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Monday, 28 September 2015

The Road to Greatness Has Dips and Turns

Here is some research that will help Age Group Swimming Parents better understand Age Group (14&U) Swimming.  Keep in mind, as you read this, that my goal is to help you BUST SOME MYTHS, but after I do so I will BUST THOSE MYTHS as well:

In 2009, I researched the TOP 20 100 FREESTYLERS in the USA, at age 10, for both girls and boys.  I made a list of 20 girls and 20 boys based off this information.  I wanted to see how many of the TOP 20 kids at age 10 were still ranked in their age group's TOP 20 at age 16. 

The results were enlightening.  The top 10 year old girls of 2009 are not the top 16 year old girls of 2015.   The top 10 year old boys of 2009 are not the top 16 year old boys of 2015.   It's not even close!

Check out the results for the girls.  Only ONE of the TOP 20 10 year old girls transitioned into a spot into the TOP 20 as a 16 year old.  The face of Women's Swimming, at the level of the highest-ranked High School-aged athletes, is completely different at 16 when compared to 10.

The Boys are almost identical:
(sorry for the red…)

You may be asking, "so, it's a bad thing to be a top-ranked 10 and under?"

No, it's not that it's bad to be a TOP 20 ranked 10 and Under.  I actually encourage it!  My goal with this post is to let people know what is normal and what is average….because it's clear to me that either parents do not know these facts, or (worse) they are ignoring these facts as they consider where their child is in the world of athletics.  I cringe at the thought of anxious parents who throw their hands in the air when their 10 year old isn't winning the local races…there is still hope for our future Champions!  We will never get anywhere if we start to get weary and put our kids into another sport that may be nicer to our kids (swimming can be stressful because the "in-your-face" nature of race times encourage us to consider some kids 'good' and some kids 'not as good' -- when really, swimming is great because the black and white nature of times gives us a true measure of improvement -- and it's the knowledge of getting some improvement that is a great part about being a swimmer!).

In the short 5 year history of T2 Aquatics, the stories of our "pretty good" 12 year olds turning into College swimmers are becoming commonplace.  But what about our athletes who were those "great young swimmers" -- what has become of them?  Here are a few of our examples:

Recent T2 Swimmer (now College swimmer) Elise Haan popped onto the scene with a 110th-ranked 11 year old 100 Backstroke (for 11 year olds in the USA), and then transitioned into a 4th-ranked 12 year old, a 7th-ranked 13 and 14 year old, and a 3rd-ranked 16 year old.  She got good, and stayed good.

T2's Matt Limbacher and Kayla Tennant are other examples.  Matt was a #1-ranked 10 year old, a #1-ranked 12 year old, and a #3-ranked 14 year old.  Kayla was a #2-ranked 12 year old and a #5-ranked 15 year old.  

T2 Aquatics athlete (and current California Golden Bear) Elizabeth Pelton was a #1-ranked 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 year old (rankings were accomplished representing the Wilton Wahoos, NBAC, and T2)!

NBAC and Pitchfork Aquatics' Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time, was a #1-ranked 10 year old.

To be clear, for those T2 Parents who are reading this blog, our T2 Staff is confident that our athletes can be great at any age, and our goal is continued forward progress -- even for those who are highly-ranked young athletes.  We will strive to be the best we can be, at any age, and we are not afraid to go really FAST at a young age. 

The key point is to understand that most top 16 and unders were not Top 10 and unders.  The goal for athletes age 8-10 is to improve technically and to learn how to prepare for competition (basically learning how to get the most from themselves at a meet, relative to their level of performance, by knowing where to go for their events and knowing how to effectively communicate with coaches, teammates, and parents during competition); for athletes age 11-12 we want to get some good improvements in USA rankings and make our way toward the top 300-500 in the USA if we are not already there…while still attending to all of the awesome things gained as a 8-10 year old.

We cannot ignore the facts and the numbers, and the numbers in the graph above are the facts. We can examine any number of reasons why athletes' rankings tend to change with age (up, or down), and there are plenty of reasons that perhaps I'll save for another time.  But one thing is for sure, it really makes no sense for us (coaches or parents) to fuss over how "good" or "not as good" the athletes are when they are 9, 10, and 11.  Not to mention 8 or 7.

Parents can help their kids do well in athletics by simply parenting and turning things over to the coach when the subject of "athletics" is at hand.  Most of the top athletes I tend to work with have parents who parent and otherwise direct the child to the coach for athletic-related concerns…particularly at the age of 13 and older.   Parents of kids age 12 and under have to anticipate the backseat they must eventually take and try to avoid "running the show" from age 8-12…so there is a smooth transition.  

Thanks for reading, here's to a great week of maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses.