Dear Swim Mom,
For 12 and unders, most teams have a minimum practice requirement. It seems that some of the swimmers AND parents could benefit from a suggested maximum as well. If too few is no good, I would think too many could be a negative as well. What is too much? 5, 6, 7 days a week? Doubles? Private lessons? I understand the idea of hard work, but at such a young age, it seems to only provide more pressure. Maybe a suggested maximum might help kids avoid burnout and give parents a better guide of what is necessary for the younger kids?
—Practical About Practice
Dear Practical About Practice,
You bring up a great point. We may think more is better in terms of hard work and attending practices, but there’s a point where it may become detrimental rather than helpful. If you have a decent coach, they will have guidelines on how many practices children should attend based on their age and maturity. Some parents may want their kids to attend more practices than are necessary, but instead should rely on the coach’s judgment. Coaches are interested in having kids stick with swimming and not burn out. One of our coaches said, “I’m interested in developing the fastest 17-year-old, not the fastest 10-year-old.”
No two kids are the same and there can be big size and maturity differences between children the same age. Some coaches may have strict age group requirements for number of practices and levels or instead may look at swimmers individually. I believe it’s about trusting your coach to make the right decisions for your children. If we don’t trust our coach, then we’re bound to have more issues to deal with later on.
When kids are younger, the focus should be on having fun with friends in a positive learning experience where they are developing new skills and technique. There’s a reason why 70 percent of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13. The number one reason is “it’s not fun anymore.”
Our kids had private lessons and it was a positive experience. Our coaches at the time didn’t focus on technique during practice. The coach who taught private lessons was very good at teaching technique and keeping it fun. Private lessons were motivating and fun. I think signing kids up for private lessons depends on whether or not kids are getting the skills they need at practice. If the lessons are adding pressure on the kids to perform, then it’s obviously a negative.
Our coaches have guidelines of how many days per week kids should practice according to their age. It wasn’t until age 13 that kids started doubles once or twice a week. If you have great coaches and you trust them, then follow their practice schedule. Parents who take their kids to extra practices or insist on moving them up to an older group aren’t helping their children.
What are your thoughts about having a maximum practice requirement?
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.