In swimming, the topic of specialization of young athletes is often contentious and controversial. At the beginning of my career, I was extremely fortunate to grow up and participate in a program that put an emphasis on doing all different types of events.
Here are a few reasons why young athletes should swim a broad spectrum of events:
1. Helps Build a Training Base
When younger swimmers swim longer and more challenging events, it gives them the experience and the confidence to train harder and get faster. It is often said that you can build a sprinter off a distance swimmer. This is because every event requires some sort of aerobic base. This base helps a swimmer strongly finish any distance.
By not specializing at an early age, swimmers are able to build a well-rounded base for every stroke. One of my greatest swimming memories is one day after practice when I came home and told my parents that I was to swim the 500 freestyle at my next meet. After I swam it, I took some of the basic aspects of the race like pacing and maintaining technique into practice which allowed me to get faster in all of my strokes. Also, this well-rounded base allows the athlete to train multiple muscle groups leading to a reduced chance of injury. Giving young athletes the ability to develop all muscle groups instead of overloading only certain groups, allows the athlete to specialize as they mature with a lower risk of injury.
2. Character Building
Swimming a wide range of events builds character. I specifically remember many times earlier in my swimming career when I was forced to swim several difficult events over the course of a meet session or weekend. At the time, I did not necessarily love swimming my non-dominant strokes and events, but eventually it paid dividends.
For many young swimmers, competing in new events is a terrifying experience. Some seem so long– they cannot be humanly possible to complete. But once the race is over, many young swimmers feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. For example, the 200 butterfly is an event many young athletes shy away from because of it’s a high endurance and strength race. Swimming different length races puts each race in perspective. If someone swims a 1650 yard freestyle, they realize that the 200 yard freestyle is not as long as they once thought. When I was 12 years old, I swam the 1000 yard freestyle on the first day of a meet. The next day, I swam the 200 yard freestyle and I said to myself, “Wow, that was insanely short!” From that day on, I did not really think of a 200 freestyle as long.
3. Reduces Burnout
Over the course of my swimming career, I have experienced times where I have plateaued in certain events and excelled in others. Many times, I would be dropping time in one stroke discipline and then I would go through a period of time where I did not drop any time. I distinctly remember when I moved out of the 11-12 age group and moved into the 13-14 age group. At the time, I was strictly a backstroker and I did not really think about anything else. When I aged up, the times got so much faster and I stopped progressing in my backstroke events. However, because I had been forced to swim other types of events at a younger age, I found it easier to stay motivated and still drop time in other events until my backstroke came around again.
4. Evaluate strengths and weaknesses
Let’s be honest, not every swimmer is going to be the best ever at the 50 freestyle or the 100 backstroke. However, when a swimmer gets to swim a wide range of events, it gives them an opportunity to experiment and determine what races fit them. I fell in love with distance swimming in my early teenage years. I was amazed with the stroke efficiency, the even pacing of many of the top distance swimmers, and trying to emulate them day after day in practice. Then there were the struggles that came with sprinting. Without my background in racing several events, it would have been extremely difficult to determine where my natural talent was.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSSS nor its staff.