How Hard Should We Push our Young Swimmers?

young swimmers

How many hours of training should we put our youngest swimmers through? How intense should training be? When should we ask them to give up other sports and specialize in swimming? These are questions that have been around for a long, long time. And while the swimming world claims to divided on this topic, in practice there is little divisiveness.

On the one hand, we have hard and very visible evidence that elite swimmers started very early. Michael Phelps is a perfect example. He started swimming at age 7, and was world champion and world record holder at 15. To test how consistent this is among elite swimmers, I came up with a list of 20 random swimming superstars, and was able to find out the age they started formalized swimming for 11 of them. The average starting age for these 11?   6.8 years of age.

This early starting age for the superstars has lead to a huge and possibly subconscious movement in swimming to have swimmers start young, and then to have them specialized young. This is why we hear of teams where 10&Unders have multiple morning practices a week, and training camps involving two a day and sometimes three a day practices. Or we hear of competition swims that are truly mind-blowing. Three new girl’s 10&Under Long Course USA records have been set this year: 36.13 for 50 Breaststroke, 1:17.74 for 100 Breaststroke, and 1:08.67 for 100 Butterfly. Incredible!

But this is the problem. You don’t get this fast this young without some serious training behind you. And the data shows that these early results don’t really translate to later success. In fact, quite the opposite.

An oft-quoted ASCA study on this very issue reports the following:

Top 100 converstion to 17 18

Now, look at that table again and think about what this means. Only 11% of the Top 100 swimmers in any event as 10&Unders are in the Top 100 by ages 17-18. Even more incredible is that only 50% of Top 100 swimmers at 15-16 are still top at ages 17-18. That’s only 1-2 years later! The study goes on to say that most future elite swimmers never reached the Top 100 as age groupers.

Here are some more things worth thinking about.

  • The average age of US Olympic swimmers in 2012 was 23.7
  • a 2001 National Alliance for Youth Sports study found that 70% of children quit playing sports by age 13 because it isn’t fun anymore
  • a recent Swimming Science article reports that early specialization increases the likelihood of early burnout and quitting, and that some studies suggest elite success is inversely correlated with training volume at age 14

Put all this together and we have a problem. Despite considerable evidence telling us not to, we have an over-emphasis on hard training at a young age, and on forcing children to specialize in only swimming at a young age.

But why do we think this way? Why do we systemically push our young swimmers so hard?

Part of the answer appears to lie largely with the infamous Ten-Year Rule. This rule was made popular by Dan Coyle in his book, The Talent Code. Here he states that in order to achieve greatness in virtually any field, a person just needs to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Both Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development document (here) and Australia’s Long Term Development in Swimming document (here) have this concept as a fundamental building block of their program. USA Swimming doesn’t go that far, but does talk about how it takes ten years of deliberate practice, along with grit, perseverance and passion to reach an elite level (here).

The idea is simple. If it takes 10,000 hours to achieve greatness, and swimmers now reach their peak in their early 20s, then swimmers must have roughly 1000 intense training hours a year starting by about age 10. That’s 1000 hours a year, or 500 2-hour workouts a year. There’s no way around it, right? The Australian document even states “There are no short cuts!” (they bolded this, not me).

There’s one fundamental problem with all of this. It’s wrong.

David Epstein in his book, The Sports Gene, went to the original research by Dr. Anders Ericson on violinists, and found that the data was sparse, retrospective, and only provided the average time to master the violin. But no information on the range was given. Epstein found another much larger study involving the number of hours of practice it took chess players to reach master status. The average time turned out to be just over 11,000 hours – a similar result to the violinists. However, this study also reported on the range of hours to reach master status: from a low of 3,000 hours, to some participants who were at 25,000 hours and still hadn’t reached it yet.

The impact of considering the range of hours is huge. 3000 hours equates to roughly 3 years, not 10. If greatness can take as little as 3 years, or as long as 25 years, then it changes the whole nature of long term development programs. Apparently there ARE shortcuts! Maybe we don’t need to start grooming our 10 year olds for 1000 hours a year of practice so they can reach elite status in their early 20s. And maybe if we don’t start that specialization at such a young age, we won’t have so many talented swimmers burn out in their mid-teens. Sure, we might not get as many mind-boggling records by 10-year olds. But those swimmers might still be swimming at a high level in their 20s.

This is the dilemma.

Swimming data clearly shows that most elite swimmers started early and specialized early on their way to becoming elite. An early start and early specialization clearly worked for them. But these swimmers represent roughly the very top of swimming. The top 0.001% or so of competitive swimmers.

Studies also indicate that an early start can be beneficial to all swimmers. It’s the early specialization and early intense training that causes a tremendous fallout of swimmers who tire of the demands of the sport, or have stopped improving relative to their peers. And now we’re talking about the 99.999% of competitive swimmers who do not become elite.

Should we train our swimmers on the assumption they will be part of the tiny cadre of elite swimmers? On the faulty assumption that intense training is required at a young age in order to achieve greatness? Or should we provide swimmers with some balance in their young lives, and train them so that they are still swimming and still having fun when they reach their physical peak in their early-20s?

That’s the question every coach has to answer for themselves.

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27 comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for making a good case for changing swimming to benefit our youth. As a parent and coach, it’s obvious to me that we all should put our swimmers’ health and long term enjoyment of the sport first. No early morning and double practices. Limit each practice to 2000 yards or less and focus mostly on techniques, not conditioning.

  2. Tom Best · · Reply

    Well researched and considered. There is so much out there that tells us we should be changing the way we consider youth training and there seems to be lots of pressure from leadership to return to the old ways. Swimming is a lifetime sport and we need to consider it as such. We seem to be putting all of our effort (and funding!) into that small group of athletes at the very top when we need to expand the base. We also have to consider that times have changed. Swimming does not have the excitement level as something like snowboarding or the teamwork involved in soccer. Those things exist in swimming but are much harder to bring out in comparison.
    Lots of us even in small communities in which there are a lot of sports to choose from and kids at 14-15 years of age are always looking for something new and exciting. High school sports are a great way to get into this but unfortunately in Canada we don’t have great cooperation between year round programs and those in high school. (In the US high school swimming has been noted as one of the reasons why the sport has remained so strong over the years.)
    There are a lot of areas which need to be seriously looked at and are long overdue for change.
    We have to keep kids in the water, not push them out too soon.

  3. […] So why is it that so many serious swim clubs have such a huge fall out of swimmers in the early teens? Why do so many quit well before an age when they can reach their potential? Keep in mind that a US swimming study found that only 11% of the top 100 ten-year olds become top100 17-18 year olds. And that a US National Alliance for Youth Sports study found that 70% of children quite playing sports by age 13 because it isn’t fun anymore. Clearly pushing young swimmers hard is not a good long term decision. So, why does this happen? (I explore this question of how hard we should train young swimmers here.) […]

  4. I have seen the numbers of that ASCA study a few times on different articles now and the more I start thinking about it, the more I feel that they are interpreted very one sided. The way this study is often interpreted is that you had better not be in the top 100 at age ten or you have all the odds against you. A 1 in 10 chance. Bummer for you!

    But then you have all these swim superstars that started young (and quite a few were already fast at younger ages as well). How can we explain this?

    Could it be a matter of looking at the whole sample and not just the top 100? Let’s say I have a 10 year old who is in the top 100. Who else is eligible for a top 100 spot 8 years later? Well, there are all the 10 year old now that aren’t in the top 100 and then you have those that start swimming later, but are the same age as my 10 year old now. Let’s make it easy and say they number 100,000.

    So here is my 10 year old with a 1 in 10 shot and the other 90 spots in the top 100 will be made up by 90 from the 100,000, giving those swimmer a 100,000 to 90 shot. Or a 1 to 0,0009 shot. This means that if you are in the top 100 now as a 10 year old you are 11,111 times more likely to be in the top 100 in 8 years from now then when you are not.

    Maybe, it is not all that bad being in the top 100 as a ten year old after all.

    Ok, very simplistic representation, but then so are the numbers of the study. This is what you get when you only focus on a small group. I think all the coached can do is focus on technique for age-groupers as opposed to speed only and with some talent and lots of hard work you may have a shot as a young swimmer. The important thing is to have fun on the journey and where it ends exactly becomes much less important.

    1. Hi Patrick, excellent comment!

      I think the purpose of those numbers isn’t to demotivated fast 10-year olds. It’s to make the swimming community aware that pushing young kids really hard doesn’t tend to result in long term success. In fact, many coaches think that many of the few incredibly fast young ones who are also fast when older, are like that because of genetics, and not because of really hard training. Think of Phelps and Ledecky and Michael Andrews and countless others.

      The lesson from those numbers is to gradually ramp up training frequency and intensity over the years, and let the swimmer grow into the sport. Not to grind young ones and force early performance. Those are the ones that tend to fall off the elite trajectory as they get older.

    2. Tomaž Podobnik · · Reply

      Patrick’s comment in terms of conditional probabilities:

      Let P1 be probability that a swimmer will be in top 100 at the age of 18, given he/she was
      in top 100 at the age of 10, and let P2 be probability that a swimmer will be in top 100 at the
      age of 18, given he/she was NOT in top 100 at the age of 10. Then, P1 is still much higher
      than P2 (more than 11-times higher with Patrick’s input numbers, above).

      I could’t agree more, though, that fun and life-lessons are far more important than mind-blowing swims, in particular at the young age. Let them be kids.

      1. Patrick, Tomaz
        A thorough analysis of the data would require significant information on population sizes for each age group. I’d suggest that it’s quite possible that the 10&U population is significantly larger than the 18&O population. That kind of information is key to a proper statistical analysis of the US Swimming data.
        But the key aspect to me is that those top 100 10&U swimmers who were still top 10 later are most likely the genetic marvels (such as Phelps). Those swimmers will rise to the top as long as they are still swimming. The rest of the top 100 10&U swimmers are most likely very early maturing athletes who are just ahead of their time. Every coach will have stories about young phenoms who are crushing everyone around them at a young age, but then don’t continue to improve at the rate of their peers. By the age of 15 or so the rest have caught up, and they often quit.
        To me, the answer is still to provide a clear training strategy that gradually increases training loads on young swimmers so that they are continue to love the sport, and continue to improve until they hit their peaks in their early-mid 20s. That might mean dialing back the early training, and giving up points and recognition in big meets. It’s worth it in the long run.

      2. Tomaž Podobnik · ·

        Rick,

        the fact that the 10&U population is (much) larger than the
        18&U population does not have a direct impact on interpretation
        of the ASCA data. Let

        Nall………be the number of kids that have at least one swim-time
        officially recorded by the age of 18, so that they can,
        at least in principle, enter the top 100 for 10&U
        OR for 18&U (OR here is inclusive: it can be one
        of the two or both);
        N10……..be the number of kids that entered the top 100 for 10&U
        (because it is the top 100 in any event, N10 > 100, but
        I guess N10 < 500, and for sure N10 << Nall);
        N18……..be the number of kids that entered the top 100 for 18&U;
        N10&18..be the number of kids that entered the top 100 for both
        10&U AND 18&U;
        P1……….be the conditional probability that a kid will enter the
        top 100 for 18&U, given he/she entered the top 100
        for 10&U;
        P2……….be the conditional probability that a kid will enter the
        top 100 for 18&U, given he/she did NOT enter the
        top 100 for 10&U.

        Then:

        P1 = N10&18 / N10,
        P2 = (N18 – N10&18) / (Nall – N10)
        ~ (N18 – N10&18) / Nall.

        According to the ASCA study, P1 is 10.3% for girls, and 13.2% for
        boys, but P2 is even (much) smaller than that (P1 and P2 do NOT
        add to unity!). That is:

        P1 : P2 ~ [N10&18 / (N18 – N10&18)] x [ Nall / N10]
        = [P1 / (N18/N10 – P1)] x [Nall / N10].

        The fraction N18/N10 need not be exactlly 1, but I would guess
        it does not differ from 1 for more than few percents, which means
        that [P1 / (N18/N10 – P1)] is somewhere between 10% and 20%.
        The fraction [Nall / N10], on the other hand, is huge: for the
        number Nall of all kids with at least one swim officially recorded
        by the age of 18 (before the 19th birthday, being precise) 500,000
        is probably a conservative estimate (an under-estimate),
        N10 ~ 500 (this is probably an over-estimate), and so

        [Nall / N10] ~ 1000 (an under-estimate) .

        This means that

        P1 : P2 ~ 100 (again, a conservative estimate),

        i.e., a kid with a top 100 10&U result has a MUCH (at least a
        100-times) better chance for a top 100 18&U swim than a kid
        without a top 100 10&U result (I think Patrick's calculation
        is wrong for a factor of 10: the ratio of 0.1 and 0.0009 is
        111.11 and not 11.111).

        In summary, in your post You claim: “And the data shows that
        these early results don’t really translate to later success.
        In fact, quite the opposite." This is the usual interpretation
        of the ASCA data, but the data, in fact, just the opposite
        of the usual interpretation, show that the early results indeed
        translate to later succes.

        I would again like to stress, however, that I agree by all
        means that kids should not be pushed (way) too hard (as they
        quite often are), but on grounds other than the quoted ASCA
        data 😉

        Kindest regards,
        Tomaž.

      3. Thanks Tomaz, for an excellent statistical analysis.

        What you are saying is obvious now that you’ve taken me through it. An 11% rate of being top 10 in both age ranges far exceeds expected rates if membership in each top 10 group was random.

        So I’m now wondering about the impact of early maturing athletes.

        It makes sense to me, although far from easily provable, that early maturing swimmers dominate the top 100 at 10&U. And it also makes sense that the physical benefits of being an early maturing swimmers would have pretty much disappeared by 18. One could argue that these early maturing athletes received favourable training and opportunities at an early age. But to offset that one could also argue that the psychological aspects of constantly slipping in rankings as everyone physically catches up causes some early maturing swimmers to quit at a higher rate. (I, and probably every coach out there, have stories of young and insanely fast speedsters who quit by 15 or 16)

        If we assume that early maturing swimmers are not over represented in the top 100 for 18&O, then it’s possible that the percentages offered by USA Swimming for each group is actually a glimpse into how the benefits of early maturation decline between 10 and 18.

        Your thoughts?

      4. Tomaž Podobnik · ·

        Hi Rick,

        I think two onclusions may be drawn from the data of the ASCA study:

        1. P1 > P2 means that a kid, swimming extremely fast
        at an early age, will swim extremely fast in the future
        much more likely than a kid whose swims are not so fast
        in younger days.

        (The conditional probabilities P1 and P2 are defined in my previous
        comments.)

        I think that from the top-100 10&U list, dominated by the early
        matured kids, and from the top-100 18&U list with the early matured
        kids not being in majority any more, it would indeed be possible
        to conclude that the benefits of early maturation decline between
        10 and 18. But there’s no information in the ASCA data who of
        the kids in the top-100 lists matured early and who did not.
        I am therefore not sure that the ASCA data is actually
        a glimpse into how the benefits of early maturation decline
        between 10 and 18.

        An opinion about insanely fast speedsters who quit by 15 or 16:
        I think that the fact that there are such kids proves that
        a great success at an early stage is not always enough for
        a kid to stay in swimming. I can easily imagine that
        one of the possible reasons for quitting is that some of
        these kids cannot handle the pressure of slipping in rankings
        (of being catched up by peers who used to be way slower than
        them). Putting less emphasis on the achieved times in early days
        could therefore diminish the rate of quitting of these kids.

        I am not sure, however, that the rate of quitting
        of young speedsters is higher than the rate of quitting of
        those whose early swimming was not so outstanding – it may just
        be that WE REMEMBER quitting insanely fast speedsters better
        than we remember quitting the rest (the majority) of the kids,
        because of OUR SURPRIZE – WE DID NOT EXPECT them to quit
        after such a tremendous early success.

        Kindest regards,
        Tomaž.

      5. Tomaž Podobnik · ·

        There is the second conclusion from data of the ASCA study, missing in my
        last comment:

        2. P1 < 1 (~ 11% – 13%) means that fast (mind-blowing) swims at an early
        age (10&U) are far from being a guarantee for super-fast swims in
        older years (18&U)

  5. John Halgren · · Reply

    Too many slow yards, sets written by coaches without any real understanding of what it’s doing to the athletes body, and the belief that the secret to getting fast is just to swim more.

    Technique, technique, technique.
    Coaches, do your homework and learn what a proper stroke looks like. Not the stroke you were taught in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s… KEEP LEARNING for the sake of the sport.

    Use a program that walks you and your kids step by step through training. No more ad hoc corrections.

    And remember that you’re training these kids to be the future you. Show them how to motivate with a positive environment. Behave at the highest level. Leave the whistle at home and show the kids what it’s like to really be a coach.

    1. Hi John, Thanks for the excellent comments. When I first started out coaching my mentor was constantly asking me 2 things. Why was I doing what I was doing? And I had to have coherent explanation. And he was asking me what I was doing to improve my program. And I had to have a coherent plan.

      I still take that approach, and it’s clear you do too. I really like your idea that these kids are the future me. Very insightful.

      The other thing that I’m hyper aware of is to use creativity in practices to avoid the mental burnout that so many mindless programs create.

  6. John Clark · · Reply

    Rick, I enjoyed your article on “How hard should we push our young swimmers?” The philosophy fits well with our swim club vision and tag line – “Swimmers for life” and I would like to ask your permission to cite your article on our club website so that our swim parents can gain a better perspective on the long term goal.

    1. Hi John, Absolutely. Thanks for asking. I like “Swimming for life”. It certainly does echo our concern. I might suggest you also check out my Age Analysis of Rio Swimming Finalists. You’ll find that the average age of Olympic finalists is 23-25. Which basically means that swimmers really don’t even hit their peaks in university, it’s much later than that. Which means even university is just another step in the progression of a swimmer. Pushing young ones hard to make them fast at a young age is pretty pointless when you consider you want them swimming and motivated a decade or more later.

  7. This is my dilemma. My 12 year old son loves to work hard and he has a coach who believes in making his group work hard, too. Example of his main set : 6 sets of (2×100 fly, 50bk/50br) on 1:30. My son was in the NAG top ten for the 100 bk, 100 fly, 100 free, His goal is to make it to the Olympic trials in 2020. However, the head coach for our team does not believe in the kind of swim sets my son’s coach gives them. He has already talked to parents about focusing more on technique and fun. SO how much is too much for a young boy who is very motivated? Will making workouts easier benefit a young swimmer who has his sight set on the Olympic trials? When should swimmers start working hard to achieve elite status?

    1. Hi Jen, Interesting issue you have. Briefly, I side with the head coach. And here’s why.

      First of all, I don’t your son at all, so I can make these comments in the abstract. These are not necessarily about your son.

      There are generally two types of young swimmers who achieve that type of success. The first are the genetically gifted ones. Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, etc. Those swimmers will become great unless they are burned out in their early years.

      The second and FAR more common type is the early maturing swimmer. These swimmers usually have the strength, coordination and training ability of swimmers much older than them. Early success comes easy, and of course they want to train hard because they experience all of the rewards and glory. The problem we face is that elite swimmers seem to hit their peaks in the mid-20s. That’s over a decade away for your son. And from many years of observation, here’s what often happens to those early maturing swimmers. They dominate at young ages, which causes them to train harder to dominate even more. Then as they get older the slower maturing swimmers start to catch up. The early maturing swimmer will continue to improve, but those late maturing swimmers will improve by leaps and bounds. Soon, that early maturing swimmer isn’t dominating any more. They start to face a lot of competition from swimmers they use to easily beat. When that happens, they can’t really increase their training much as they’re already maxed out. They can get discouraged and frustrated. At this point, the rewards and glory are starting to disappear. The main thing that will keep them driving forward is their love of the sport and their love of competition. But if the main reason they’ve been swimming is because they win, this becomes a problem.

      I personally favour the idea that you can challenge swimmers of any age, but you need to provide fun, and you need to provide a long-term plan that gradually increases training and intensity over the years. This way the swimmer will enjoy the sport and see a clear path forward. Because there will be a time when he starts being challenged by more and more swimmers.

      As for your son, there’s nothing wrong in having ambitious goals. But if he has to train far too hard and long in these early years to make those goals, he could be jeopardizing his future in swimming.

      1. Anonymous · ·

        How do you know that a swimmer has matured early? Would you advise that I pull him back from working butt off? His coach, a bronze medalist in the 1996 olympics, told me that my son’s workout was not as brutal as his. He says that to get to the elite level, he has to start working hard early. Our head coach disagrees. He thinks that there are no 12 year old champions. Who is right? How do I know what is right for my son when 2 coaches are in disagreement?

      2. I can’t really help you with this, as I don’t know your son or your coaches. I think you need to talk to the coaches and sort this out with them. They should be on the same page when working with your son.

  8. Statistics are often quoted as being unreliable but as a society they are utilised constantly as a tool to monitor performance, so I don’t intend to add to the comments above as to whether or not they can be relied upon as a full picture or otherwise.

    I, for my sins, have been a swimming parent now for 9 years. I have seen many talented swimmers leave the sport and pursue other endeavors as a result of being pushed incredibly hard, not having a life outside swimming, school commitments and greater opportunities offered elsewhere that are often easier to achieve as athletes given swimming fitness is very transferable.

    Of greater concern to me, is that there is no debate or discussion on how pushing swimmers too hard and often times too young closes down the opportunities for other athletes to join the sport. Swimmers are created before the age of 12. How does the aspiring swimmer at the age of 15 or even 20 “try out” ?

    As a code, we have children who are experts in their field and “retiring” at 13 or 14, but no scope to grow the sport through older teenagers or young adults developing their swimming skills past “learn to swim” to be a part of a squad.

    Any person can throw a pair of runners on and without any skill whatsoever join a “fun run” and become part of a new sporting community of runners. Likewise there are different grades for aspiring basketball players, cricketers, tennis players and you can even play casual golf, but we have driven our young swimmers to this point where we only have elite swimming past the age of 12.

    The question of how we get our young swimmers to be the next wave of Olympians lies not in how hard we push them, but how can we create opportunities within swimming so that as a code we continue to have enough swimmers to ensure clubs have opportunities for both social and competitive athletes, for without one, the other is proving untenable for the majority of teenagers, including the very talented.

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Brilliantly stated. Yes, swimming in general has a huge problem with “older” swimmers trying to break into the sport and be successful. One of the issues is that swimming is an early adaptation sport, in that there is a massive advantage for young athletes (10 or younger) to develop the unique motor skills, core strength and breath control that is required. That’s not to say that older swimmers can’t break onto the scene and do well. They can. But its an uphill battle. But in reality, that objection is really only related to being successful at an elite level.

      Success can be defined in many ways. Only a tiny fraction of swimmers ever become truly elite, and that certainly doesn’t mean the others are failures. Far from it. Unfortunately, most national swimming bodies define success in that very way – how does the country do on an international stage. The national programs, infrastructure decisions, qualifying times, etc are all geared for the tiny fraction of elite swimmers (much less than 1%). And often those national directives work against fostering a more inclusive, fun, and challenging environment.

      Which leaves local clubs to pick up the slack. And now we have to address the mandates of local clubs. Many have visions of greatness, and grind, burn out or just plain ignore anybody not on track to challenge the top levels. Many coaches will have explicit or implicit goals that are directly tied to being among the best in their area. Once again, the system is designed to favour the best, and mainly ignore or tolerate the others.

      So the question is whether local clubs can direct their attention to allowing all swimmers in the club to reach their potential. To allow swimmers to enter the sport in their mid-teens, and not feel like they’re hopelessly behind. I call those “community clubs” in that they service the community, including para swimmers and Special Olympic swimmers. This isn’t to say those clubs can’t produce elite as well. They can and have. But a broader definition of success can directly address the problem you mention.

      And lastly, Masters Swimming has done a wonderful job in breaking away from the traditional competitive model. Elite Masters swimmers can often train in the same pool and at the same time as beginning Masters swimmers, or triathletes, or social swimmers.

      There are no easy answers, but I think we first have to address the systemic barriers that prevent that more inclusive definition of success.

  9. Ranil Perera · · Reply

    My son also Swimming Started at age 9,but his swimming three or two days for week and no restriction for my son doing everything as free child,amazing thing is on 26th June he done meet 50m breaststroke time is 34.43 under 13 age is +12 all are surprised because they are practice very hard. so I have a plane that after AUGUST 2018 will be start full time practices.

    My Wive is this Game.

    Parents are saving money for their children’s future. So why parents are not save swimming children’s FAST FIBERS and SLOW FIBERS energy metabolism. I must say that this is one of the main issue that all over the world Swimmers face. This game has become parent’s game but not children’s game anymore. If we can stop extra pressure putting on our lovely children these issues will minimize and will have lot of healthy swimmers which will go to the senior national levels,International and wins.🍔🍧🍉

  10. Jonathan Hensel · · Reply

    Hello Rick,

    I am glad to have read your article regarding youth training for swimming (applies to any sport really). Our daughter seems to naturally love being in the water and she has been taking lessons now for about a year. She is 5 1/2 now and naturally loves to compete, The lady giving her lessons suggested she join a small local swim team to start learning more advanced techniques. My wife and I agreed to let her join and she is very excited. For now things will be very laid back.

    As parents, I think we often visualize our children’s success earlier than the child, so we have a tendency to encourage them to work too hard too soon. I am grateful that I read your article as it will help me to keep my own vision in check and allow our daughter to develop her own sense of what she want’s to accomplish in the sport and enjoy the process of getting to whatever level that is.

    Thanks again,
    Jonathan

  11. […] of all, as I’ve written about before (here) this Rule just isn’t true. The 10,000 hour rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, and is […]

  12. Just something to think about on the age & time put in issues. My son decided he wanted to join a swim team shortly before he turned 14. He only had 1 swim lesson when he was little. He was always moving, not listening & distracting other kids at the lesson. I don’t think he learned anything in the 5 day lesson. He was either under the water or having to sit on the side for causing such a disruption. They weren’t working on strokes just bobbing up & down most of the time. I took him swimming all the time when he was little but never took him to another lesson. He learned to swim on his own by just jumping around & playing in the water & I assume watching my husband & I. My husband was a college swimmer & I know how to swim all the strokes, but my son didn’t want us to show him anything. He just wanted to play. The summer just before he joined a swim team, I suggested he might want to breath under his arm when he swam. He was doing his own version of freestyle….. that was 1 month before starting on a team.
    My son is persistent & once he decide he wanted to join a swim team, he wanted it to happen right away. There was one team starting a month earlier than the others. I chose the team for that main reason of start time. My son just really wanted to get started with a swim team. I didn’t do a lot of research but lucked out that the team I chose had a terrific group of coaches. My son had to be taught to do all the strokes. He could only do his version of freestyle so that needed a lot of work & he had to learn all the other strokes. He also had to learn to do flip turns & how to dive. Diving is another thing he never wanted to be taught. He started the team in September & just under a year later he was 1st in 200 Fly long course in our State & had a AAA time. He went to Zones & I remember one kid asking a coach why he did a belly flop. He had a fast time, but still didn’t really have the dive down at that point.
    I should mention that he wasn’t & isn’t tall for his age. I think he is getting close to 5’10” as a 17yo. What he does have is longer than average arms….hands, fingers & wider than average feet but they aren’t extra long.
    I believe starting at an older age was the only way my son would have become a swimmer. He doesn’t have the personality that it would have taken to have been a competitive swimmer at a young age. He would have driven coaches nuts.
    From my sons experience, starting at an older age was not an issue. He might have had the benefit of tons of time in the water but he had no early instruction. He started learning strokes just before he turned 14.
    My daughter never had swim lesson when she was little either. She learned to swim by watching & took instructions a little better than my son. I paid a retired high school coach one summer to help her with something on her stroke when she was 12. It might have been just underarm breathing or flip turn. I can’t remember. I just remember him saying that he’d never seen a child her age be able to manipulate the water so well. I think both my kids probably had that ability from being taken to the pool so often. They were high energy & going to the pool was what we did probably 5 days a week. The time spent in water might be important, but from our experience the rest can be learned at an older age and apparently you can do a quick catch up by working hard and paying attention to coaches instructions.

    1. Hi Meg. I love your story! There are many ways to approach sports, and we seem to get stuck into the same old ways all the time. Your story shows that late starters can still love the sport, and do well. Sometimes I think we forget that this is all supposed to be about the kids

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