A Comparison of Age Group Programs in Leading Swimming Nations by Ørjan Madsen, Ph.D.


Published


The purpose of today’s talk is to try to look into the age-group programs in some of the leading swimming nations to see if there are similarities. I cannot guarantee the correctness of all the numbers and information, in general, that I have from different countries. As I talk to the people who should know about the country’s age-group program, most of them seem to be a little bit ashamed of the age-group program. They say, “This is how we do it now, but we have plans on doing things different in the future” or “We already have things going, but we haven’t started them yet.” I take that as a sign that a lot of countries really are not satisfied with their age-group program and want to do changes in the future. We can, of course, ask ourselves, “What is an age-group program in a country? What is it made up of?” Is it made up of the competition program that a country has for their age-groupers or is it something more than that? What can a federation, for instance, do at all; what kind of an impact does a country’s Federation have on a swimming program, an age-group program? In the former Eastern European countries, they could go a lot further than we can in a Western society. Here we can mainly give recommendations; we cannot force anything on anyone. They could try out  a lot of different things, so a lot of the information that we can gain from what are the right things to do at certain age groups comes from the former Eastern European countries because they had the opportunity, they had the possibility, to try out things. In the Western society, a federation has, as I see it, actually only one real thing they can force on us as coaches, force on the swimmers, and that is the competition program. They can put together a competition program and we have to deal with that competition program and prepare our athletes or young swimmers so that they swim as good as they possibly can in the events that are put together, in most cases, by the federation.

Let me give you an example. If the federation chooses to say that the competition program for 10 and Under should only be 25’s, that could be the one end. Or they could say that the program should only consist of 1500’s. I, as a coach, would have to train my swimmers completely different. Those are, of course, two extremes, but with putting forward a certain competition program, a federation can force upon us, as coaches, to change or to focus in a certain  direction when it comes to the content of the training. If the competition program for the young age-group swimmers is focused more on endurance events, then I, as a coach, have to train my swimmers more aerobically than if the competition program is only 50’s.

What is the best age-group program? George Block said yesterday that the best age-group program does not necessarily have to produce the best elite swimmers. So what are we looking at? Are we looking at trying to put together age group programs that produce as good age-group swimmers and maybe and maybe not as good elite swimmers or are we looking at age-group programs that are focused on the swimmers? You put the swimmers and their needs and their abilities in the center of our attention and then we build up everything around that, so that the total program, both the competition and what we do in our training program, is the best for the age-groupers, not only now when they are 10, but in the long run. We want to put together, in my view, both a competition and a training program for age-groupers that help them fulfill what they need right now and give them the basis to be as good as they can be later on and stay in the sport as long as possible. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean that the training program is a lot easier, has a lot more play, in the younger age-groups; it doesn’t mean that they train less. Quite to the contrary. They may train a lot more, but we train a lot of different things, not only swimming.

If we take a look at which countries are the most successful at the Olympic level, then you can see that Western Europe and North America win the most medals and had the most swimmers in the finals at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. We can also see that all the different parts of the world have swimmers who come into the finals and win medals. I do think that it is a trend that there are more and more countries that bring up swimmers who are good enough to come into the finals at international championships and even win medals there. There are countries that over the years consistently put swimmers in the finals and win medals and we are going to look at a couple of these countries and see what they are doing in their age-group programs. What kind of competition program do they have and what do the federations do other than putting together a central competition program?

 

Just one more remark before we start. I know that probably 90 to 95% of you here are from the United States, and I do believe that the situation here in the United States is quite different than it is in Western Europe. Maybe in Australia, the situation is pretty much the same as it is here, but most swimmers are probably produced in clubs that are owned by the coach and because of the professional coach who has to live off of the number of swimmers who are in the program, there are certain limits to what he or she can do as a coach. The same situation may exist in a lot of other countries, but not to the extent that it is here, so it is a lot more difficult to change things in a certain direction here in the States.

Let’s look at a country that traditionally has won a lot of medals over the years in swimming. It is a Scandinavian country. Sweden is a small country with between 7 and 8 million people. We have here the age-groups 10 and Under, 11-12, and up to 15-16, and we have the different races. The regional age-group program in Sweden includes 50, 100, 200 and so forth in free; 50, 100, 200 in the other strokes; 100, 200 and 400 IM; 4 X 50, 4 X 100 in the free and medley relays, but in Sweden, 10 and Unders only swim 50M of each of the swimming strokes, 100 IM and 4 X 50 freestyle and medley relays in a short course meter pool. It is a very short program focused on 50’s for 10 and Under. Then from 11-12, they add the 200 freestyle and that’s it; 13-14, they add the 100 and the 400 freestyle and 100 in each of the strokes. The 15-16 have the same program, so at the regional level, it’s not an Olympic program and it’s focused on the shorter distances.

If you look at the National level, there are no 10 and Unders. The program is the same for boys and girls at ages 11 and 12. There is no separation between boys and girls and does not start earlier for the girls, taking into account that they are developed earlier. It starts with the 100 and 400 freestyle, no 50’s, 100 in each of the strokes and 4 X 100 freestyle relay. In 13-14, they add on, not the 200 free, but the 400 and 1500 free and then it stays the same with the exception of 400 IM adding on to it. They get pretty close to the Olympic program for the 15-16 age-group, with the exception of 50 and the relay, only 4 X 50 freestyle relay. That is the short course. The long course program has only 14 and younger and 15-16, no separate younger age groups, with the 100, 400 and 1500, not the 200, not the 50. There is 100 in each of the strokes and the 400 freestyle relay, 200 and 400 IM, and then 15-16, we get pretty close to the Olympic program, with the exception of the 50. As we look at that kind of a program, it’s focusing on the very short distances (50’s) for the young age groups and not going right into the Olympic program, but picking out certain distances like 400 and 1500 at a relatively young age and separating long course and short course, not the same program in short course and long course, not the same age-groups and not going as far down in long course as short course.

So what else do the Swedes do when it comes to giving out recommendations? They have a pretty clear philosophy when it comes to the competition program. They know and put forward exactly why and how they want to do things. The planning principal that’s behind all the competition that they do is simply The Championships, but in Sweden, these competition programs do not result in a Swedish champion. They only have Champions in the Open class. They do not want the age-groupers to be Swedish Age-Group Champions. The planning principal, or philosophy, behind the competition program is wholeness, which basically means that it should be a competition program that fits as many swimmers and different abilities as possible, independent of their age, and it should be stimulating for their development. It should be simple, simple for the organizers, for the swimmers, for the press and for the sponsors. It should be recruiting; it should be interesting enough so that it recruits new young kids into swimming. At the same time, it should have a structure so that it supports the swimmers to get up to the elite level. Continuity means that the same competition program is going to be in place for the next three years with no changes.

Training-oriented means that all the competitions along with the champion competition, that plan for the whole year, has to be put together in such a way that it leaves enough room for training, not just to spread all the competitions over the whole year and make it possible to swim in competitions every week. There have to be weeks left out where there are no competitions in Sweden, so that it is secured that there are long enough periods where the athletes, the young kids, can train. The competitions have to be put together in such a way that it supports the economy of Swedish swimming. They have, if you look at the training year, three seasons; first, second and third macrocycles or the full winter and summer programs.

If you look at the month, we see that the short course championship that is not a championship is placed in November in a 25M pool and the long course championship is put at the end of July. They have put together three different competition programs in the first, second and third macrocycles. In the first (Fall) macrocycle, they have something called Development Competition. In the second (Winter) macrocycle, the medley and all-strokes competitions are held, and individual and invitational competitions are held in the third (Summer) macrocycle, What does that mean? The championship that is not a championship, the Regional age-group competitions, 25M for 10 and Under up to 16, is once a year. The National age-group competitions, both the 25M and 50M pool, age-groups 11-16 and 14-16 is long course is twice a year. The Development competition in the Fall has longer distances: 200 all strokes, 200 and 400 IM, 800 and 1500 freestyle. That is Competition Program #1. Competition Program #2 for younger ones is 100 in each stroke and 200 IM, forcing both the coaches and the swimmers to swim longer distances that require more emphasis on aerobics and endurance. In that Fall, they swim the competition twice and in addition, all the qualifying rounds for these two championships that end in November. All-strokes competition and IM competitions mean, for the younger ones in the regional level, 100 in each of the strokes, 400 freestyle and 400 IM. They have to swim four strokes; they are converted into points and the winner is the one with the highest total points. At the National level, it is 50 each stroke, 200 free, 200 IM, with the winner determined by total points. Individual competition is more similar to age group competition that you would probably see here in the United States. Besides the age-group championship at the end of July, they also have an invitational at the end of July to make sure that as many swimmers as possible continue to train during the summer.

The Swedish Federation also tries to get all the more talented swimmers together and offer them training camps. They have a regional and a national system. Both of them are divided into four regions, the best two boys and the best two girls in each of the strokes. The girls age groups are 14-15 and the boys, 16-17. They come together three times per year, so they have a total of 80 swimmers. The juniors, age-group 15-16 (girls), 17-18 for boys, for a total of 250 of the most talented swimmers, come together three times per year also. These camps have a responsible coach who has to undergo a specific coaching education before he is allowed to take responsibility for a group, not just to pick one who has presented himself/herself as very successful because he/she has produced a lot of good swimmers. At the regional level, the swimmers have to pay for their food and their accommodations; everything else is taken care of by the Federation. The Federation also pays for the education of the coach who is going to be responsible for each of the regions.

At the National level, the Federation pays for everything, coach, coach’s education and all the costs involved in taking part in these camps, which are mostly weekend camps, Friday to Sunday. The focus in these camps is, as you will see in most other countries also, education of both the swimmers and the coaches who are also invited, testing and training, but in this order: focus first on education, then number three is the actual training, which, of course, makes sense. After all, what can you do in a weekend? It is much better to do things that you normally would not have time to or want to do when you are at home.

The second country, Germany, is also traditionally a country that has produced a lot of good swimmers. What we have to know about Germany is that in 1990, when the two parts of Germany united, a lot of changes took place. The situation at the moment is that a lot of what was done when it comes to training, training content and the coaches comes from the Eastern part of Germany; the money is in the Western part and the competition and the competition structure has remained more or less the same as how it used to be in Western Germany. The difference between the Swedish program and the German program is that they don’t have 10 and Unders in the competition program and there is a separation between the boys and girls, taking into account the different stage in the biological development of them, 11 years for the girls and 12 for the boys. These two age-groups choose from the 100 in every stroke and the IM, but must swim the 200 and 400 free and must choose two of the 200M strokes, earning points for the title of champion. From 12-16 for the girls and 13-18 for the boys, they have the Olympic program. In addition to that, Germany also has a Relay Championship: 9-10 swim 4 X 25, free, breast, back, and medley; 10-Under swim 4 X 50; 12 and up swim 4 X 100 in each of the strokes and in the medley. Both these championships are swum in the winter short course.

Here are different philosophies. The philosophy in the individual events goes toward longer distances with the young swimmers, not 10 and Under, but the youngest who can swim in an age-group championship has to be able to handle the 400, aerobic base, and all the strokes if they want to place high. The recommendation is something that comes from the former East Germany. The recommendation of training, divided also into four different periods with the ages starting with the girls at age 8 and boys at age 9, includes training hours per week, theory per week (1/2 hour), nothing when it comes to sauna and physiotherapy at this young age, but for 10-11, 1/2 hour weekly in that area is recommended. Kilometers per hour or 600M, 800M, 1 Km or 1000M per hour gives these total numbers of Kilometers per year (Km/ year) as a recommendation. We do not have to look into all these numbers, but we can see four different periods and if we go into the connecting period between buildup and elite training, then we can see, for instance, 1.5 hours of theory is recommended per week, 1.5 hours for sauna and physiotherapy, and then we are up to 1000-1250 Km/year in the 14-5 age-group.

The Germans also recommend that those who are in the National Age-Group Team, 15-16 for the girls, 17-18 for the boys, have to come to one of the Olympic Training Centers at least twice a year and undergo a complete test, a performance analysis consisting of a technique analysis, an aerobic/anaerobic capacity analyses, and strength and power analyses.

Denmark has produced a lot of finalists and medalists, especially at European Championships over the years. It is interesting that they start at 12-13 for the girls and 14-15 for the boys, and have almost an Olympic program right from the beginning, which does make sense when we look at the age-group that they start at. They do 50’s, all the way up to 400, 100 and 200 in each of the strokes, and even 400 and 800 freestyle relays, as well as the 400 medley relay. In the 14-15 girls and 16-17 boys, they take away the 50 and add all the long freestyles (800,1500), but other than that, it’s more or less the same as the younger age groups. In addition to that, they also have tried to structure a kind of talent identification program where they have five so-called talent centers with one head coach responsible for each of the centers. He has one assistant and also draws on all of the coaches of the local clubs who have swimmers in the center. There are 30 swimmers in each of the centers and the girls should be in at the age of 12-13, but can go down to 11, and the boys, 14-15, can go down to 13. The entrance criteria can be determined by the center using competition first of all, but also a subjective evaluation of the potential of the swimmer. Each of the centers has to have a minimum of 20 training sessions per year with a focus on education, training and testing, which is pretty similar to what we have in Sweden.

At state championships in Australia, 9 and Under swim 50, 100 and 200 freestyle, 100 and 200 breast, back, fly, 200 IM, but only 4 X 50 freestyle and medley relays. The 10 year-olds do the same. The 11 year-olds add on the 400 freestyle and the 400 IM. With the exception of the relays, which are still only 4 X 50, the 14-16 have more or less the Olympic program. The National Championships, if I understood it, is only 13 and younger in the full Olympic program, with the exception of 200 free and the medley and free relays, still 4 X 50, and the 1500 free is only swum 15 and younger.

Australia also has a talent, or age-group, camp program. It is called Tip-Top Camps for all the age-groups and the focus is, first of all, on education and talent identification. Australia has a National Youth Head Coach who is responsible for this program, and the camps are run at city level, state and national levels. The swimmers who are invited into the camps and each of the camps can be of a very different nature, that is, it can be only a one-stroke camp, for instance, where all the best breaststrokers are in one camp, all the best backstrokers are in one camp, etc. It can be for only the ones who are gold medal winners at the Championships or only for the silver medalists or the bronze medal winners, thereby getting together swimmers of different ability levels.

Considering that a swimmer can take part in the State and National camps, they can take part in about 10-12 different camps a year. Some of the camps take place immediately after the National Age-Group Championship because then all the swimmers are there, so they don’t have to pay for the travel. For each of the camps, there is a coach who is responsible for that camp and who has his own budget that he has to work within. After each of the camps, he has to document everything that had been done when it comes to training and all the other activities that are done within the camp.

It looks as if the program in the U.S. is, right from the beginning, very much oriented toward the Olympic program, starting at one point and adding on as the kids get older. It is focused on the traditional competition program. U.S. Swimming recommends that the age-groups be divided from 7-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15 and older. One to two practices per day is recommended for 13-14 and 15 and over. The recommendation for practices per week are 2-3 at the younger age, 3-4 when you come closer to 10, 4-6 in 11-12, 6-10 for 13-14, and 6-12 for 15 and older. The practice length is from 45 minutes for 10 and Under, probably up to 60 minutes for 11-12, 1-2 hours as they get older. The recommended meters per hours ranges between 200 for 10 and Under to 500 and up in 11-12, 1000-1600 for 13-14, and between 2000-4000 meters per hour in the 15 and over. 4000 meters per hour means that you have 1 minute and 30 seconds for each of the 100’s with rest and with the swimming. That’s pretty tough to hold.

If you look at these numbers and always multiply the lowest number and the highest in each of these age-groups, we come up with the recommendation of Km/year. The Km/ year in the 7-10 is somewhere between 13 and 54 Km/year… but if we go to the 15 and over, the recommendation is between 720 and 3840 Km/year and I don’t think there is ever anyone in the world who has done that much!

In addition, dryland is recommended, such as other sports in the younger age groups, then flexibility, calisthenics and safety in this age-group, tubing for 13-14, adding arm resistance, and weights in 15 and over.

The competition distances/year that are recommended are: 7-10, 10-25M; 11-12, 50 and 100M; 13-14, 100 and 200M; 15 and upwards, 100 and 200M. Competition is divided into local, regional and national.

When it comes to training, that is the percentage of the total training done aerobically, anaerobically, and technique, it is recommended that in the younger age-groups, 7-10, that 35% or more should be done aerobically, 5% should be done anaerobically, alacticid (alacticid means ultra-short distances, 10-15M), then we can be within the energy system that does not produce lactic acid. In 15 and over, it is recommended that 25% should be done anaerobically. Putting a high number of 60% doing technique work in the younger age-group makes sense and it has to be reduced as technique gets better, and it’s just a matter of maintaining or putting a little bit of stress on the system, but still 25% of the total time for technique makes it more or less impossible to reach the high numbers of kilometers that are recommended and 25% anaerobically is probably way too high. I don’t think anyone would survive that number.

In comparing the U.S. recommendations with that of Russia, age 9 and upwards to 15, Russia recommends 2400 Km/year at the age of 15, which is not far away from a couple of others, but there is quite a difference between the U. S. and Russia in the percentages of anaerobic speed work; they are less in Russia. One of the greatest long distance swimmers in the world is Vladimir Salnikov of Russia. He starts at 14 and goes up to 22. At the age of 17, he was around 3000 Km/year and maintained that, and was even more than 3000 Km from the age of 17 all the way though his career. I think that is very typical for a good, long distance swimmer. You have to swim around 3000 Km/year if you want to swim 15 minutes for the 1500M. That is not to say that it is impossible to do with less, but most long distance swimmers have at one point in their career swum 3000 Km or more and maintained that for a certain number of years. I know that if you look at U.S. long distance swimming at the Olympic level, it is a reflection of the work that is put in by distance swimmers. I think that we have to realize that there are no short cuts when it comes to swimming fast at 800 and 1500M; there are no short cuts in swimming in 50 either, but if you want to swim fast in the 1500, you have to put in that kind of work.

Let’s go to the other extreme, sprinter Popov from age 13-21. We have the number of kilometers that he swam, the time, how he improved from year to year, and it’s quite interesting to see that when he was 15, he did swim 1500 Km/year and when he was 19, he swam around 2500 Km/ year. That (2500 Km) was quite a bit for a sprinter, but then we see that between 19 and 21, he reduced the amount of training quite dramatically down to 1500. The problem is, if we go in here and look at what he did in times and ask him, “How much do you train per year?” If he says, “1500 Km/year”, then everybody assumes, “all right, 1500 Km/ year is what we have to do in order to be a good sprinter.” Nobody really looks at what he did in the years before,  his buildup. It is critical to look at the total buildup of the swimmer. We see that as quite classical for a sprinter with a systematic increase in the amount of swimming up until he was 19, then maybe doing other things like strength training, but with a solid base. This shows two examples of two good swimmers, long distance and sprinter, did swim not that far away from what is recommended to swim in order to produce results at the international level.

Let’s look back at the numbers I’ve presented, the programs from different countries and the recommendations some of them have, the talent identification/talent programs, age-group training programs that are put together by the federation and monitored by the federation geared toward educating the coaches and the swimmers because what is pretty similar in all these programs is that it is not only a program for the swimmer, but also for the coach. The focus on these age-group training programs on a regular basis is on knowledge and education, information both for the coaches and for the swimmers, and then, after that, testing, finding out how talented the swimmer really is, then putting in some training. That is something that is quite normal and probably will come up more and more in the smaller countries; that is possible and relatively easy to do. I don’t know how easy and how welcome it would be here in the U.S. and maybe it doesn’t make sense to do it here, but in smaller countries and other countries like Australia, probably the country with the fastest growing level of international swimmers, do it.

When it comes to the competition program, there are actually a couple of countries that have tried to gear their competition program toward the younger age groups, 12 and Under, toward longer freestyle distances and more in the direction of having to swim more than just one stroke but 3-4 strokes. Points and the highest points give the winner in each of the age-groups, forcing the coach to train that swimmer at the younger age-group in all the strokes and forcing them all to put more emphasis on the aerobic training so that they can handle the 400 freestyle. We have also seen countries that still focus their age-group program towards the Olympic program.

Personally, I believe that it is important that the federation put the pressure on the coaches by putting together a competition program that forces the coaches to do more of the right things for the age-groupers in the long run, such as getting in that aerobic base, and getting in all the strokes. It would be a lot easier to argue, as a coach, against the parents if the program looked different than it looks at the moment. As long as it is 50’s, then you train for the 50’s, and if you train for the 50’s, then it does make sense to repeat 25’s and 50’s with relatively short or medium rest in between and with a fast velocity that gives good results for the 50. It also is a training that is pretty close into anaerobic training, which does not make that much sense in the younger age-groups.

  1. At what age do swimmers typically get involved with competitive swimming and what do they do until they get to that point where they are involved in Regional or National competitions?
  2. In Scandinavia and Germany, they put together a competition program for the younger age-groups in the clubs, so it’s not something that has to be monitored or put together by the federation at all. I think that is really one of the good things.

Can a federation with a competition program they put out have an impact on us coaches and what we train? We can do the same thing for ourselves with the competitions we do inside our clubs. If we want to align more the requirements in the competition with what we are training, then we have to do quite a bit of change in the competition structure. It is very easy to do it in the clubs because I, as a coach, can put together the competition program just as I want. I don’t have to follow any federation rules.

 

  1. Those U.S. training parameters came from a conference in Greece eight years ago that Bob Steele participated in. I urge everyone to get a copy of Progression For Athlete Development because I don’t want people to walk away thinking they should be training 25% in the anaerobic or lactate. That is all 8-9 years old and we need to work on that. We did a survey last year asking coaches what they’re doing and we got a slow response. We’ve really got to know what’s going on and we need your help.
  2. I think that those guide lines for yardage probably is correct at the height of the season, but we are not at the height of the season all year ‘round, so I imagine it could be a lot less than that. Looking at the U.S. or Olympic-level meet at the early level and looking at Sweden that just has 50’s, do you see any recommendations for swimming anaerobically?
  3. I see that the tendency, not only in Sweden, but in a lot of other European countries, is that the shorter distances are very popular and there is a tendency to focus on the shorter distances because we have the European Short Course Championships (It used to be the Sprint Championship.) where you had 50’s in all the strokes. You had a lot of attention, television and everything else, and I think that might be a question that we have to ask ourselves, “Do we want to go in the direction that television is forcing upon us?” Making swimming more attractive probably means we have to go to shorter distances. Is that what we want to do? I think that is quite a crucial question that we have to ask ourselves. The countries that I have discussed as successful and train for the 50’s are very successful in the sprint events. I can’t remember the last time they had a good long distance swimmer.
  4. It seems to me that in the U.S., the nature of our organizations have a lot to do with the free market economy. My goal is not to get people to the Olympics, but to keep people on my team so I can have a livelihood, and the way I do that is to keep the kids and parents happy and beat the team across town. If that’s the case for a lot of the American coaches, how does that compare with the way the coaches support themselves where they are successful, in the short term, in Sweden, in Denmark and in Australia?
  5. There is quite a dramatic difference between the coaches in the Scandinavian countries and Germany in that not one of them own their own club. When they work as a professional coach, they are, in many cases, paid by the city or the government, part of it, and just a little part in a few cases, solely from the club, but the coach never owns the club. They don’t necessarily have to put together a program that attracts as many swimmers as possible; however, they have to make them and their parents happy, but not to the degree that it is here in the U.S. The parents there are also anxious that their kids swim fast at an early age, but the pressure is not as high. It is easier to go along the road that I have tried to point out in Europe than it is in the U.S.
  1. How is it in Australia?
  2. (Mr. Michael Forbes:) The programs in Australia are to some extent coach driven, but to a large extent driven by expediency of the administrators. You’ll see that the Australian program has everything in it. There’s no basic philosophy behind it. It gives us a program of 5 days for the Nationals, which goes on for about 12 hours a day. It seems that the individual coach has to make up his own mind, and there are some enlightened coaches who do give programs which are not only oriented toward the 50’s, and that’s why we do have a crop of fairly good 1500M swimmers. You may think we are blessed with many distance swimmers, but in our women, we are very worried about our distance situation. We coaches are trying to drag the administrators screaming to do the right thing with programs. In New South Wales, they keep on putting 50M in there; we lost by one vote at the top administrative level to get 4 X 100 relays because it upset their programming. It didn’t fit in with the way they wanted to program the events, so we all have our problems. In Australia, we handle it by giving everybody everything. I think it is an intelligent Swedish approach and what amazes me, being in Sweden recently for the short course, Sweden does not appear to have any strong coaches’ association, so I’m wondering where this is all coming from. Maybe it’s the physical educationalists; maybe there are some very good administrators. It’s very interesting to see it being done, in my view, very much the right way in Sweden.
  3. Getting to the gold medal count, which seems to be the basis of why we’re looking at these countries, how much of an influence is the gold medal on the foreign athletes to come over here and train and compete in our universities? Do you think they can compete with the college level athletes in Western Europe?
  4. There are no college competitions. If an athlete would stay in Europe and have his college education there, it would mean he would continue to swim in his club and study at the university because there are no college programs, thank God!
  5. In Western European countries, are the kids encouraged to get involved in as many activities as possible and to specialize at a later age? What happens with kids as they go through puberty and into adolescence in terms of their participation in sports?
  6. I do think that in most of the Western European countries, there is a tendency toward the federation, not only swimming federations, but sports federations in general, to put rules on what you can do and what you cannot do. That goes straight into the competition program that you are not allowed to swim under a certain age, that you are not allowed to have a “champion” below a certain age (you have to call it something else), you don’t have age-group records and you are forced to put together a swimming program that also contains more than just swimming. This is a very clear trend, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There are more and more regulations and pressure to make sure that what is done in the sporting clubs with the young human beings is according to the needs and the abilities of the young kids.

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