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Athletic Development for Young Swimming Athletes - 3 Lessons for Parents

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Athletic Development for Young Swimming Athletes - 3 Lessons for Parents

Everyone wants their kids to be fit and healthy and engage in sports for as long as they can. The benefits of regular physical activity and participating in competitive sports with children of similar age is incredibly important both for physical and psychological development. However, it's not realistic to assume that all kids who swim competitively are going to become professionals in their adult years. This is where pushing your kids too hard too early can deter them from their sport rather than it being something they can enjoy for life.

Here's 3 lessons to keep your young swimming athletes enjoying their sport and continuing to develop.

1. Enjoyment - Avoiding Boredom and Burnout

When looking at participation rates of swimmers aged 13-16, the number is very high for competitive swimmers. However, there is a 60% drop off rate when they turn 17, and an 80% drop off rate when they turn 18. There are several reasons for this including VCE, issues with coaches, and other commitments.

However, the biggest reasons include boredom and athletic burnout. Swimmers have a hectic training schedule with lots of early mornings and late nights, which makes it hard to be a teenager.

If the training is made too intense, too often and for too long, then all enjoyment is taken out of the sport and your child is going to look at their peers having fun with their friends and begin to wonder if their sport is worth giving up these opportunities for. That's where the enjoyment needs to e the focus especially in the younger years when they develop a passion for their chosen sport.

You don't need to treat your 11, 12 year olds as Olympians from such a young age, let them enjoy their training and make friends along the way.

2. Stay Ahead of the Curve

Developing a strong overall base of athleticism is going to better facilitate your child's growth in their sport rather than specialising at such an early age.

Having a focus on developing core, leg and upper body strength in the gym is going to have a great carry over into the pool and other sports.

Rather than relying on puberty being the main determinant on how your child develops physically, it's best to begin strength training to stay ahead of the curve. This is important for athletes who are most developed to ensure they don't lose the edge when everyone else catches up. And for those who are underdeveloped, setting themselves up to be successful when they catch up to their competition.

3. Deliberate Practice, Not Practice for the Sake of Practice

Ensuring that you aren't spending excessive time in the pool is important so that motivation to train remains high.

Having a clear structure and goal to each session will best facilitate improvement. Asking yourself why am I doing this extra practice and what am I getting out of it? Rather than spending arbitrary time in the pool just for the sake of an "extra practice". This can be best achieved by seeking feedback from your coach on where to improve and then having 1 or 2 main focusses for each session to work on. A quality approach should be favoured.

Children develop at different rates. A 12-year-old can be as tall as a 6 foot or as small as a 4"11". This will have a significant impact on the success your child will experience especially individual sports. That's where incorporating the tips above will help level out that playing field once everyone is at a similar stage.

We have seen this first-hand with two of our swimmers at Inner Athlete.

Athlete 1 developed very early and was very tall for her age which enabled her to consistently win and achieve PB after PB. By starting strength training early, we were able to teach her how to use her body more efficiently as well as continue to build strength, so that now when everyone else is catching up she is still able to win and improve on her times.

In contrast to this, Athlete 2 was underdeveloped for her age in comparison. However, working with us were were able to build a strong base of fitness which meant once Athlete 2 caught up with the rest of the competition, she was able to start winning races she hadn't been close to before.

For more information on strength and conditioning for youth athletes and increasing your sports performance, check out our website and podcast (also available on Spotify and YouTube!).

Matt Hucul
Inner Athlete - Bayside's premium strength and conditioning coaching for youth athletes

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