The Awesome 8 year old

This is a great article that underscores the importance of taking the "long view" in regards to parenting swimmers. It reminds us to focus more on our role as "support-parents" rather than that of "sports-parents".

The Awesome 8 Year Old
By Guy Edson, ASCA Staff
I have never met a coach who didn’t want all their athletes to be 
the best they can be. I have never met a parent who didn’t want their child to be the best 
they can be. So why do we have so many conflicts between coaches and 
parents? The simple answer is that each sees a different path.
Let’s take the case of the unusually advanced 8 year old whose 
parents want their child to swim with the next group of 9-12’s.
“After all,” the mom says, “my son is faster than half of the kids in 
the next group.” (And she is correct.)
Why wouldn’t the coach give a wholehearted “Yes,” and say, “I’ll 
move him up right away. In fact, I believe he can make the send 
off intervals that the 11-12’s are making so I’ll put him there. In a 
year he may be ready for the senior team.”
Why not?
Because every good coach sees the importance of long term 
progressive development and views their young swimmers as long 
term endeavors. Coaches should take a patient and a progressive 
approach to the development of their young swimmers. Coaches 
want swimmers in the program through their teen years and into 
their 20’s when they are physically mature and have the greatest 
potential for life changing participation.
Ask an adult who dropped out of swimming by age 12 or 13 what 
they remember from the sport and chances are, they remember 
very little. Now ask an adult who swam through college what they 
remember and chances are they will tell you it was one of the most 
important life changing experiences of their life.
So how do we keep a swimmer in the sport that long?
Many parents also will echo the importance of long term 
development. However, they just want to speed it up. There is a 
sometimes verbalized refrain, “The better he is now, then the better he will be in the future.”
This is not true in most cases. Parents who are otherwise well-
meaning, sometimes push their budding stars to excel too early at 
almost any cost. And that cost is frequently failing to finish the 
long term.
Parents should take note: A 2001 study by the National Alliance 
for Youth Sports found that 70 percent of American kids who sign 
up for sports quit by the time they were 13. The reason? They 
said it wasn't fun anymore.
A study done by the ASCA staff years ago and repeated several 
times since shows that only 17 to 20% of the aged 9-10 swimmers 
ranked in the top 16 are still swimming at the national level 5 years 
later. USA Swimming also did a study using the all time Top 100 
list and found that only 11% of the top ranked 10 and unders are 
still ranked as 17-18 year olds.
What is the primary reason we lose swimmers? The number one 
reason according to a survey done a few years ago is simply that 
swimming stopped being fun.
And what are the elements of fun? Friends, caring coaches, and 
absence of undue pressure from mom and dad to achieve their 
goals for the child.
When we move an 8 and under to an older age group we…:
…take them away from their friends. (“Friends” is the number one 
reason why young swimmers stay on the team in the first place.)
…take away their opportunity to be the leader of their peers. Good 
coaches build core groups of swimmers around leaders and move 
those core groups up through the program very nearly together.
…take the edge off of that wonderful, playful, crazy style of an 8 
year old – because now, they are with older swimmers who usually 
do not share the same traits as an 8 year old.
…place tremendous pressure on the swimmer because now it’s not 
about having fun and being with friends, now it is about the serious 
business of work and achieving the goals mom and dad are setting 
for the child.
…change the progression and move the swimmer to a program 
which they may not be able to handle physically, developmentally, or mentally.
Dryland training for an 8 and under is vastly different 
than for an 11-12 year old. The amount of fundamental kicking is 
less for an older age group swimmer. The amount of stroke work 
is also less for an older age group swimmer. Skip a proper 
progression of these and you risk developing an incomplete athlete.
…provide less time for games and relays.
…ignore the fact that the 8 year old may be better than the other 8 
and unders because he is simply older biologically and 
developmentally than his peers and in all likelihood his peers will 
catch up to him at some point and many will pass on by. When 
that happens it is very difficult for the swimmer to understand why 
they aren’t so “good” anymore and lose interest in the sport.
…identify the 8 year old as a “talent” with tremendous pressure to 
live up to it. Some parents even identify their young swimmers as 
“our talented little butterflyer” or backstroker or breaststroker, etc.
The problem is, as swimmers grow and body proportions change, 
they frequently lose their ability to be very good in one specific 
stroke. If their identity is attached to a stroke and they lose their 
stroke, then they lose their identity. Good coaches don’t create 
specialized age group swimmers and try very hard to create well 
rounded IM swimmers. When parents push a certain stroke upon a 
child, it adds to the stress.
…place the child in a socially difficult situation. Chatter among 
swimmers between sets and before and after practice – the so 
called “locker room talk” -- may be very inappropriate for an 8 
year old to listen to.
…change the focus of the coach as the coach now has to take 
special care for an under-age swimmer in the group who might not 
make all the intervals or understand all the instructions.
Neither parents, nor coaches, can MAKE a child be a great 
swimmer. We can only provide the environment with the proper 
emotional support (parents) and challenges (coaching) in a well 
crafted progressive program aimed at the long term development 
of the child (coaching). It looks like I have reduced the role of the 
parent to that of providing emotional support – correct!
That’s what you can uniquely provide and that is what is most needed 
from you.
Next time you come to practice, bring an extra towel for your 
child, and bring a book for yourself. Allow your child to get lost in 
the fun of a practice with their buddies while you simply watch 
them for the sheer joy of it without worries about their swimming future…
or, just get lost in your book.