Cheltenham Swimming and WaterPolo Club
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Age Group Training

The thesis of this article is quite simple: young age group swimmers, those aged 8 to 10 years old, should be in a program that emphasizes stroke technique and a solid base of aerobic conditioning. This is not a plea for unlimited or mindless yardage for young swimmers. However, it is a suggestion that guidelines for young swimmers, in recent years, have been too inflexible and understate the amount of work, that young swimmers can and should do in order to develop to their full potential.

Endurance training is the core training for age group swimmers. This is particularly true for younger age group swimmers, those in the ten and under age groups. The fundamental goal for my age group program is to produce the best possible senior swimmers. Thus, I stress a program that emphasizes the future more than the present. I do very little sprinting or anaerobic training with our younger swimmers. I see success in age group sprinting as largely dictated by size and physical maturity, and not indicative of future development. Endurance training, on the other hand, develops a strong aerobic base, good stroke technique and solid practice habits, skills and traits that carry over into senior swimming. Endurance training for young swimmers is carried out in three forms.

The first is long steady-state swims of 1500 to 4000 meters. These should be done fairly regularly, approximately every week to ten days. The emphasis is on good technique, proper turns and streamlining, and continuous swimming. Such swimming is little more than lap swimming and is not particularly difficult, and is performed in all strokes and individual medley.

Secondly, swimmers repeat sets of over-distance swims. The individual swim may vary from a 300 to 1000 meters, and the total distance in the set will run from 1000 to 4000 meters, depending on the skill level of the swimmer and the purpose of the set. The send-off times remain short, providing little time for more than brief stroke correction by the coach, and the swimming is in fact little more than a broken aerobic swim.

The third form of aerobic or endurance training is provided in long sets of shorter distances on very short send-offs, typically in the 50 to 200 meters range. The fundamental aim is to reduce the send-off times, and this can, with some justification be described as the core of the age group endurance program.

Endurance work of this type for young age group swimmers is crucial and offers solid physical and mental benefits. Physically, there seems to be a window of opportunity for swimmers that, will be missed if substantial aerobic conditioning and over-distance training is postponed. While there are doubtless exceptions to the rule, swimmers who lack this endurance base in their early years of swimming seem to find it difficult if not impossible to catch up. This is particularly true for female swimmers, probably because of their early maturation.

A further advantage of endurance training is that it makes the execution of good stroke technique easier and thus more enjoyable. Endurance work appears to smooth out swimmers’ strokes and make them more “flexible.” Swimmers without a distance base in their training, and particularly those who have done more sprint training in their younger years, appear to have more “fixed” strokes that are resistant to change and further refinement as they mature and grow. This may explain why aerobic-based age group swimmers appear to experience more steady improvement without the marked plateaus in development common to many swimmers.

The mental and psychological advantages of this type of training for younger swimmers are equally pronounced. Endurance training provides young swimmers with a constant sense of accomplishment and the confidence that they can do anything in the water. When they complete a 1500 meter or a long set, they believe that they are special, and the constant preoccupation with the need to swim best times is forgotten.

Age group endurance training also generates the discipline and work habits conducive to later success. If young swimmers are taught that swimming is an “occasional” activity and that all practices must be “fun,” they are unlikely to be disciplined or consistent in their approach as senior swimmers. I encourage young swimmers to participate in a range of activities, but we also encourage them to commit to a regular practice schedule and to attend all practices, which are not in conflict with their other activities. Though playing games with young swimmers, I try to get them past the point where they see only the game as fun. I want them to experience the sheer act of swimming, of propelling their bodies through the water more successfully and more gracefully than they have done in the past, as fun. Constantly stressing the sense of accomplishment they should carry away from practice. They should practice as often and as regularly as possible, and they need to be there not because they are going to play a game, but because they are going to be challenged.

An age group program should emphasize a strong component of technique work and aerobic conditioning. Although not an open-ended quest for meterage, young swimmers should be progressively presented with challenging workouts that develop their aerobic systems. Such a program benefits young swimmers both physically and mentally, in that it best prepares them for longer and more successful careers as senior swimmers.

 

Malcolm

Head Swim Coach