Ask Swim Mom: Should My Child Specialize?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

My 10-year-old daughter is fast at freestyle and likes to swim it at meets. The coach keeps entering her in different events even though she doesn’t like to swim them. I want her to enjoy swimming but she dreads the butterfly and especially breaststroke. She gets stressed out before those events. Do you have any advice on if we should talk to the coach about this and ask him to not enter her in those events?

—Freestyle Mom


Dear Freestyle Mom,

We went through the same thing with our daughter who was better at freestyle than her other strokes at age 10. When she reached a plateau in freestyle later on, she saw improvement in her off strokes which helped keep her excited about swimming. At age 10, there is so much to learn and improve on.

Most coaches will want 10-year-old swimmers learning and developing all their strokes. You never know what her best stroke will be years from now. If she focuses on freestyle at age 10, she’s limiting her swimming future.

I know it’s too early for your swimmer to think about college, but keep in mind that college coaches like swimmers who can swim several events. A distance freestyler who can swim the 200 fly and 400 IM will find more interest from college coaches than a freestyle specialist.

It sounds like your daughter is competitive and may not like getting beat in her off strokes. As she grows and improves her technique, she’ll get stronger and faster. She may find she loves breaststroke after all. After she swims an off event, compliment her for effort and don’t focus on her results.

Maybe her coach can explain why he wants her to swim all four strokes and improve her technique. It’s a conversation better coming from the coach than parents.

What would you tell Freestyle Mom about her daughter being entered in races she’s not happy to swim?

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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Northern SwimParent

Our son was weakest in the breast stroke. He now does the breast in the medley relay for the team. He is now 13. We have always focused on his weakest stroke, whether in practice or at meets.

We see a lot of kids only swimming their strongest strokes at meets and we do not think that is the right approach, except, perhaps at championship meets.

Especially at 10, that is so young. Get her to focus on one of her off strokes at practices if she is able. Then cycle through them as she improves. We found that really improved our son’s strokes.

As well, is she getting proper coaching in her strokes?


When I saw the title, I thought this was asking “should my 10-yr-old child specialize IN SWIMMING” – oops.


As a former coach I strongly advocate for an IM based training program with a solid aerobic base emphasis. Utilization and specialization can wait for later teens and college level. Young kids should be able to swim all 4 strokes and have some kind of aerobic base as a platform to build their careers on.

cynthia curran

Good point. As a kid I was a breaststroker but got better in the fly and free with age. I was a weak backstroker. I think if I continue more Im training after 14 years old, the back would not have been so bad.