Ask Swim Mom: Should My Child Swim Doubles?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

I am hoping to get advice on when it’s the right time to have my child start morning practice. My daughter is 12 years old and I notice that some of her friends on another team have morning practices twice a week. I talked to our coach about it and wanted to know when we were going to start morning practice, too. He said not for another year or two. I’m wondering if my daughter will be able to keep up if she isn’t swimming as many practices a week as her friends.

Do you have any suggestions on whether I should ask the coach again if she could start morning practice? Should I explain that her friends are already doing this?


Early Bird Mom


Dear Early Bird Mom,

I would follow your coach’s lead and let your daughter enjoy her sleep. There is plenty of time for her to begin morning practices as she gets older. The early mornings can be hard and it’s more important for your daughter to enjoy swimming and not burn out. There’s a study by the National Alliance for Youth Sports that says 70 percent of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13. The number one reason why they quit is “it’s just not fun anymore.” You don’t want your child to be in that group.

It sounds like you may want to talk with your coach more about his thoughts on morning practice. It might help you to better understand his reasons for waiting until the kids are older. Also, don’t worry about how your child is performing compared to her friends. At ages 13 through 17, things can change rapidly due to growth, strength, passion and dedication.

As kids get older into their teens, their workouts will intensify. You don’t want to start that too soon. The result can be burnout, injury, fatigue and not having fun. Sleep is so important for the development of our kids. According to a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called School Start Times for Adolescents, they recommend that the optimal amount of sleep is 8.5 to 9.5 hours for middle school and high school students. They say that chronic sleep loss affects physical and mental health, safety, academic performance and quality of life. In California, the governor signed into law legislation that mandates the start times will be pushed back to no earlier than 8 a.m. for middle schools and 8:30 a.m. for high schools to help with the lack of sleep our kids experience.

Different coaches and teams have their own beliefs on morning practice. Some teams and coaches don’t have morning practices at all. The important thing is to keep our kids excited about going to practice and to enjoy each step along the way.

What advice do you have for Early Bird Mom about swimming doubles?

If you have a question for Elizabeth Wickham, please email her at [email protected] and your question may appear in a future story.

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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There will be plenty of time later for young swimmers to do plenty of more swimming . . .

Northern SwimParent

16 year old female swimmers are at the olympics. What are your swimmer’s goals?

cynthia curran

Good point. Doubles are ok for at least 14 year olds. Girls mature about 2 years earlier than boys.


And quite a few of them burn out by 22 ( Rūta Meilutytė, Missy Franklin, Katie Hoff). Wouldn’t you rather your swimmer become an Olympian at 20 or 24, and enjoy a long, happy career?

Brian M

16 year old females that have made the Olympics are not fast because of swimming doubles…they are unbelievably gifted athletes. We may have several female teenagers on the 2020 team, and almost all of the girls that can make it (potentially) are from lower volume/practice teams.


All of those are separate issues: practise philosophies, gifted or not and burn out. Those items are for the swimmer, his/her parents and the coach.

The issue here is that a female who is 12 is maybe eyeing the Olympics in 4 years and perhaps should be training with that in mind. There is no across-the-board answer that should apply to all athletes.


The parent makes no mention of eyeing the Olympics in her letter. She is just trying to keep up with her friends on the team “across town” that is doing doubles. Considering only a handful of 16 year olds are ever in contention to make the team at Olympic Trials every four years, I doubt this swimmer is/will be one of them.


I’d advise you not to swim doubles

Brian M

I can only assume that you are the parent of a gifted young athlete, and are not asking a rhetorical question. As someone who has been around swimming for a long time let me give you a little unsolicited advice. In the past 23 years, around 9 females have made the Olympic Team aged 16 or younger. This is heavily skewed towards the ’96 team that had 6. Every subsequent team had a maximum of two except the ’16 team that had zero. Almost to a person, every lady that made the team at or under the age of 16 had already set multiple NAG records in LCM by the age of 12 (and in most cases the younger age… Read more »


So you’re telling us there’s a chance

Brian M

Morning workouts and “doubles” are going the way of the dinosaur. Many elite programs have either eliminated them completely, or have 1-2 morning workouts a week max. No one below the age of 14 should be doing doubles period, and I would argue that they are not necessary for any athlete.

Wait What?

American male distance swimming lcm is going the way of the dinosaur too. Food for thought.


Definitely related. Want to be good at a distance? Do doubles.


Good thing the vast majority of events are sprint based. Us Americans will be fine

Brian M

You act like this is recent history. Think about this, the USA has not won the gold medal in the 1500M freestyle at a non boycotted Olympics since 1976. That is also consequently the last year that an American held the world record. By my math, that is 43 years ago. American distance swimming has declined because college swimming doesn’t give a rip about distance swimming. If all of a sudden Division 1 swimming put a huge recruiting emphasis on the mile, you would see things turn around real quick. Here is some other food for thought. Katie Ledecky didn’t start doing doubles until age 15, and even then it was only 2-3 mornings per week.

cynthia curran

Bashashoff started doubles at 14 years old. It didn’t bother her. It depends upon the swimmer, but 12 is too young for most swimmers,


I think 14-15 is normal, I started at 14 2 days a week, but yeah 12 is too early. I think there are plenty of parents though who would put the right time to start swimming doubles right at “when you get your driver’s license so you can get your butt there at 4:30 on your own”


I’ve heard this a few times this past year though in 2018 when the US had three men in the top 8 in the world in the 1500, I was hearing exactly the opposite. So I’m curious about the basis for this comment.


I find this line of thought a little tired… #1, you talk about male distance swimming, U.S. female distance swimming has had no similar decline and I don’t think U.S. coaches take any different approach. It’s just random. It’s true that Americans have been relatively weaker over distance, than in sprints, for a couple of decades. The incentives of the NCAA system seem like the main answer. All that said, it looks to me like there is actually a bit of a resurgence in the men’s distance events. Lots of talent in the older teens, and a few really promising milers.


I read an article (or maybe a comment) awhile ago that was talking about the decline in men’s distance swimming as a result of kids wanting to emulate the “best.” Which often translates to the swimmers that are head and shoulders (literally and figuratively) above the rest. In freestyle, the best for men in the late 80s/early 90s were sprinters (Biondi, Jager) and for women it was Evans. So a generation of boys want to emulate a sprinter and a generation of girls want to emulate Evans. Both areas have success, so that cycle continues. When the US can get some male distance swimmers into contention, they’re not winning gold’s, so in a sport that has an apex of Olympic… Read more »

Lots of mornings

What about programs that make a swimmer do multiple morning practices in a row at a young age.


Are you saying lots of DOUBLES or lots or mornings? Some kids choose a morning schedule to keep afternoons free. It works well for some.

“Some kids choose” I don’t know of many kids who choose their own practice schedules.

Wait What?

There are programs that offer parallel practice programs morning or afternoon. Families, I assume with input from swimmers, can pick one or the other. Morning is just as popular.

Like I said, I don’t know of any swimmers who pick their practice schedules.

Maybe their parents pick their practice schedules.

And I especially don’t know of any swimmers who, if they could, would choose morning practice.

I’m sure there are 5 or 10 out there. I just don’t know of any.


One of the programs in my area offers this option to the high school kids who aren’t at the senior level. Many choose just mornings. Having afternoons free gives them the opportunity to do another sport, participate in clubs at school, and get homework done. I did doubles all of high school and missed out on many school functions because I was at the pool from 4:30-7:30 every night.


Well, I do. As a swimmer in her late teens, I also have a life outside of swimming. My parents, of course, provide advice, but I believe as us swimmers ascend in to our careers, we should start taking control of our swimming. I started when I was twelve. I do mostly morning practices. I have a travel choir and I still am an avid swimmer. So, I honestly would reccommend as they turn 13-14, to start to be responsible and accountable for scheduling events.


I agree Braden. But many parents are forcing good natured kids to swim every day at 9 10 or 11. We see it on our club all the time and it’s a club that swims Sundays too. The parents say the child chooses this schedule not realizing the child is doing that for his/her parent to love and be happy with them. The sport attracts a lot of kids who are very compliant and there are other heart breaking issues with that as well. On the flip side Many parents wish their children were obedient and wanted to swim everyday. I say every child has to have a touch of defiance in them (within reason obviously) to be successful. It’s… Read more »


Fair enough, Braden — but you’re being awfully literal. The club where my family swims offers before-school and after-school schedules for all age groups (even the 8-under group that only swims 2x a week. They swim 6:30-7:30am). Many *families* — presumably with input from child swimmers — choose the morning schedule for various reasons — in particular, afternoon conflicts with other activities.


best to talk with the coach understand what your club and swimmer’s squad training goals are. Do they have a goal of 100% attendence for morning and evening practices or are they trying to accomodate a lack of pool space? Do they structure the distances and sets on the assumption the swimmers are doing both sessions? How do they assign swimmers to a squad or a training lane?