On Saturday, the USA Swimming House of Delegates will vote on a number of regulations, including a proposal to limit tech suits for 12 * under swimmers. Breandan Gibbons, a member of the USA Swimming Age Group Development Committee, which led a study into the matter and ultimately favored a ban of some sort, has made a last-minute appeal for voting members of the House of Delegates to vote in favor of the ban.
The regulation as written would outlaw technical suits except for meets in USA Swimming’s Championship Series (Sectionals, Futures, Jr Nationals, Pro Swim Series, US Open, Nationals, Olympic Trials) or YMCA Nationals.
The working definition would count suits as technical suits if they have:
- bonded or taped seams regardless of its fabric or silhouette, or
- any male or female suit with “woven fabric extending to the knee or mid-thigh” regardless of the type of seams.
Breandan Gibbons is a lifelong swimmer, starting at age 7 with the Star Swim Team in St. Paul, MN, who is on the age group development committee of USA Swimming. He is currently a freshman on the swim team at Fordham University in New York City.
The following represents the opinion of its author Breandan Gibbons and does not necessarily reflect the views of SwimSwam.
I am one of the Athlete members of USA Swimming’s Age Group Development Committee and here’s why I want to ban tech suits for 12 & under swimmers:
Youth sports are too damn expensive and everyone knows it. Swimming is no exception. But with a concerted effort from those in all levels of the sport, it can be the exception. Change can happen starting this week at USA Swimming’s annual convention if the House of Delegates restricts the use of tech suits for 12 & under competition.
Many other pieces of legislation are required to solidify the change, but next week the House of Delegates can send a message to parents, athletes, coaches, and all involved in swimming that the sport is not open for business for those trying to make the most money possible.
My goal is to make swimming as easy for anyone to swim as possible. This is the first step.
Further, restricting high level tech suits removes alleviates pressure from kids who have barely started middle school to succeed at a high level. As a study from Amanda Visik and George Washington University shows, winning and competing is not fun for kids in youth sports. Removing some of that pressure can help refocus the sport on other parts of athletics kids find more fun like “trying their best,” “working as a team,” and other far more valuable characteristics that go beyond a fast 50 freestyle time.
Swimming is just the means to an end for most athletes involved in the sport and the level of financial commitment should reflect that. Only the top six athletes in each event make the National Team and only two athletes from each event make the Olympic team every four years. That compared to the 354,627 year round athletes registered with USA Swimming show that the priority should be placed on making the sport as positive and as accessible for those 354,627 athletes as possible.
USA Swimming needs to give families flexibility that other youth sports organizations do not afford to their members. Financial strangling from youth sports brought about by lack of regulation created the “Income Disparity” Linda Flanagan wrote about in her article for The Atlantic.
If USA Swimming can create space for those who cannot afford any other youth sports options, it will be a boon for membership and a triumph for the sport. A triumph that no other sports organization accomplished.
Of course there is not currently a rule requiring athletes to wear high level suits, but in the current climate of the sport, it seems that swimmers need to have tech suits to compete with others. It is basic group psychology, if a child sees that their friend has something, they want it. This became clear to me when surveying 12 & under athletes. I gave one survey to one athlete on one team and although these surveys looked like math homework, everyone on that team saw their friend had a survey and wanted one.
Similar mentality comes to play with technical suits. Dr. Stacy Nelson of VitalSmarts has an example in his book Influencers of a shipping company that struggled with their efficiency because employees would not fill their shipping containers. The solution was not to incentivize filling the boxes, it was simply putting a “Fill Line” on the boxes.
Tech suits are that “Fill Line” for age group swimmers. They see their competition decked out and that influences every age group swimmer to want one of those suits.
I spent the summer surveying athletes and parents about the proposed legislation and there is a majority in both demographics that support the legislation. In addition to showing support for the legislation, they also showed how USA Swimming has failed its membership in providing an affordable sporting opportunity where athletes can learn values that apply outside the 25 yards or 50 meters of a swimming pool.
Many parents complained that the suits were just one part of the overall cost of youth sports in America. These anecdotes are corroborated by Mark Hyman in his book Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports in America. Hyman finds example after example of corporations pushing kids and parents closer and closer to the edge until they fall over and leave the sport.
Delegates have a choice: make a change to address what is clearly a problem or leave USA Swimming in a scenario in which it cannot win.
Corporations are the only ones who in the current scenario. Athletes don’t win, parents don’t win, USA Swimming doesn’t win.