Developing for long term success

Swimming is a sport which asks a huge amount of every family, parent, coach and swimmer involved. It takes years of dedication, time and effort to gain, sometimes, the smallest of results, the tiniest PB or the first medal.

Unfortunately, this can often lead to a race for success. A race which can often be at the detriment of the swimmers involved, and particularly to their wellbeing. That cost is counted in swimmer burn out, swimmers quitting the sport and finally major injuries. Ensuring that this is not the case can be challenging and needs careful consideration when looking at the year ahead, before every season starts.

Development Swimming (Age 6-8) - FUNdamentals

Development level swimming is an introduction to the sport, where swimmers should be challenged to learn new skills and gain an understanding of racing. The focus should however be, and remain, having fun. At swim meets, the target events should be 25m-50m and they should be pumped when relays come around, team opportunities can be few and far between in swimming as it is.

Swimmers in these age groups should be taking part in a range of sports and activities in order to gain body control, movement skills and a wide set of functional abilities. For example, this flexibility learned in gymnastics can have great benefits to swimmers control of movements in the water, rock-climbing produces strong shoulders and legs which are great for swimmers when pushing off of the wall and diving, as well as pulling the water (use of latissimus-dorsi muscles in the back). Developing rounded young people is essential for their long term enjoyment of sport. Swimming at this age should be between 2 hours and an absolute maximum of 6 hours per week.

Age Group Swimming 1(Age 9-11 for girls, age 9-12 for boys)- Learn to Train

In this pre-growth spurt period focus on repetition of skills towards mastery in stroke mechanics plus learning and moving towards mastery of racing skills: starts; turns and finishes is best done in this stage. In these groups training session will become more structured and focus on supporting the swimmers in an enjoyable environment whilst expecting more focus on getting all of the strokes right. Swimmers will begin to aim toward 200m events, particularly IM in order to continue to develop all strokes.

Here swimmers should begin to develop their training and aim to be in the pool from 4 hours, up to around 10 hours per week. They should still be taking part in other sports which support the bodily development. It is also good to gain some team sport exposure, to keep learn the ‘team’ spirit which is so important in all sport.

Age Group Swimming 2 (Age 12-14 for girls, age 13-15 for boys)- Train to Train

Building the swimmers engine for performance, during the training to train stage, there should be an emphasis on aerobic conditioning combined with speed work and developing anaerobic capacity. In this period there can be greater individualisation of fitness and technical training and learning correct weight lifting techniques could begin. The focus should still be on training rather than competition. Swimmers should continue to love the sport but their view of training should move towards understanding the need to work hard alongside this.

Hear the swimmers should look to swim hours which are equivalent to their age, therefore a 13 year old should aim for close to or equal to 13 hours per week in the water. They can still continue with other sports, but for best results some and the time constraint of swim training, they may have to reduce other sports slightly to support this. Racing should remain focussed on 200m, adding 400m events, particularly IM.

Youth Swimming (Age 15-17 for girls, Age 16-18 for boys) Training to compete

Here the swimmers will begin to aim at optimising the engine! During the training to compete stage there should be continued emphasis on physical conditioning with more training building the race pace work and the anaerobic (without oxygen) system. At this stage swimmers are developing individual strengths and event selection/specialization would be fostered. Training should continue to develop strength, core body strength and maintain flexibility. Meets for swimmers this age should focus on specific events which are becoming specialized. Swimmers may move towards sprint or distance events as well.

Swimmers will be expected to continue increasing their swim hours where possible alongside this difficult period for study. Introduction to weights and increased land conditioning can support with this, as long as hours in the pool remain consistent (target 12 hours plus). Stroke work continues for parts of sessions, but more time will be centred around sets which develop different energy systems for racing.

University Swimming (Age 18+) Training to Win

Here the swimmers are training for their own satisfaction, with the target of achieving their absolute potential in the sport. During this stage the focus remains from Youth swimming, but more swimmer input is required to get the best out of performance.

Thins to remember as a parent:

  • Athletes who mature early and experience success early, often do so due to physical growth advantages.
  • Early success does not predict later success.
  • Late maturing athletes often catch up and exceed performance of early maturing athletes.
  • Keep success in perspective.
  • Technique in pre-puberty athletes is the key to long term success.
  • Swimming mastery is often described as a 10 year cycle. If they start jumping stages early, swimmers will often leave the sport before the mastery period is hit.

Thanks for reading, if you think of anything you would like me to blog about, please get in touch!

Coach Rich

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  1. Thanks Rich. A good read, especially the FUN part of things; life is too serious most of the time already! It would be good to interview the students and ask them what they think makes it fun and post their responses perhaps...

    Posted by Brian Taylor, 31/08/2017 at 17:58