At some point, as your child gets older and continues to swim enthusiastically, you might be thinking ‘hmm, I wonder if she’d enjoy swim team..’
It’s a valid thought to have. Swimming is one of the, if not the, best sports for growing children. It offers all the components of true physical health – endurance, strength, flexibility and fitness without stressing growing bones and joints; something that no other sport can claim. Additionally, it is an excellent sport to incorporate into increasing stamina and endurance for better performance in other sports as well.
All that said, swimming is a sport that requires maturity. Practices are intense and the demands are fairly rigorous – most teams require a min of 3 days of practice each week. Practices are always later after school, leaning towards a 4:30 or 5pm start time and usually last between 60-90 minutes.
Additionally, swimming is not a social sport. I mean, you see your teammates, you talk in your lanes between sets for a quick minute, but the majority of the time your head is down, you’re underwater and just swimming laps. So it can be boring, monotonous even.
Which is why, I tell parents, choose carefully when picking a team and don’t rush your child towards a team too early on, lest they get burned out and turned off (which I’ve seen happen over and over).
If your child is under the age of 11, the team you choose should have a well developed ‘junior team’. The coach should be focusing primarily on technique and endurance. Shorter sets with a focus on drills and improving strokes at this stage is key to success and speed later on. If it appears that the younger swimmers are more of a ‘distraction’ and they just swim laps without much direction or instruction, then its not the team for you.
One bonus to having a child start at a younger age, however, is that the requirements are not as intense to join (every team has different tryout requirements but typically a solid 50 freestyle with side breathing, plus a solid 50 of another racing stroke, as well general knowledge and execution of at least one other stroke is pretty standard practice)
Some teams do not require participation in swim meets, while others absolutely insist on it. Beware – swim meets are notoriously brutal for late sleepers! They always start at some ungodly hour and last at least half the day. I will say though, that I still remember my swim meets vividly and they can be such an amazing motivator and character builder that for your older swimmers, you should strongly consider doing at least one or two.
Really, I find the best way to choose a team is to visit a few of them and observe first. In fact, go without your child first so you can form your opinion freely. Talk to the coaches to get a sense of their level of commitment, willingness to engage with you and a sense of their personality as well.
They will often encourage you to bring your child for a practice, so both you and they can see if you’re a good fit.
Lastly, let’s address what to do if your child starts it and then decides he hates it. Do you let them quit? This is a very case by case scenario but my general rule is, it depends on the child’s age and reason for participating. As I mentioned earlier, swimming requires mental maturity. It may be that yours is currently too young for a formal, intense style of coaching. You can always come back to it later when they’re older. You can make a deal with them that they have to stick it out twice a week for let’s say 3 months or something reasonable and then if they still want to quit at that point, they can.
If your child is a bit older and needs it for health or exercise reasons, then be firm in your resolve. My older son has a slight curvature of the spine and swimming is one of the best forms of exercise to strengthen the core and back and alleviate issues later on so for him, its a non-negotiable part of his after school activities. My younger one swims during the off season from soccer to stay in shape and keep his endurance level high.
Neither of them compete however.
In general, I am pro-swim team whenever its feasible and can comfortably be incorporated into your child’s routine. And if they’re passionate about it then I strongly encourage fostering that passion. It truly is a sport that you can do for life!