Development of the Child Athlete by Dr. Paul Stricker (2008)


Published


[Introduction] Good afternoon everyone. My name is Josh Davis. I was on the USA Swim Team from approximately 1991 to 2001 – for ten years and it was such a joy obviously to work with some of the best coaches in the world on our USA Team, but we were also blessed to have some incredible support staff with our doctors, physiologists and one of our other favorites, the massage therapists. The doctors on our team are some of the best sports doctors in the country and one of them was a man named Dr. Paul Stricker. Now I am real excited for you today because he is board certified in pediatrics and sports medicine and so he can speak directly to youth and sports medicine, and he has a background in swimming. He was a four hundred IM’er growing up in Missouri, was an All American at the University of Missouri, Rolla, and he is a Masters Swimmer. His primary focus now is promoting and educating youngsters in swimming. He has been a team physician at UCLA and Vanderbilt and his involvement with USA Swimming began all the way back in 1988 and with the USOC in 1992. He was one of our head physicians for the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney, Australia where we did very, very well. He was a big part of that experience and many of us on that team are still very close to Dr. Paul now, and you will see why in just a few minutes. He has got a really caring spirit, but he is also very, very, knowledgeable in what he is going to be talking about today. He currently resides in San Diego, he is part of the Scripps Clinic and I am very, very excited to introduce Dr. Paul Stricker.

[Dr. Stricker] Thank-you, thank-you, very much. Well, I am really excited to be here because of course I do love kids and I love enabling people to have the tools to work with kids in a special way and even young adults. Because of my love of swimming from many years ago until now, and my admiration for the coaches in my life and how incredibly impactful they were – literally – for my entire life so thank you very much for being surrogate parents to a lot of us who are growing up along the way, because it really does make a difference.

One of my big passions is that when I am taking care of kids I try to see why they are coming to see me and if they are hurt for certain reasons that really could be preventable, then I really want to be able to help supply then with the ability for those things not to happen. So, as your involvement in dealing with kids and youth, dealing with their sequences of growth, and how they develop, my interest is to help give you better tools to help them be better with a lot less pressure. I worked with you guys for a long, long time and it is always a relationship that I hope you feel is encouraging and supportive of you, and never something where it is pointing fingers. This talk is all to give you better knowledge about what kids go through as they are growing up. I am going to try to make it also as applicable to swimming as possible so that it will make your time here more valuable and then for more information after what I touch on today – if you want more details, I do have a book that has got more detailed information about all of these kinds of developmental sequences so anyway – I hope that this will be fun for you.

Clearly, when we are talking about the development of skills that apply to different sports along the way we have to talk about what is the process that they go through and what is appropriate – what do we need to know and how do we improve their experience. It is always our goal to hopefully have these kids have a great experience. Part of that is because we want kids to be active in general and of course, I am biased – I want them to be swimming because that is what I think is a phenomenal sport. We want them to be active – whatever they choose and part of that is because right now – obviously – we have an epidemic of health problems in our youth that are now floating down into giving them adult’s types of illnesses and problems that we never used to see before. So what I think is important is if we encourage kids to get into sports, and specifically into swimming, we need to make sure that still it is done in a practical approach and in a very wise manner so that we understand what these kids are doing. How many of you actually have your own children in here? Yeah, quite a few, so when you are going through the baby books you know – they tell you and you can tell me to the minute when your kid rolled over, sat up, stood up, and said their first word. I think those are clear things of development that everybody knows and is pretty standard across the world, but you get to the potty training thing, and once they flush you kind of have no more information. All of a sudden the books kind of stop there, there is a whole lot more that happens beyond that and that is what I am hoping to impart to you all today.

There are so many other skills that happen along different tracks along the way, that if we understand those better – sometimes you go gosh – now I understand why Billy or Susie can’t do that or why they are having trouble with that. When we are talking about those special considerations there are a lot of things that make kids very different than just being a miniature adult and that is one of my pet peeves is that we never see kids as miniature adults because they are completely different in many different ways. Their skeletal architecture as well as just their chemical structure is very different. So when we are talking about sport skill development, it is multi-faceted. It does not deal with just their pure physical growth factors, but also with their chemical factors, physiology and of course, their mental factors as well. How those all come together is something that then allows for the best possible experience for that particular child. We are not trying to cookbook everybody, but in general most of these kids will fall into a range that has these skills going through them. So – if we don’t know this information or we do not appreciate that information then what happens? You get a lot of the reasons why those kids end up in my clinic.

There are a lot of unrealistic expectations based on what somebody thinks a child can do and so they think – well gosh – you know – if they are six or seven years old then the baby books do not tell me what happens there so if I just practice it enough and enough then this kid will get it. Sometimes that works – in many cases it doesn’t because their body is not ready for that particular skill. If there are unrealistic expectations then usually there are possibilities for inappropriate activity – a lot more pressure to try to perform and if they can’t get it – there is more pressure to kind of get it, get it, get it and if the kid doesn’t get it – then the kid perceives himself as a failure. They feel like this is not something that they may have a good experience with when in reality they may not be able to do it just because they are not developmentally ready for that yet. If they are pressured to do something over and over that they are not ready for, their bodies break down. Then they show up in my clinic with an overuse injury and the worst-case scenario is that they literally lose confidence in themselves, and end up quitting a sport that we all are dearly in love with. That is not our goal.

[Text continued on page 448]

So – the other thing that happens is – from the other standpoint – things that lead to those unrealistic expectations are how we define success. You know, if you have an Olympic Gold Medal as your ultimate definition of success – that is a wonderful goal to have, but if that is what this young child has heard all along – if that is their only goal for success and a very small percentage of kids will make it that far – then that means that they really have never had a chance to have success along the way because they didn’t reach that end goal. So my hope is that people will again – encourage kids to have reality success along the way for them individually and if they reach the Olympics – fantastic, but you have to know how to define success because the world has become very distorted in that. Success is only the gold medal. You don’t hear much admiration for the silver medalist any more, which is quite sad.

Also, right now, as I mentioned, you have a surrogate parent role. You have a great impact on these kids and now more than ever – with your post-Olympic opportunity – it is phenomenal. You will see increases in your attendance in your teams – probably more than you ever had – simply because of what has happened in Beijing, which is fantastic. My goal is then to give you tools to make this opportunity as productive as possible. We want them of course to enjoy it and have fun, but to develop overall fitness, improve their self-image, and then as always – maximize their individual potential and minimize the pressure as much as possible.

When we talk about the readiness for their activities, it is obviously determined by a lot of different things, but what is important to know is that you can have a bunch of kids the same age, but their abilities will differ tremendously. Part of that is due to extrinsic factors just like coaching equipment, finances, how far away they live from the pool, etc.. The majority of the differences come from just the intrinsic factors. What makes somebody more flexible than the next kid, have them have a faster reaction time, so that they are more of a sprinter rather than a long distance person. How their cardiovascular system is set up – how they see themselves from a self-esteem standpoint, etc.. It is also dependent a lot on this skill development and so that is what we are going to go through now – is talking about the developmental highway that these kids go through. You don’t just add water and watch them grow out of the pot. They really have to develop over time so what I am going to try to do is talk about these sequential pathways, and the fact that these sequences are difficult to change – no matter how hard you try to force a kid into a certain skill – sometimes they are just not ready for it.

It is not just that they grow from one step to the next – there are multiple things that are maturing all at the same time. You have got the pure physical – you have got the visual development – chemical and mental and they are all at different paces and at different tracks. If you understand those better it gives you much more of an ability to even understand and accept what it is going on in some of these kids. Of course again – decreasing pressure – maximizing potential, which is again what I have tried to communicate as effectively as possible in a non-doctor lingo that is more of a casual conversation to help as much as possible. It is sequential and it is acquired and in pretty much the same sequence from kid to kid, regardless of gender or disability, but it is that rate that varies from child to child and to the degree that they develop.

My ability to be involved in moving object sports like tennis and baseball and football developed at the same rate as the kid next to me, but not to the same level. I was miserable at every single one of those sports, but you put me in the pool and finally – I find something that my body actually could work with very well. We are going to break these up into different age ranges, okay? They are clustered and there is no cookbook – it is not exactly stated from every single child, but in general – the bulk of kids are going to fall into these types of age ranges. For each age group we are going to go through the different motor, visual, chemical and learning development skills that will hopefully give you better ammunition to help you get this kid to reach their best potential.

When we are talking about toddlers, obviously a lot of this you are getting into the just learning how to swim thing. They are just learning how to run and hop and throw – let alone – just stand up. We don’t realize that, but there is so much concentration that a young toddler goes through just to keep from falling down. A lot of times if these kids are in you know – little soccer and swimming and other sports – parents may be yelling – go get the ball, go get the ball, and the kids are thinking don’t fall down, don’t fall down – they really have to concentrate on that. Why that is important is because if you have some of these little kids trying to get up on the starting block – that may be a real issue for them. It is just something that is not very mature. The other thing is – coordination is pretty pathetic at this age. Trying to teach them the complexities of even freestyle may be even way over their head – just from a pure coordination standpoint. Don’t lump them into an ignorant category when it is really more of an issue of just pure coordination.

Visually they have really, really poor visual development at these early toddler ages and that is why things like T-ball of course are much better for them than true moving objects. Fortunately, the pool doesn’t have a lot of that so that is another good place for them to start out early. Toddlers also have very poor chemical development. Physiologically they do not adapt well to heat or dehydration – you have to tell them to drink. Remember – they are a little body in a huge body of water – conductivity is the quickest way to transfer heat and cold. When you have a small body there is a lot of surface area to a very small body weight, they absorb heat and absorb cold much more quickly than an adult. Sometimes if you have a 3, 4, or 5 year old in the pool and they are turning blue – you need to really pay attention to that because they are not going to be able to adapt to temperature as well as older kids. Anybody that has dealt with toddlers know that they have like zero attention span; short attention span is a huge understatement and you have to be very focused on teaching them one thing at a time – in a show and tell fashion.

This is really where we start to get into age group so that matters a lot more to you guys. In your 6 to 9 year olds you are really getting this kind of big thing where now their fundamental skills – which are basically standing upright and just throwing a ball – those are things that are now improving. Something that a lot of people do not realize – adult ability to balance and have good posture takes until about age 7 to really become mature. I mean sure – kids are walking around, but for them to not have to think about it anymore doesn’t happen until they are about 7. They are usually ready at this time to kind of progress on to more transitional skills so again – swimming with more purpose – being able to concentrate on how they are able to do a particular set rather than just the mere fact of I have to put my hand in the water here – I have to turn my head to breathe – very complex for them to think of more than one or two things at once.

The eye – this is really important – from a lot of different standpoints – their eye continues to mature during this age range. If they are in – certainly a ball playing sport – they can do moving objects towards them much better than having to run, catch a ball, or hit a ball, but in the pool this really matters because you may get totally frustrated on why this kid keeps missing the wall and why their turns are not good yet. This is that timing where their eyes and their brain are getting better at judging that distance – especially coupled with velocity. Since it is coming straight towards them – this is something that they will get easier during this age range. Now the kids are still not good with peripheral types of things so if you are trying to say watch for the kid over in lane 2 as they are coming to the wall, that skill is very difficult for them from a visual standpoint. This is when you concentrate on allowing them to have a better idea of how to come into the wall – how to judge that wall and be able to do a better job with their turns.

Chemically, this is still important – kids may start to have a better feel for the water. You may be able to notice that their strokes are more fluid and easier, and yet your temptation then is to increase their yardage significantly. It may not be a great idea because physiologically they are going to get very little benefit from that. There is no need to greatly extend amounts of yardage and distance, but to still work more on perfecting their different stroke techniques. It is still a difficult time for them as far as integrating a lot of different things, so when you are trying to talk to them about hand placement, and what their feet are doing, and how to streamline, all at once still may be a little overwhelming. That is another reason why, because of their memory strategies kids in this age range have a lot more difficulty with the fly than they do with some of the other strokes. It is an extremely complex stroke and they have so many things to think about at once that in general some may still have a lot of problems. Don’t get frustrated with that, part of that is a developmental issue. Part of it is that may not be their stroke, but part of it is that they may just have to wait a little while.

In the research this is an age range where some sports actually show that as you repetitively practice the sport you actually can have benefits for future participation and performance. Soccer and swimming are two of those sports. Basketball is not one of those sports. Part of that is also because basketball is a much more complex – rapid decision making thing that has a lot more maturity issues involved with it. Having kids involved in swimming in these ages is perfect. We still try to emphasize skill development, no emphasis though on winning. We know that they are going to be in competition by this age with different meets, but again – what is your end goal? Helping this kid personally improve and that is his or her own personal success. I love to use the words constructive correction rather than constructive criticism, because I do not think there is anything constructive about being critical. If you use constructive correction, that is a very good way for children to learn that they can improve, this is how to get better and they do not feel personally at fault.

When you move up into that pre-adolescent range – again – lots of major things are happening. By then their fundamental skills, their transitional skills, everything has really started to mature. This is when we see the majority of kids make a big bump in a lot of their sports participation. It is a good thing and it can be a bad thing. It is a good thing because it is a real encouraging time. They see some improvement. You all get excited. On the flip side, continue to monitor yourself. Really allow this kid to continue to develop because if the excitement gets too much during that time it still can be too much pressure and you want to make sure you don’t try to rush them through to a more adult stage of swimming when they are just now finally getting the knack of it.

Vision, by now they are good to look all around. They can judge things. They can see the wall coming, and they can also see the other swimmer over here is catching up with me. Chemically, this is a very important time especially from a coaching standpoint. Their aerobic foundation and base that they have achieved thus far does have benefit for them to improve significantly at puberty, but you can still only have this minor improvement in aerobic capacity up to puberty. So you can increase their training to some degree, please be careful if you greatly increase it. Their general architecture is not going to be ready for that and you may end up with an over-use injury, and they really haven’t gotten the benefit of the aerobic training that you are wanting. Again, this becomes an important learning phase for them because now they can really integrate what coach told them a few days ago. “I have got to remember how I put my hand in the water and I have got to remember to kick in and out of my turns, and I’ve got to be able to streamline well.” They are now able to process multiple sources much better than they were before. This is another great age where you and your swimmer can actually have a better bonding experience because they are able to understand a lot more of what you are trying to tell them.

Early teenager – early adolescent: Clearly, those of you who have ever dealt with kids in this age range know that it is a crazy, crazy time – from multiple different standpoints. One of which is just that you are going to have striking changes in size. You are going to have a 13 year old that has been shaving for two years and you are going to have another 13 year old – that he still is like 60 pounds so you are going to have to deal with some of those issues because it means that you have to individualize their training based on where they are in their maturity. Fortunately I was lucky to have a coach who was able to appreciate that because when I entered my freshman year in college I was still 5’ 3”, 105 pounds. I was an extremely late bloomer. Thank goodness for him, he didn’t try to overkill me during those earlier ages or my body would have probably just not been able to handle that. You also have to worry about their growth plates, not so much in the pool, but as I have found over the years on many trips that swimmers can be the most dangerous out of the water. So if they slip and fall on the deck you are more likely to have a growth plate fracture, things that will impact their ability to perform, and you just need to be aware of that during these rapid growth phases. The body is becoming more adult, their bones are still like a little kid, and that growth plate is like an Oreo cookie, it wants to come apart pretty easily.

What else happens? Physically their body has changed tremendously, their arm lengths grow and their leg lengths grow. So obviously when they are putting their arm in the water it is a different feel for them. Their stroke counts will change dramatically in about a year to two year period so if you have been working with them on that you are going to have to make some adjustments and you are going to have to know that this kid has to deal with that in multiple different ways. They also become that clumsy teenager for a while because their height has changed enough that their balance control is temporarily decreased, along with all the other emotional things that go along with becoming a teenager and wanting to gain some independence. These are kind of volatile years when you can have a wonderful impact on their self-esteem. Understanding that if their strength hasn’t caught up with their arm length it may be more difficult for them to use hand paddles at that time, because it is going to put a lot more torque on their shoulder. These are things you have to be aware of from a purely developmental standpoint. The other thing is not ever having a negative reaction to some of these normal developmental processes, because that is what will send the kid down the wrong way. Also girls go through puberty more quickly than boys do, so you are going to have same aged kids who are now in a very different place physiologically. You are going to have to alter your training for them compared to some of the other kids. You are going to have kids who are very early maturers and there may be a super start at age 10, but you have to be careful because eventually their peers may catch up if they grew really fast. You have to keep them motivated through that when all of a sudden they are not the star as often any more. You have got your late maturers who are small like I was, and then you have got the ones who are tall, but you have to remember that they will eventually catch up. So, this is just a time where again – you can help prevent unrealistic expectations from getting out of control.

When we talk about trainability this also follows a lot of different developmental kinds of pathways, for instance when you are talking about the aerobic and endurance capacity. When I was so small I was a distance swimmer because I clearly wasn’t able to compete with any of the big sprinters, but there was also this time where I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting a lot faster just by increasing my training. Of course now I know that part of that was because I was just in that transition, my body was starting to grow, but I hadn’t really hit puberty enough where my aerobic capacity could make a huge gain. You have to remember that no matter how many miles you put these kids through, up until they really start to go through puberty, that aerobic capacity is only going to get about a 5-10% improvement. No one really understands why that is, but there just seems to be this ceiling on that type of development. The stuff that you are giving them from an endurance standpoint is vital for them to build a foundation for when they do hit puberty. This isn’t about how they are not supposed to do no yardage, but an excessive increase in yardage is not necessarily necessary prior to puberty.

Flexibility: Obviously swimming in general self selects kids who are more flexible. Just remember of course that when they go through puberty, boys often will decrease their flexibility and that is a time of transition where they might just not feel the same in the water. You can give them great encouragement to understand why that is happening. Body composition is always a big change during puberty. Generally we all understand that boys get more muscle mass, although with swimming girls can get great muscle mass as well, and that is why it is such a tremendous sport from so many different health standpoints.

GROWTH AND TRAINING: Sometimes these kids that are doing excessive training before they have really had their growth spurt can be delayed a little bit in their growth, especially if they are not getting the right nutrition. Some of that is genetics of course, some of it is stress-related and some of it is just training volume and intensity. Just know that again you don’t want to overdo it until they really start to have a body that is going to be able to cope with the things that you want it to do.

Trainability: With this heat issue – they are going to absorb that cold of the water a lot more quickly than adults. They also generate more heat because of their inefficient metabolic system. They don’t sweat as much. In the pool we do not appreciate how much they sweat because we are in water all the time. They do not climatize as well either, so if they are going to transition from that indoor pool to the outdoor pool then some of those cold May outdoor practices may be an issue for some of these kids. They also have a greater ability to affect their body temperature control if they get a little bit dehydrated.

Strength is its own complete lecture, but in general they need to have good balance control before they can start doing small weights, and they need to be at least proficient in some of the basic swim strokes before you want them to get stronger. I always try to encourage kids to realize that they do not want to get stronger if they are not good at it, and to wait until they are better at before they get stronger. Whenever we are doing it, kids who are pre-pubertal, it is okay to strength train. It is definitely safe if it is supervised and they can gain strength, but it is strictly from a neurological mechanism. They are not getting stronger because they are getting bigger; they are getting stronger because they are activating more nerve units. Then of course when they hit puberty they can actually gain size in their muscles. We usually promote the typical sport specific types of things for swimming with the core and of course shoulder types of exercises.

When you are talking about the third part, the psychological part, it is also on its own developmental track. So, these are things that when they look at the research behind it, it shows that when you have adults or coaches who really understand the uniqueness of a young child, that is the best case scenario for a kid to have that fun experience, regardless of what end result they achieve. To that child they have perceived that as a true success. They have looked at stress versus excitement and that is a big deal in some kids, because if they are excited that is great, if they are stressed out that is bad. But one of the factors that they have found looking at kids when they are asked the question about what was it that made a difference on whether you thought the event was a stressful event or a successful event was, #1 how much fun they had and #2 was the reaction of the adult figures that were associated with that activity. How you react to their performance can play a big role.

The other thing that we have to remember is that everybody thinks that self-esteem and all the emotional stuff is really the most developed during adolescence and puberty. It starts much, much, earlier than that. When you have got kids really starting to compare themselves and to listen to what adults are saying, even as early as 5, you realize that you have a long time to paint some really good colors on that canvas. Rather than to attack or pressure or make them feel like they aren’t as good as they could be. Most of the psychological sports experts in the country really do centralize a lot of their views around that, maintaining the idea of having fun, but working on promoting effort instead of the result or what place they finished. Really promoting the effort and decreasing the emphasis just on coming in first place helps with having fun.

Children have been researched and they found that they would still rather kind of sit on the bench on a losing team than play a whole lot on a winning team because up until about 10 they do not view competition the same way we do. You have got your parents in the stands and I know you well know that you got some of those killer parents who will pretty much hit the leg with a crowbar to try to help their kid get on the team. Up until a certain age kids just want to have fun and they want to do well. They want to get better, but they just don’t see it the same way we do. We always emphasize trying not to stress the win/loss scenario so much until you really feel like these kids have a really good grip on themselves and that they have been able to not base how they feel about themselves on their event.

Disappointment about a performance is natural and that is okay. It makes all of us get better, but when they really have this as a reflection on me personally, that is when you can get into trouble. We do want to be able to try to separate their identity from their performance because we are all going to have good days and we are all going to have bad days. If you are supporting their effort, supporting the fact that success for that child is personal improvement along the way to a bigger, greater goal, that can be something that can encourage these kids to really reach better than their potential. I really honestly believe that I was not necessarily geared to be a good swimmer, but because that is where I felt the most encouragement from my coach then I really feel that I was able to achieve beyond kind of what I thought my potential was. If you don’t do that and these kids all start to take it personally, they really start to incorporate that as who they are, then you will start to see problems if they are not reaching what they feel is their standard of success or what their goal is.

One of those ways is of course is they start to find injury as a socially acceptable form of escape. We see it a lot and it is very alarming because it is a problem that we don’t know how to really fix. From your standpoint as a coach some of the warning signs can be that they are starting to get injured a lot more. Some of it may be totally legitimate, but sometimes it is not though and if injuries aren’t getting better at the rate that we expect or if their complaints are so out of proportion to what the injury is supposed to be, then you start to get a little bit suspicious. The kids are clearly not as excited to be there, then we start to worry that there is something else going on as to why they are not able to participate the way they can. If we can get it sorted out, hopefully get them back on track, then can have a very positive experience.

We want to keep them interested and how you guys support them is really huge. Parents are very important as well, but I still viewed my coach with a lot more weight than my parents, even though my parents were fantastic, my coach had such a vital role to play in that. I think we have to remember what an opportunity you have. I always like to relate to two kids: if you have a kid who jumps in the pool, has virtually no effort and comes in first place, do you really consider that a successful event? Versus another kid who gets in, swims out of his mind and still comes in last place. To me this is still a child who has truly experienced a successful event, versus the other kid who by the world’s definition came in first place, but can you really call that a big success when the kid hasn’t had any personal improvement or achievement? And those are ways that as these children learn these things they incorporate that into the rest of their life, their job life, their family life and you can really make a profound impact. The best way to help is to understand that there are multiple developmental sequences. This allows you to have more realistic expectations and goals for these kids so that you can reward their effort along the way, and enjoy your privilege of being able to work with these kids.

Helping them with training skills without the fear of failure, keep encouraging them and try to really help them always see swimming as something that they do but is not necessarily who they are. I think we can apply that to pretty much any activity or anything that we do along the way. So, in summary, we know it is a complex interaction of a lot of different factors and I hope that I have just given you enough of a teaser and a taster to know that there are a lot of things going on that we kind of don’t always necessarily get. If you can incorporate that into your ability to work with these younger kids along the way I think you will find you are able to help them have a much more successful experience that will please you, them and their parents as well.

Again, especially to help reduce the amount of pressure that they have, because I don’t think any of us can argue that the pressure scenario is just getting worse and worse as time goes on. Then in general, really think about your ability to have an impact on truly saving a kid’s sport life along the way and beyond the pool. With this major post-Olympic opportunity I think it is my biggest hope that you will allow these kids to use what they have seen as true inspiration, to be able to reach for their full potential like Michael Phelps did without having to be the next Michael Phelps. Which we know for most kids is not going to be a possible thing since he is so far out there with his achievements that were so incredible. I hope that this has been helpful for you and clearly I always entertain any questions. I hope that this has been something helpful for you and I am glad that you are here. Thanks a lot.

We are a little early, so I probably spoke a little too fast, but if there are any questions I will be happy to entertain them.

Q: Do you think there is any value in measuring growth spurts in young people as an indication of when puberty is coming on?

A: That was a great question on if you can predict or help know when a child is approaching that rapid growth phase of puberty so that you could increase their training a bit? The best way to do that is usually with the pediatric growth charts that they get from their pediatrician. Most parents of course have to take their kid for at least a yearly visit and they plot their growth on a curve. Some of the parents will be able to tell you – WOW, I am buying new pants and new shoes every few months. You know that things are really starting to change. Some of that you are also going to be able to see – they start to become more lanky and a little bit more awkward and you can kind of get a hint that something is happening along the way. That is also your indication not only to be more sensitive to that, but also you can kind of maybe to creep up with a little more training in there as well. Good question.

Q: On the increase of yardage that you talked about before the aerobic development of prepubescent and early pubescent kids, when there has been fairly competitive argument with other teams and you have certain coaches that go the route of 11-12 year olds doing 4-6 hours a day and a tremendous amount of yardage where there is a great short yard return and those kids by age 12 are killing everybody in the pool, but are burned out by age 15 – but when you have over-eager parents that only see those results and those kids are blowing everyone out of the water and want to take their 11 year old there because you are telling them we are going to develop him slowly, do you have anything that maybe we can say to the parents?

A: Well, as usual, if I am dealing with parents or coaches I always try to remind them, look I am on the same page. I want your child to develop as best they possibly can as a swimmer, and one of the things that I want to avoid is having them get burned out, having them have an overuse injury. From my understanding of how children develop and go through their growth stages, this is still the way that is the safest for them to develop a good foundation to be able to expand. That is the best kind of reasoning sometimes unless you can give them the information and it is truly not about me, but that is when I would say “there is a book available” or “there is information available to you because my goal is just truly about education.” I can only see 25 patients a day. You guys can get the word out to thousands and thousand of parents, but the more they understand this is truly how aerobic development works, then they may not be as eager to have their kid swim six hours a day because they realize the potential of complications for that. The other thing is that the 12 and 11 year olds that are actually surviving, that are some of those earlier matures, they are really hitting that growth area, especially the girls at that time when they can handle that. What happens is if the coach or the parent wants to say, “let’s cookie-cutter the whole team into that same training program,” kids are going to drop off. You are going to have kids that really can’t keep up with that because they are still not developmentally at that stage. I think some of those kids have purely survived because they have reached that developmental area where they can do the increased training at 11 and 12. There is no doubt when you think about most girls get their growth spurt between 11 and 13, most boys get theirs between 13 and 15, you are going to have kids in that age range who can truly make it through a big increase in training. As a good coach you are going to be able to say “I have got kids who can do that, but I also have kids who can’t even think about doing that.” So now I really need to start tailoring my workout very specifically for these two groups of kids and I think that is where you are also going to find yourself a more successful coach because you are going to have the kids who are ready for it really start to improve, and the kids who are not, they are going to get their benefit later and that is how you explain it.

Q. My setup is like this: I fully believe in the slow development, keeping them like nuts over-exposing them too soon it is just sometimes because of the competitive theme of what they do, puts that burden of the high yardage and have success and the kids give the parents all this information and the parent goes “aha, aha, interesting, aha – see ya” and leaves the kids there confused.

A: It is difficult, you can never convince someone who is not wanting to be convinced. It is always the right time for us to give them the good information, but it may not be the right time for them. All I can do is encourage you to do that. You have all dealt with parents that just don’t get it, no matter how much you talk to them about it and encourage them that you are still doing the best for their particular child. I still will always champion you for sticking with what you believe is right because overall you are going to have more kids benefit from that than that one or two kids who happen to be the super stars and the other kids are kind of just left behind because your focus is being successful with one or two kids.

Q: What is the percentage of – you are saying mainly girls mature earlier?
A: Yes.

Q: Is there a percentage or is there a way to know?

A: In general, 90 something percent of girls will definitely mature way before the boys. I mean it is just a standard thing.

Q: But I am talking about what he is talking about. What percentage of girls at that age would have that early maturity to be able to handle that?

A: If they have started their period then absolutely. Girls tend to have a growth spurt and then their period kicks in and then they keep going for about two more years after that first period so if they have started their period then you know that they have already had that initial part of growth that is clearly going to enable them to be able to increase their aerobic training from a purely chemical aerobic standpoint. Now don’t forget though you have the physical standpoint that is going to get in the way a little bit because their body is changing. Their body fat is changing. Their arm lengths are changing so increasing the yardage isn’t just necessarily the only thing that you can do. You still have to watch out for some of the other stuff. Yeah? Oh the mental aspect, yeah, we all know that that can be crazy.

Q. You said that once they have started to hit puberty is the optimal time to start increasing max V02. When is the most optimal time to work on increasing anaerobic capacity?

A. The question was if your aerobic capacity starts to really develop a lot during puberty, what about your anaerobic capacity and it is actually almost the same. You can start to develop the strength aspect clearly before puberty – there is no doubt, and so in some of that you will get a slight increase in some of their anaerobic capacity, but as far as their ability to handle lactate and all that stuff, it is still something that physiologically seems to mature all around that puberty standpoint, so it is not wrong to do your sprints and all that kind of thing and your hypoxic drills, but don’t use it as your main form of training because you are just not going to get the benefit that you are looking for if you do a lot of that stuff, so a little bit is fine because it is training the body to get ready for that.

Q. In coaching there have been so many different methodologies about when you introduce butterfly to the training. What is your take on that?

A: The question about when do you introduce butterfly; it is kind of like when do girls go on point in ballet. I mean it is an interesting thing that I think for another thirty years there will be continued controversy over that not just the past 30 years. It is, and I am not trying to be vague, it is clearly based on an individual thing and part of that is when you get to that 11-15 age range, you have such a massively wide variability in the spectrum of kid’s coordination that you are just obviously going to have some kids who really just get it early on and some kids that just don’t.

Q/A: What about younger ones, the 7-10 year olds. There is nothing wrong again with trying to teach them that. As I said if you focus on individual aspects, break it down to as many pieces as you possibly can and understanding that they may not have the coordination for that, that is still going to be a win/win scenario if you don’t try to just overwhelm them with the whole stroke, and all the complexities at once, and just spend time working on just hand placement for a while and then totally separate working on the dolphin kick. You know – waiting to put it all together for quite a while, it can still be something, but then when it hits it can be tremendous.

Q. The arguments at that age have to do with the spine, the growth, the shoulders?

A. Oh the question about the spine and the growth in the shoulders absolutely. Remember if they are just learning the butterfly and you are not making them do extensive sets of butterfly then you are not going to overwhelm the shoulder or the spine. Most of the issues with the spine and developing scoliosis, which is more common in swimmers is more from the rotational strokes like your backstroke and freestyle and not so much from the butterfly and breaststroke. You get more stress fractures over the low back from those two strokes, but if you are talking 7-10 year olds in butterfly, you are not going to overwhelm them from just learning the stroke unless you try to have them do a lot of it when it is just very difficult for them to coordinate that. It is like some of the pee-wee football stuff. I mean they don’t have a lot of the strength to generate a bad enough stress to their shoulder to get a shoulder injured at 7, 8, 9, or 10, but by all means, I have 11 and 12 year olds with shoulder problems, I don’t know that I have had a 9 or 8 year old with a shoulder problem before.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news