Shouts from the Stands: 5 Dangerous Misconceptions for Swimming Parents to avoid

by SwimSwam 17

June 15th, 2015 Lifestyle, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please [email protected]

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

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Tania Houghton
7 years ago

Some great advice here. My daughter trains 4 sessions a week and, anymore,and I feel it would steal away some of her important time of just chilling out and being a teenager. I’m so thankful she has this passion though to hold back the time she could be spent on a computer,tablet,mobile!

Jeffrey Moore
7 years ago

Can anyone get me a team rooster from 1984 my name is Jeffrey Moore asst. Coach. Thx

7 years ago

I did not start swimming until 16 years old. Was on the national team for 5 years (20-24). Not sure about that theory.

Reply to  Ron
7 years ago

Fair enough, still find it hard to accept rowing has the technical requirements of swimming though. Out of curiosity what is your name and what events did you swim Ron?

7 years ago

“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.”

This seems like a good, balanced view to me. I think what young swimmers need is a “repetition base” instead of a “aerobic base.” I would define a repetition base as thousands upon thousands of strokes done with optimal technique with a goal to imprint these unique movements on the nervous system at a young age. Good swimming does not come naturally; it is not the same as other sports.

Aerobic training is fine, so long as it… Read more »

Reply to  mikeh
7 years ago

I 100% agree.

Reply to  mikeh
7 years ago

Agreed. Age group swimming, especially at lower levels, should be all about teaching and perfecting good technique while having fun. Conditioning will come. So many kids have been ruined by putting too many empty or pointless miles on them, while never improving their technique, and never encouraging them to truly enjoy the sport. I’m also a fan of cross-training for younger kids – let them enjoy multiple sports and train their minds and bodies multiple ways. Some will leave swimming for those other sports – that’s fine too.

Reply to  GoPokes
7 years ago

At my daughters previous team, which might I add was very convenient as the bus would pick them up after school and take them to swim practice, the NEW head coach told me that they don’t focus on technique until they are senior swimmers (one of my daughters was a senior swimmer, the other wasn’t). I also wasn’t concerned about how the younger swimmer was training, rather that if they could properly teach technique. I also believe on having your kids try every sport, and go with the one that they choose..

Reply to  GoPokes
7 years ago

I agree too. I was a slow kid who suddenly started getting the time standards and was consequently put in the next group a year below the age requirement. (I was ten.) We trained something like 8×200 fly/free every. Single. Day. Sure, I become a great distance swimmer! I also got a myriad of technique issues and postural problems (overarching in fly became my permanent posture) too! To this day I’m still trying to fix my freestyle and can’t dolphin kick to save my life or run a mile without back pain.

Reply to  mikeh
7 years ago


That all makes sense, but a utopia. Outside a club with few swimmers, that is not possible to implement.

>Good swimming does not come naturally; it is not the same as other sports.

Yeah, you lost me here. Obviously you don’t know/haven’t played other sports.

Eddie Rowe
Reply to  PsychoDad
7 years ago

Most people are on relatively equal footing when it comes to the biomechanics of running. Does that mean great runners aren’t supernaturally talented beyond others? Of course not, but I can’t think of a single non judged sport with a greater reliance on a more complicated set of techniques than swimming. Techniques that are critical to success at a high level and not “natural.”

Reply to  Eddie Rowe
7 years ago

I can – Rowing I have done both and rowing is definitely more complicated and requires more concentration. Having said that I agree for both sports that technique is more important to learn first.

Reply to  Anne
7 years ago

I don’t buy it that one bit. Rowing at the highest levels is filled with people who didn’t pick it up until they were in there late teens/ early twenties. There have been rowers on the national team who didn’t start until they were in college. I can’t think of a single example of that in swimming. There are a few who start swimming up late in high school/ middle school and are successful, but only a few and none on the national team to my knowledge.

Frankly rowing is a fall back sport.

Reply to  Anne
7 years ago

0_0: what about Breeja Larson, whose USAswimming bio says that she started swimming when she was 17?

Reply to  Anne
7 years ago

Breeja Larson is interesting! Did she really just show up at a swim practice at 17 and go 1:02 in a 100 breast? I think she must have done rec swimming or something. Can’t find any info before 17 though.

Reply to  Anne
7 years ago

0_0 – Let’s not get into the “my sport is better than your sport” argument please…

7 years ago

If I could add, for those parents wondering about the order of the items. This may not be 100% the same for all, but many coaches will take the list presented and order it as such:

1– Based on training attitude and attendance
2– Based on commitment to the Team
3– Based on physical maturity (puberty is often big factor)
4– Based on peer groups
5– Based on race time
6– Based on gender

#1-2-3 are all within a hair of each other and really combine to make 95% of the decision.