Shouts From The Stands: Is The Ban On Kneeskins For 12-and-Under Girls Unfair?

by SwimSwam Contributors 97

April 22nd, 2024 Club, 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 send them to [email protected].

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Anastasia Orlic, a high school swimmer from Washington, D.C.

I am a high school swimmer, and in the world of competitive swimming where every second — or really, every hundredth of a second — counts. For many young female swimmers, speed and efficiency in the water often begins at a young age, especially when compared to their male teammates. If you look at times for 12-and-under swimmers, you’ll find that the girls are frequently faster than the boys. However, as they get older and go through puberty, that changes drastically.

In 2020, USA Swimming banned certain technical suits for 12-and-under swimmers. Technical suits, or “kneeskins” as the female version of these suits are called, offer swimmers compression and other hydrodynamic advantages. These enable you to move through the water with reduced drag. Although not all types of technical suits were banned, those made out of certain types of material such as spandex and nylon, enhance performance and are no longer allowed. The main objective for this ban was to lower the cost of participating in the sport since families often felt pressured to “keep up” by buying these expensive suits for their young swimmers. Suits that are allowed for 12-and-under swimmers cost around $100-$200, while the performance-enhancing suits that are not allowed start at about $600. Although this sounds like a noble goal, it appears that USA Swimming did not consider that, for many young swimmers, kneeskins represent more than just a competitive edge, but allow for peak confidence and can make swimmers excited to race at a meet. More importantly, USA Swimming seems to have given little to no consideration to the fact that these new regulations disadvantage 12-and-under girl swimmers much more than their male counterparts because boys and girls progress through this sport differently.

The number of young girls and boys who participate in competitive swimming is relatively equal, but there is a shift in middle school as puberty tends to affect the two groups differently. As boys get bigger and stronger, they almost always swim faster. This sustained progress incentivizes boys to swim through high school and sometimes beyond. Thus, a rule about the type of suit boy swimmers can wear at 12 will have little impact in the long run since boys hit their stride later. For girls, however, the story is often different as puberty does not bring increased muscle mass but instead causes body changes that can make them slower (e.g., wider hips, increased fat mass, breasts, etc.). These physical changes sometimes lead to frustration and discouragement because it is hard to continue dropping time, and this results in many girls quitting.

By banning kneeskins for younger girls, USA Swimming may exacerbate this problem. Girls at this age often need the compression and other advantages provided by tech suits. As their bodies change and they watch the boys begin to speed past them, the physical and psychological advantages provided by kneeskins may be just what girls need to get over the hump and keep swimming. Unfortunately, USA Swimming didn’t seem to consider these differences between girls and boys when adopting the ban. I can’t help but wonder what things would look like if the situation were reversed? If it were the men that had longer swim times because of their bodies. If I dare answer, I would say that the ban on certain tech suits for 12-and-under swimmers may have never happened in the first place. It’s time to rethink this unfair policy and work toward a solution that is more supportive and understanding of the unique challenges faced by female swimmers if we want them to continue in the sport.


Anastasia Orlic lives in Washington, DC and is in 10th grade at the Maret School. She has been a competitive swimmer for 10 years, and swims both for her school and Nation’s Capital Swim Club.

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24 days ago

Very thoughtful and well written, but as a swimmer, coach, and swim dad (of girls) I have to respectfully disagree.
The true disparity is in this quote: “Suits that are allowed for 12-and-under swimmers cost around $100-$200, while the performance-enhancing suits that are not allowed start at about $60”

This is a cost that not all can afford, so calling it just a “noble effort” is a little flippant and ignores the point of the rule. The cost is also a quantifiable metric that directly impacts fairness in competition. Having said that I would like to point out that you do not compete against boys, so there really is no issue of fairness when it comes to the actual… Read more »

24 days ago

Kudos to you for your insight. I agree plateaus are a problem in this and all sports, but I also believe the suit is an unearned fix that benefits those with expendable finances and it not a real long term solution. In my opinionz better options for the burgeoning athlete include improving sleep patterns, diet, hydration, adding cross training options, meditation, pilates, yoga, race visualization, as well as improving overall understanding of the physiology of the sport. In my opinion these types of options will do more to break a plateau and will have very positive long term effects on the athletes development. Worth mentioning, 12/U can wear tech suits at Nationals, Olympic Trials, US Open where the milliseconds really… Read more »

Mehrad Z
24 days ago

These suits are not accessible to low- and moderate- income families. If they truly matter for a performance, that is even a greater reason to restrict them in order to make the sport more accessible to more income stratas.

We’ve made swimming a sport for rich people and these kind of suits reinforce a transactional mindset where achievement can be purchased rather than earned. From the super expensive suits to the advantage gained from greater access to private lessons, athletes with wealthy parents have an extraordinary advantage.

Last edited 24 days ago by Mehrad Z
Isaac Cook
28 days ago

Good article, but this is really about allowing then 12U swimmers both male and female to compete without pressure that comes later in life. I’m 16 and about to transition to NCAA DII and the expectations are very high, and I would not have been able to handle them as a 12 year old. Male and female bodies are different, but they have been accommodated by making the times for each sex and age different. Why would you compare yourself to a male swimmer when you would not be racing against them????

Old Swim Coach
1 month ago

I appreciate the author for taking a stand. However, it’s not about the suit.


1 month ago

As a mother of a swimmer who started competitive swimming in kindergarten and finished as a D1 college swimmer…. I can say I was happy to hear they banned the suits for the 10 & unders.
We just donated 2 large bags of various size knee skins to a local swim team to help family’s who can’t afford them. Probably 20 suits at $300+ per suit= $6,000. and that’s only the tip of the iceberg for tech suits we purchased because the competitive culture made us believe that that suit would make her get that faster time to make it to the next level.
It’s so sad now looking back at how every children’s sport is just a… Read more »

cynthia curran
1 month ago

An average age grouper not near nationals times but I started at 12 and basically improve until from 15 to 16 years old because I lost some interest. Best Breaststroke time at almost 15 in 100 yard breast but best 100 yard fly at 18. Its true that changes of the body will effect strokes but that was more in breaststroke than Butterfly or Freestyle. Just an awful backstroke no matter what age.

The Splashfather
1 month ago

I’m having a real problem with the number of people dismissing with such a negative voice the opinion article of a 16 year old girl (and downvotes for people praising her for making such a brave move to put herself and her opinion out there in a well written and structured manner). She should be applauded for making this contribution, and gracefully pointed out where her arguments may not have merits, not insulted or demeaned for what you feel are those flaws.

For my own part, I can see the issue of swimmers no longer being able to shoot for NAG times, but that is the smallest minority of this age group’s swimmers. I think what the OP has… Read more »