When should a swimmer specialize in one stroke or the other?

It is easy to place young swimmers in a category based on success in a particular sport. Often parents will assume that a 9-year-old who wins junior breaststroke events will be an international breaststroke star in senior swimming. Senior, experienced instructors, coaches often comment that this is rarely the case. Difference in limb lengths, muscle size and shape, range of motion around joints, training background and genetics all play a part in determining eventual success. Here are some general guidelines associated with changes in a swimmer’s growth and development.

  • Changes in size and shape of a swimmer during adolescence and growth mean that today’s football star may be tomorrow’s swimmer and vice versa. This season’s freestyler may be next season’s butterfly star. Try not to label swimmers as one thing or the other until they are fully mature.
  • Train all swimmers in the basics of flexibility, body awareness, core body strength and self-monitoring.
  • Emphasize technique development and skill refinement at all times.
  • Work on improving flexibility in all muscle groups and around all joints.
  • Swimmers (pre-puberty) should be encouraged to train as middle-distance freestylers and medley swimmers. This approach gives them the endurance base that will be important for all swimming distances and the medley swimming gives them the swimming skills in all strokes.
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