of 6 day a week daily swim workouts with a ton of doubles also thrown in the mix.

3. It gives your child a perfect, early opportunity to be a leader and make those around him/her better. Not saying they have to act as their group “captain”; but by encouraging your child to encourage others he/she can really help improve the group dynamic as… Read more »

Reply to  Swimparent
1 year ago

Completely agree with your points. The meets that the Senior group attends may be different than the meets in the 12-under group, so travel becomes an issue. Burn out is huge, and if she moves into the senior group, she may not get any attention from the Senior coach. How do you define “faster”? Is it every single stroke and distance every time she gets wet? There are so many things for the swimmers to work on and improve. They may get more attention and stroke improvement in the younger group.

Reply to  Swimparent
1 year ago

Totally agree with everything said here. I would also add that your swimmer seems to be doing very well, why not continue to do very well while learning how to be fastest, a champion and most importantly a leader in her current group.

Reply to  Swimparent
1 year ago

Really well said, Swimparent gets it!

1 year ago

I have been swimming somewhat competitively for nearly 55 years. I think back on it and the reason is that I was very fortunate to have coaches who stressed impoving over everything. I still feel that way now. Each year I try to do an event better than the year before.

1 year ago

The social maturity was the most important part highlighted. You do not need a 12 year old hearing and participating in the conversions of 17 year old girls and boys.

She doesn’t want her kid to be in the senior group, she just wants her peers in the current group to be faster.

Amanda Beard was doing competitions on a senior level, but didn’t start training with Dave Salo until she aged into that group.

VA Steve
1 year ago

A little logic here. The fact that your 12 year old is doing well is no doubt due to her talent and the coaching received thus far. If things are going so well, why rush it? Lots of people want the next group while the current group is one that seems to be working well? But, other commenters are right–talk to the coach! There is plenty of time. Good luck.

Reply to  VA Steve
1 year ago

Agree completely! An awesome coach my kids had when younger used to say, “Leave some things for later.” Otherwise it can lead to burnout.

1 year ago

There is no reason for anyone under 13 to be practicing with a senior group unless they have Olympic Trial cuts (and even then it’s a maybe). Every year you have to do more and more to get better, especially once you stop growing. When you put a kid in the highest group at 12, that’s leaves at least 5 years of the same training before college. They might improve significantly that first year, but they are likely going to plateau in their 3rd or 4th year of the same training. It will become harder and harder to add things in to keep getting better. Why not save that big bump in improvement for later? College coaches tend to want… Read more »

1 year ago

My daughter was also the fastest for her training group. My daughter moved up to the senior group and it has been a struggle because socially she cannot relate to the seniors. She is actually debating on quitting swimming because she doesn’t fit in and doesn’t enjoy practice anymore. Success isn’t always based on speed, as we are realizing, it also depends on how happy they are with the group they practice with everyday and sometimes twice a day. Just my experience and what we are dealing with right now. It is having a mental impact which is now affecting her physically. One other aspect is the jealousy of the older swimmers with having a younger faster swimmer in the… Read more »

1 year ago

Any coach that has renewed their AMERICAN Red Cross Coaches Safety certification would realize this is covered… 99.9% of 12 year olds are not mature enough for senior level training. Even if they physically might be able to handle it they are rarely ready emotionally or mentally.