The Parent’s Survival Guide for Dealing with a Taper

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

The role of swimmer parent is a rich and diverse challenge that requires a vast and evolving skill set; from scheduling car pool, fundraising planning, officiating and much, much more.

During the period of the taper, a several week long period of equally intense bouts of doubt and confidence, the parent also becomes psychologist, hostage negotiator, and counselor.

To better understand how to cope with your athlete, here is a breakdown of the 7 most common stages of the tapering swimmer, along with suggestions for how to help your swimmer and you get through the taper with sanity intact:

1. The Second-Guesser. The swimmer will become inundated with thoughts of regret battered with panic, of wishing they hadn’t missed that one morning workout three months ago, and now, because they had, all those hundreds of other workouts are completely for naught. If only!

Remedy: Remind the athlete of all the work they did put in. If they have a log book, sit down with them and go over all of the practices, all of those nightmarish main sets that they whooped. Remind them that at this point, one more practice is merely a drop in the bucket of all the hard work already done.

2. The Phantom Pain Menace. Whereas a few weeks ago in the midst of 5k+ two-a-days there was barely a mention of aches and pains, now your swimmer is over-analyzing every soreness, acheyness and oh-my-god-is-that-a-headache-what-could-that-be-from? Anything that might remotely feel like an injury is given the complete House treatment. General panic and disorder ensues.

Remedy: Limit their Googling; the swimmer will look up their aches and pains and be terrified by a long list of diagnoses. Achey shoulder? Irreparable shoulder injury. Fatigue? Sounds like  mono. General soreness? Definitely mono.

3. The Bouncy Ball. The taper is a magical thing in that everyone responds a little differently. For some, they are initially more fatigued than they were during hard training, while for others it is go time. With a nearly limitless surplus of energy this athlete can be found careening through rooms in the house, picking up new interests such as cleaning (?!), and also seeking out new activities outside of the pool to drain their energy.

Remedy: Put that kid to work! Just kidding. Very often swimmers will look for ways to burn this energy off, from playing hoops to going on Ultramarathons. Try to limit the latter as to not completely decimate the swimmer’s taper.

4. The Hulk. On edge and irritable this athlete is frustrated with everything; how the taper isn’t going as well as it could, how they don’t feel as good as they’d like in the water, and how the big meet is two time-zones away. Two time-zones! The Hulk, well, smash.

Remedy: Food. More sleep. A couple Disney movies. Not thinking about swimming.

5. Lost & Bewildered. This swimmer comes home from practice with a stricken, mildly confused look across their face. As though stepping into another dimension, they aren’t sure if they have fully crossed over into the tapering phase, or they are in the pre-taper phase still, or even if they are in a pre-taper recovery-power phase. Sorry, where am I?

Remedy: Seek clarification about an exact date, hour and minute that the taper officially began with coach and placate athlete.

6. Mr. Feel Good. With the yardage down, and the rest up, a tapering swimmer is likely to feel rather, well, fantastic. So much so that it would behoove them to get another workout in. If it feels good, do it, right? Nope!

Remedy: Don’t support them scratching this itch. It’s a normal part of the tapering process. Hide goggles, running shoes and/or any surgical tubing laying around the house.

7. The Emotional Pile Up. For the entire season this athlete has stoically pounded out everything his or her coach dished out. They performed at the in-season meets, posted some hellishly fast get up swims in practice, and invested every last ounce of energy into swimming their pants off come championship season. However, with taper in full effect this athlete’s stoic façade promptly collapses. Wild and unpredictable mood swings varying from a calm depression to an hysteric giddiness leaving all those in their wake to wonder, “Now, what was that?”

Remedy: Remind your swimmer that the taper is a leap of faith, it’s a process, and that no matter how un-awesome they feel at the time, to trust that their body will show up ready to slay some best times on race day.

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26 Comments on "The Parent’s Survival Guide for Dealing with a Taper"

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Would like to hear from coaches here how they taper 12 year old boys. Our son is so skinny his taper is two hour sleep and a plate of spinach pasta. But there are 12 year olds that look like grown men. How do you taper them all? Unless they have serious muscles, taper is mostly tapering their mind into thing they are ready, imo.

12 yr old son should not need to taper. Unless you are training like an Olympian taper is a word that gets thrown around to much. How do you taper someone (the 12 yr old) that should not be swimming more than 4-5000 yds 3-4 times a week? Senior groups swimming 6-9 times a week need to taper…not a 12 yr old.

Taper for young age grouper? It’s called more sleep and more emphasis on race mechanics.

Bill sweetenham says that taper is completely individual. More muscle= more rest. I’m the case of your boy I’d say no more than 5-7 days rest of just doing race rehearsal. Depending on his level of swimming of course. If he is in the water 3/4 times a week, then you back off maybe 2 days before the meet. If it’s 5 days a week, pulling doubles on 3 of those days then I always do 5-7 days for the smaller athletes, 14-16 for more developed

As a 58 year old masters swimmer I start my “taper” weeks out. First week of taper means I stop using paddles and fins, and start to drop volume/intensity of dry land. Learned this through many years of trial and error. Probably means older swimmers take longer to recover from muscle abuse. 2nd week skip some work outs altogether. more easy yoga. Get a massage or two. Workouts start to gravitate to more warm up and a race pace test set or two. For example if I am shooting for a 2:18 200 free I will do a set of 4×50 with descending rest. Interval starts at 50 sec, then 45, then 40. If I can hold 35’s, during taper… Read more »

you know how we tapered summer league kids when I was the coach. talkin ages between 6-18, well the highschoolers would get maybe a week of “taper”, but younger than highschool, a week out we would start to incorporate relays into practice instead of sets. and starts from the blocks, get out walk around. and finally my favorite, sharks and minnows. being that young, they don’t need a taper like you’d think. they just need to have fun and not be pushed so hard. just relax he is only 12, unless he has the drive like Michael Andrew just let him have fun man.

I dread taper. I love the rest but I hate always having to sit down to pee rather than waste precious leg muscles..

Psycho Daddio,

That is the most loaded question I have seen on this web site. Each kid is his or her own circumstance. How many sessions have they made? What was their training volume? Which events are they training for? Maturity level? How do they perform under pressure? Etc. there are 1000s of things to consider.

Right. But how do you taper if you have say 20 of them. You do not taper individually, you taper the entire group. How? Based on the strongest kid? or, based on some fixed rules you have? I do not think any coach considers all those reasons you listed, in practice.

Psychodad, my kid’s coach would break down the training group further and segment them into different taper groups, depending on what meets and events they were swimming and other factors.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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