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Thanks to Taylor Smith, head coach of the United World College of Southeast Asia (UWC – SEA) for contributing this report, which is adapted from a letter sent to parents of age group swimmers:
Dear Swim Team Parents
Believe it or not, a swimming career is a marathon and not a sprint.
I have been involved in swimming and coaching for most of my life and there are many trends which have never, and will never change unless we (parents and coaches) work together.
Age group swimmers want to be fast! Of course they do it is great to win, but all swimmers must follow a pathway that leads them to senior glory not simply age group medals. Many many age group champions are nowhere to be seen when they are 17 years old. So when I say senior swimming, I am talking about swimming long after the years at school. So what are these trends I speak of? Below are some dangerous misconceptions that parents believe will make their children “THE BEST”:
1. More training means my child will get better, so they are going to train 7 times per week (even if they are 7-10 years old)
This is a huge mistake. Yes, of course more training will make your child faster -in the short term – and this feels great as they are beating all their peers. But remember it is a marathon not a sprint. Michael Phelps was training 10 sessions per week plus dry land when he won 8 golds in Beijing. He was, I am sure, doing significantly less at age 10-11. Most swimmers who ‘do extra training’ often topped up in other clubs, suffer what is called burn out. These swimmers in most cases get overtaken by others and or do not want to swim in their teenage years. It is important that parents look to the long term and this means building sessions year on year, under the guidance of their coach.
2. Why has my child not been moved up to the next squad?
Moving up is dependant on many factors which are always decided by us as coaches, they are as follows:
– Based on race time
– Based on training attitude and attendance
– Based on gender
– Based on physical maturity (puberty is often big factor)
– Based on peer groups
– Based on commitment to the Team
3. Lots of Distance will make my child faster!
Again studies have shown that this is not exclusively the case. Swimming fast over a short distance many times can be the key to improvement. This is not to say aerobic capacity is unimportant but training fast equates to racing fast. While I don’t necessarily believe in USRPT in isolation, it is still worth looking at Michael Andrew (the best 14 year old in the world [at the time this letter was sent]). His training programme is a good example of a high intensity training working.
4. I am going to change clubs as my swimmer is not improving!
Lots of people do this without ever mentioning it to a coach. In my experience 99 times out of 100 parents are moving a problem that should be talked about together, and the problem will simply be moved elsewhere. Remember a swimming coach should not just be there to blow a whistle and give the sets. They are there to support all aspects of life. If the parents then feel that is is not working by all means try something else, however moving up to the senior squad will become extremely difficult as the training programme is designed for swimmers who train 6-10 sessions per week.
5. It is not about having fun, it is about being focused to win.
Fun and happiness always comes first. Winning is a product of fun and good training/racing attitude. Most coaches in the world would prefer to coach happy swimmers, as happy swimmers become fast swimmers. I believe that happiness is the key to everything in life, not just in the pool.
And remember; this is just the beginning. We coaches have plans for your children until long after they leave school.
Lastly, thank you, swim parents, for all the wonderful support. Coaches really couldn’t do it without the help of the parents. You are a truly wonderful support for your children and we feel very much supported too.
Keep up the good work.
Coach Taylor Smith