BEING A SWIM PARENT
The most important thing you can do as the parent of a swimmer is to love and support your child, both in and out of the pool. This support is a key factor in fostering enjoyment and learning as well as contributing to the child's individual success in the pool.
THE FOUR STROKES
The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. The combination of all four strokes is called individual medley.
In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the crawl, which is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water surface and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick.
Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick while on the back. On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a flip turn and some part of the swimmer must touch the wall. The swimmer must finish on the back.
The breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pressed out from in front of the breast in a heart shaped pattern and recovered under or on the surface of the water. The kick is a simultaneous somewhat circular motion similar to the action of a frog. On turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously at, above or below the water surface.
Some consider the butterfly to be the most beautiful of the strokes. It features a simultaneous recovery of the arms over the water combined with an undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together and may not flutter, scissors or use the breaststroke kick. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish.
The individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four strokes. In the IM, the swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after one-fourth of the race to backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle.
The technical rules of swimming are designed to provide fair and equitable conditions of competition and to promote uniformity in the sport. Each swimming stroke has specific rules designed to ensure that no swimmer gets an unfair competitive advantage over another swimmer.
Competition pools may be short course (25 yards or 25 meters), or long course (50 meters). The international standard (as used in the Olympics) is 50 meters. World records are accomplished in 25 and 50 meter pools. USA Swimming maintains records for 25 yard, 25 meter and 50 meter pools.
Participants compete in different age groups and meets depending on their achievement level and how old they are on the first day of the meet. Traditionally recognized age groups are 10 and under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18. Many local meets feature 8 and under, single age groups, or senior events. Team practice groups are usually determined by age and/or ability.
Officials are present at all competitions to enforce the technical rules of swimming so the competition is fair and equitable. Officials attend clinics, pass a written test and work meets before being certified. All parents are encouraged to get involved with some form of officiating.
LEVELS OF SWIMMING
Swimming is a wholesome, positive activity because no matter where you are in the swimming progression, the sport encompasses the fundamental elements that parents love. At USA Swimming, we believe that the core benefits of swimming include:
- Fun-whether it is the exhilaration of achieving your goal time or playing cards with your friends at a swim meet, we love this sport and stay involved because it is FUN.
- Fitness-getting kids to be water safe, keeping them moving with fundamental aerobic activity, or a low impact workout for the joints as we age, swimming keeps its participants in incredible shape and teaches basic FITNESS principles that last a lifetime.
- Friends-ask any swimmer what they like most about the sport, more often than not it will be the friendships they made through car pools to practice, hanging out at the end of the lane, or pushing their buddies to try just a little bit harder at practice.
Under the USA Swimming umbrella there are different levels of involvement as well as entry points to the sports. Listed below are the most common areas where your child can get involved with USA Swimming.
LEARN TO SWIM
Becoming safe in the water and learning to swim are essential skills. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14 in the United States. Many of those deaths might have been prevented with swim lessons. Swimming lessons are a fun activity for kids of all ages and are often a great entry point into swimming.
AGE GROUP SWIMMING
Many children get their competitive start through a neighborhood swim team, local recreational team, country club, school team or a USA Swimming club team. At this level, swimmers learn and refine swimming skills and begin to compete against their peers.
As swimmers mature, the goals become a little bigger and they move into senior level swimming. At this level swimmers still refine skills, but training becomes more serious and is designed by professional coaches to get athletes to peak performance when they are physically and mentally prepared to do so.
ELITE LEVEL SWIMMING
Some athletes have the talent, dedication, and commitment to reach the elite levels of the sport. They compete at national and international level competitions and strive to make a national team to represent their country in the Olympics or other international competitions.
If you are new to the sport and just getting to a point where you are fast enough to qualify for some elite meets, here is a list of meets based on their importance and then any qualifications that are needed to attend that particular level of meet.
- these are very small meets designed to give the “beginner” swimmers a feel for what a swim meet is all about.
INNER SQUAD / DUAL MEETS
- these are meets that we will host here in Venice and will usually be only a ½ long on either Saturday or Sunday.
- these are the normal meets that we attend during the season, both Y and USA Swimming meets, these can be times finals (only swim one session per day) or prelims/finals (swim once to get a place, then come back at night and swim in Finals). We always designate what type of meet it is and all the info for each meet we are going to attend is always posted on our website. It is up to each family to read the meet info and know what is expected and on what days.
Y STATES - YMCA STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
This is really our first “Championship level” meet of the season. The qualifications for this meet are that you must attend at least 3 “closed” YMCA meets during the season. This year those meets were the mini meets that were hosted on Friday nights either in Venice or Sarasota, or any other Y meet hosted by a YMCA. If you do not attend 3 of these meets then you do not meet the qualifying criteria for the Y States Championships. Most Championship meets have minimum qualifying times, but this meet is simply based on past meets attended, a very easy qualification for swimmers of all abilities! All swimmers are expected to be qualified for this meet and attend the meet on all days. This is a prelims/finals meet as it is team scored.
FLAGS (JUNIOR OLYMPICS)
- This is the meet where the top swimmers in Florida, ages 14 & under, come together and race to see who the State Champions will be for each age-group and each event. This meet does have strict qualifying times, but if you make one of these cuts, you know you are one of the best in Florida in that event and age-group! Our primary goal is to get as many kids to this level, under the age of 15, as possible. So every 14 & under swimmer should be training to try and make one of these cuts. This is a prelims/finals meet for 11 & up and Timed Finals for 10 and under swimmers. These times are listed on the Florida Swimming website.
AREA 3 / 5 CHAMPIONSHIPS
- This meet is designed to be a Championship Meet for all swimmers who did not make it to FLAGS, so this is sort of the end of season Championships. FLAG swimmers may compete as well, but cannot swim any events that they swam at the FLAG meet. So this Championship meet does not have any qualifying times and everyone who is qualified is expected to attend.
- This is the next level of Championship meet within the state. These qualifying times are tougher that the FLAG cuts but any swimmers are allowed to qualify and compete. You are getting into more of an elite level of swimming and many times the meet might include some top out of the State swimmers as well.
USA SWIMMING SECTIONALS
- This meet has some tough qualifying times and is a regional level meet, including more than just Florida. Competition really starts to heat up at this level with athletes competing at this level to try and move on to high level meets that are coming up. It is not uncommon to see Olympic hopefuls and former Olympians compete at Sectional Meets.
- This is the first National level meet that our athletes will attend. Every YMCA in the country that has a swim team and has swimmers qualified for this level, will be in attendance. Times standards are getting tough at this stage, and the competition level jumps way up from any previously mentioned meets. Y Nationals boasts over 1400 swimmers and the competition level is as high as Olympic Trials qualifiers. This is a very big step in your progression towards being an elite swimmer! Any swimmers that are 12 years old and above are allowed to compete once they have exceeded any of the qualifying times. This is a Team travel meet and attending swimmers will generally travel and stay with their teammates and coaches. Many college coaches are at this meet looking for college scholarship athletes.
USA SWIMMING JUNIOR NATIONALS
- Now you are getting in to some better competition which includes not only YMCA swimmers, but any USA swimmers, ages 18 & under, in the country that have made the qualifying times. Racing gets very fast at this level. Qualifying times are tougher for this level that they are for Y Nationals, so this is another big step in your career!
USA SWIMMING SENIOR NATIONALS
- Now you are getting to a very elite level of swimming including both Club swimmers (as we are), college swimmers, and professional swimmers (i.e. Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, you get the point!). These are the absolute best in the country along with some top foreign athletes. Very tough time standards at this level!
USA SWIMMING OLYMPIC TRIALS
- This is the fastest meet on American soil/water. All the best American swimmers are here, regardless of age as long as you have made the very tough qualifying standards. This is the most pressure packed meet you will ever attend, even more so than the Olympics! Times really don’t matter here. If you win your event(s) then you are an Olympian! If you are 2nd, generally you will qualify to go as an Olympian as well! For relays, then will take at least 4 athletes per relay, sometimes up to 5 or 6! (Twice in my career I have had the youngest qualifier/contender at the meet, in 1996 was Jennifer Parmenter at 13 [ Amanda Beard sat with us at the meet and she was 12, and made the Olympic Team for the first time]; in 2000 I had John Criste, 14. So don’t let age be a factor, because it isn’t!
USA SWIMMING OLYMPIC TEAM
- This is as high as you can go! There actually are qualifying times to be at the Olympics so that the competition level is as elite as possible. At one time there were swimmers going to the Olympics from small 3rd world countries that some of our current swimmers could beat! Not the case anymore. These are the fastest swimmers in the world, no question.
So this should answer any and all of your questions about how swimmers advance in the competition world. But you must keep in mind that you have to take it one step at a time. A nine year old today can very possibly be at Olympic Trials in 5 years if the dedication, talent, competition and coaching are in place. Some of you have dual citizenship, so your chances of being an Olympian are even higher since the United States is the toughest, and the best, Olympic team.
But none of this will ever happen unless you are in competition, regardless of what your age or level is right now. If you are not currently doing meets, that needs to change. How will you ever know what your potential is if you are not in competition on a regular basis?