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OCT BLOG - 5 Common Pitfalls/Traps for Swimmers and Parents


For this months blog, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the common mistakes that swimmers and parents fall into when they are starting out in the world of swimming. Over my years within swimming coaching, there are often similar areas that can hinder a swimmer’s development, or in some instances can see swimmers failing to fully realise their potential in future years due to traps they fell into at an earlier age. So here are my top 5 pitfalls to be aware of when starting your swimming career!

  1. Comparisons with other swimmers of the same age
  2. Chasing times at an early age
  3. Avoiding challenges or hiding from the negatives
  4. Expecting more out of swimming, than what you put in
  5. Not enjoying the ride!

Comparisons with other swimmers of the same age

Often when starting out as a swimmer or when parenting a young swimmer, it is very easy to compare the times of the fastest swimmers in that age group and base your decisions on them. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as pushing harder and chasing “times” that ultimately are not an end goal. I have seen numerous occasions where swimmers feel pressure to live up to the times of other swimmers in their age group, when in reality some of these swimmers are physically more developed, or have spent more time in the pool practicing at an earlier age. Rather than comparing with others, focus on what needs to be done to improve and play the long game! Olympic medals are not won at 12 years old and some of the best swimmers in history did not start out as the “best” swimmers in their age group.

Chasing times at an early age

Within Hamilton Aquatics we stick to our Long-Term Athlete Development model, with the aim of building the necessary capabilities for an athlete to reach their full potential. This will include laying great technical foundations, building aerobic capacities within our young swimmers as well as gradually progressing them into more intense and challenging training. By skipping some of these development phases in chasing “faster times” with higher intensity or more challenging work before the athlete has built the necessary technical and physical capacities to do so, swimmers end up limited in what they can truly achieve in the sport and end up plateauing at an earlier age. There is no point in putting a Ferrari engine in a chassis that can’t handle it, just like putting a small engine in the chassis of a Lamborghini won’t make the car go faster – it takes a body that can handle the work, as well as technical skills that can handle the intensity to make the athlete faster. More challenging and more intense training does not always equate to improvement in the long run. Don’t skip the stages!

Avoiding challenges or hiding from the negatives

Nobody will go through their entire swimming career without facing negative moments or challenging situations. As swimmers and parents, you will often have choices to make that can make facing these moments more manageable down the line or keep them as a constant thorn in your side. If a swimmer has a bad meet (which every swimmer will do), do we look for excuses and external factors to blame? Or do we face up to it and own the situation? One will dissolve any responsibility from the swimmer; the other will allow them to learn the lessons from their training and racing. Every challenging and negative moment is an opportunity to learn and whilst it is very easy to sit here now and type this, the true test will come in those moments of toughness. The saying of “fail often, fail early” is a great one – if your path is too smooth to start with, how can you ever learn to deal with these moments, when they do inevitably arrive?

Expecting more out of swimming, than what you put in

Swimming is an incredibly honest sport. It will reward consistency of effort, discipline, and focus. When swimmers do the bare minimum, they will get minimal results in return. The structure within our programme is set to allow for development over the long term and therefore the minimum requirement of sessions is planned to ensure that swimmers develop at a sustainable and appropriate rate. Younger age groups are encouraged to keep active with different sports and develop their general athletic abilities, but if your coach has asked for 3 sessions per week and you only do 1 or 2, then you will not see the progression that you want, and your development will suffer. Swimming is a really rewarding, delayed gratification sport and it will teach swimmers some really important life lessons, but it takes investment and time – don’t look for results from the work that you didn’t do!

Not enjoying the ride!

Finally, and most importantly, don’t turn your swimming career into something that you look back on with dread. The community that gets built around swimming is special. Families get to know each other, and swimmers make friends for life. Have fun with your friends, have some laughs on poolside and cheer each other on at competitions. Life is too short to have your head buried into ‘Meet Mobile’ researching the “rival swimmers” at meets. Be a positive radiator of energy, not somebody that people don’t like spending time around. If the session is challenging, be the person that you would want to be in a lane with, not the sour Sally that makes every repetition a little bit harder. Your training environment is dictated by YOU, if you want a positive, productive, and fun environment, then start the chain reaction off by getting your approach right to start with – others will follow! This goes for swimmers and parents. In my past at other clubs, I have unfortunately seen parents who spend more time gossiping and spinning the rumour mill than they do supporting the children at the club. Be a radiator of support, not a drain of energy. Swimming can be a tough sport - morning training, long hours at training and long hours at competitions… so do your best to make the environment somewhere that you want to be!

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