Frequently Asked Questions
The following questions are also found in the AAC Parent Handbook. More questions will be added as parents contact AAC with their questions. Please feel free to make suggestions for new questions and answers to be posted. Email Head Coach Evan Stiles with your suggestions.
Q: What will happen to my child's meet results if he only makes half of the offered workouts because he is participating in other sports?
A: Children involved in other activities can benefit in the areas of coordination and balance, as well as improved social and intellectual development. Specialized training in one activity does not necessarily need to take place at this stage of development. Will your son's teammate who makes all practices have better results? Probably, because his teammate is working solely on developing swimming skills. It is up to you to explain to your child that making the choice to participate in other activities can have its consequences. Tell your son that he should not compare his results to that of his teammate, but to focus on the fact that he is benefiting from and enjoying both sports.
Q: Shouldn't my child be swimming more laps instead of doing all those drills?
A: Your child needs to develop a solid foundation in stroke mechanics. Drills and drill sets serve the specific purpose of teaching skills and fundamentals. Drills develop motor coordination, motor skills, and balance. In fact, your child's coach may prescribe a particular drill, just for your child, in order to improve a part of her stroke. In addition, she may actually be experiencing a “training” benefit from drills. Drills require concentration and aerobic energy to do them correctly.
Q: My child seems to be bouncing off the wall during “taper.” What is that?
A: Tapering is a gradual reduction in training workloads in preparation for major competition. Some Age Groupers do not need to taper at all: a little rest and they are ready to go. As training increases, swimmers need more rest and the process of tapering is introduced. Swimmers taper only a couple of times a year, for their major competitions. Taper is not something that occurs for every meet! “Taper time” is an exciting time for a young swimmer and there are two reasons for this:
- Physiologically your child is expending less energy because the workload has been reduced.
- Psychologically there is less mental fatigue as he is doing less physical work. Additionally, the anticipation and nervousness associated with the upcoming competition contributes to your child's bouncing off the wall. Do not worry, it will soon be over.
Q: My daughter just moved up to the senior group. Her coach wants her to start coming to morning workouts twice a week. Is this really necessary?
A: Your child has established proper stroke technique and swimming fundamentals by progressing through the levels of the team. It is appropriate at this stage of your daughter's career development to increase the training loads. This includes adding the two mornings per week. Although morning practices come extra early, this level of commitment is necessary for your daughter to reach the next level of her swimming career.
Training for competitive swimming is demanding on young athletes. As swimmers develop in the sport, they need to understand the upcoming time demands. One specific principle of training that applies is the progressive overload principle. A person must be stressed slightly more each day over time to continue to improve. In order to do that, the coach must plan additional time. The addition of morning workouts often becomes necessary for the coach to develop young athletes to their maximum potential.
Q: What type of commitment is needed for this level of swimming?
A: While a swimmer's performance is influenced by numerous factors, there are three that exert the greatest influence: physical, technical and mental. As athletes progress, a greater commitment, of both time and energy, is needed to enable an athlete to address all of these factors.
Additionally, the athlete is asked to take more responsibility for and ownership of his practice and competition performance. One way of doing this is by accepting responsibility for leading a lifestyle conducive to swimming well, i.e., proper nutrition, adequate sleep, time management, managing extra-curricular activities.
Q: I think my child is sacrificing too much to train. Is this okay?
A: What you may consider a sacrifice, i.e. missing a school dance, football game, or simply going out with friends, your child many not consider a sacrifice at all! Instead, your child has chosen to commit to swimming. By doing so, he realizes that a certain level of training is necessary for him to achieve greater goals and does not look at these activities as missed opportunities. Keep in mind that your child realizes missing a workout is like missing sleep, it cannot be made up. If, however, your child is expressing sentiments that he is missing these chances, then it is time to re-evaluate the balance in his activities.
Q: My child was a successful age group swimmer. How can I help her reach the next level? (I.e. Sectionals, Juniors, Nationals, National Team)
A: When your daughter is making the transition, she needs to realize that she is participating at a higher level. Improvements are in tenths and hundredths, rather than seconds, due to biological and physiological factors.
Throughout her career, you have been very supportive. This support is still needed but it may have to be a little different than in the past. It is a good time to discuss with your daughter what she needs from you. Do not be afraid to ask her “How can I support you in your swimming?” While you are an important part of her support network, realize your daughter, at this level, should be taking on more ownership of her swimming career.
Q: My son is complaining that his shoulder is hurting after practice. What causes this?
A: Swimming is relatively safe for children when performed within reasonable guidelines. Children often seek to push their limits, which can result in injury. The movements in swimming are repetitive and can result in injuries of the soft tissues in the shoulder, knee and hip. Proper strengthening, stretching routines and stroke technique can reduce the risk of injury to these joints, especially to the shoulder.
If pain occurs it is important to: (a) open the line of communication with the coach, (b) ice the area regularly to reduce swelling and trauma, and (c) interact with the family physician and ask for a referral to a sports medicine physician. The coach should know what the problem is and when the training aggravates the painful joint. Immediate action to aid the healing process and to decrease inflammation that results in pain is to ice the area. The recommendation is twenty minutes of icing following each practice. Performing the icing procedure following the workout will help to reduce swelling and pain. Finally, the swimmer should be taken to his/her family physician. The medical doctor can then evaluate the problem and prescribe an appropriate treatment for the injured joint.
Q: What are "Process" goals?
A: There are two types of goals that swimmers can set:
- Outcome Goals: focus on the end result of performance. “Win, make finals.”
- Process Goals: relate to process of performance. “Breathe every 3rd stroke, streamline.”
Swimmers have much more control over Process Goals. Outcome Goals are uncontrollable since they also involve the performance of other competitors. Swimmers and coaches, especially at the Age Group level, should concentrate on Process Goals.
Q: Should my child begin setting goals?
A: Of course! Everyone should set goals. In fact, most kids have already set goals. As adults, however, we must remember that kids are not simply little versions of us and are not going to set the same types of goals as adults. One developmental difference is that children lack the cognitive ability to distinguish time and are also very concrete thinkers. Therefore, setting long-term goals often doesn't provide the motivation for kids that it does for adults. Kids want results today. With younger swimmers, it is appropriate to talk about short-term goals - - what they need to work on today. Most coaches will emphasize goals that reinforce skill development and the process of swim performance. Additionally, based on cognitive development research, we know that around the age of 6 or 7, kids enter the stage of social comparison. In this stage, they begin to evaluate their own performance by comparing it to others. So as the parent, reinforce what the coach has emphasized and help her focus on individual improvement. Encourage your child's goal to be “SMART”.
- S pecific: tells the athlete what to do
- M easurable: able to measure and record progress
- A ttainable: athlete can experience success
- R ealistic: challenging but “do-able”
- T rackable: short-term goals build into long-term goals
Q: All my swimmer talks about is being an Olympic swimmer. Should I discourage this since it may not be realistic?
A: Most kids will have long-term or “dream” goals of making the Olympic team or winning Nationals. Dream goals can be beneficial by helping motivate your athlete to go to practice and to train hard (and there is no way of knowing if it is realistic or not). While it is okay to have dream goals, there are several problems with athletes only having dream goals. These problems include not knowing if they are making progress towards their goal, not experiencing little “successes” along the way, and losing motivation when the goal seems so distant. To combat this, it is important to also talk to your child about setting short-term or even daily goals. Ask him what he is working on in practice this week (just as you ask him what is going on in school), get him to identify skills he needs to improve on, and follow up with him to help him recognize successes along the way. Be sure to ask your son to speak to his coach if he needs help seeking some practice or short-term goals.
Q: My child gets so nervous before a competition. Is this natural? What can I do to help her to reduce this competitive pressure/stress?
A: To a degree, nervousness is part of the competitive experience and can be used as an opportunity to teach the young athlete specific strategies or skills to help her manage this arousal or nervousness. A simple skill that young athletes can learn to help manage the “butterflies in their stomachs” is belly breathing. The athlete is taught to take slow, deep breaths into her belly, hold it briefly, and then exhale slowly. Words can be included to help the athlete focus her thoughts on something besides worry. This is a quick strategy that helps calm the body and mind and only takes a few seconds to do. Another skill to help the athlete deal with muscular tightness brought on by nervousness is progressive muscle relaxation. In this procedure, the athlete goes through the major muscles in her body and first tenses and then relaxes each muscle. This teaches athletes to learn the difference between a tense and relaxed muscle, to learn where different muscles are located, and to eventually be able to relax specific muscles as necessary. Remember that these skills must be taught and practiced before the athlete will be able to use them effectively.
We also know that excessive anxiety can be damaging to both performance and to the athlete's desire to enter such situations in the future. Two factors which have been found to play a role in the level of anxiety experienced are the importance of the event and the uncertainly of the outcome. Greater importance and greater uncertainty lead to increased anxiety. Parents, this suggests that you can play an active role in reducing competition anxiety by de-valuing the outcome of the event and by focusing on the individual performance over which the swimmers have control.
Symptoms of anxiety:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- frequent ‘pit stops'
- excessive worry
- talk of failure
- low confidence
Strategies to Manage
- Deep belly breathing
- positive self-talk
- relaxation exercises
- think of successes
- visualize race
- listen to music
- focus on goals
- light massage
- distract by talking with friends, family
Q: When is my child ready for competition?
A: That is a difficult question, as research on athlete development provides no clear-cut answer. In an article by Passer (1988) addressing this question, he reviewed several areas of development in attempting to provide guidelines on determining readiness for competition:
- Motivational readiness: Because competition is a social comparison process, the young athlete is motivated to compete when he or she possesses a social comparison orientation. Research suggests that around the age of 5-7 kids have the desire for and ability to use social comparison information.
- Cognitive readiness: Competition requires numerous cognitive and reasoning skills (i.e., perspective taking, differentiating between effort and ability) that take some time to develop in youngsters. Researchers suggest that kids do not develop the cognitive abilities to have an understanding of the competitive process until approximately age 12.
- Physical growth, physiological capacity, and development: These factors must also be considered when trying to decide readiness for competition.
Q: What should I tell my child when he or she says it's not fair that I have to swim against Suzy, she is so much bigger than I am?
A: Look at a classroom full of school children. The diversity in size and shape is remarkable. Even though these children are similar in chronological age (calendar age) they may be very different in biological age (physical/sexual maturity). Puberty is a critical point in the developmental process. It is well known that girls mature more rapidly than boys do. In fact, the average girl matures 2-2.5 years earlier than the average boy (see sidebar on next page). However, these values are merely averages and the range can be several years within each gender.
It is important to remember that “early bloomers”-children who move through biological maturation more rapidly than average- tend to be more physically developed. This can sometimes be an advantage for them in the swimming pool. “Late bloomers” tend to catch-up over time and will often become even more proficient at the sport. Regardless of the maturational pace of your child, she needs to focus on her personal improvements over time.