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Age group swimming – why do we prefer these meets?

Age group swimming is a paradox.  Our 2017-2018 season kicked off on Saturday with the first age group swim meet.

We love the start of a new season.  There is a sense of anticipation and excitement on the pool deck, which seems to water down as the swim season progress.  (Parents and swimmers alike are quite exhausted at the end of a swim season.)

Why is age group swimming a paradox?

Age group swimming works on seeded timesI never think about these topics as I have been a swimmer all my life.  Actually, a competitive swimmer, therefore we take the jargon and terminology for granted.

Our swim mom in this article has three swimmers in the family.  Two female swimmers aged seven and eight and a ten-year-old boy.  We know the family from fun galas.  It is quite satisfying to see the swimmers progress to age group swimming.

She actually pointed out to me that age group swimming does not match its name.

Age group swimmers compete based on their seeded swimming times and not their age.  Swimming authorities group the results based on age after the swim meet.

This swim mom is quite correct.  Non-swimmers think that age group swimming means that swimmers at the same age swim in the same heat.  It is not the case.

Swimming is all about times.  Yep, times and not medals (contrary to popular belief).

Let’s explain:

We live on the East Coast of South Africa (tropical climate) and we swim for KZN Aquatics (KZNA).  KZN Aquatics is our region’s aquatics governing body.

Club swim meets versus Age group meets:

Age group swimming:

Club gala trophiesThere are 3 governing institutions involved in swimming

  1. FINA – the world governing body for the 5 aquatic disciplines i.e. Swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming.
  2. Swimming South Africa is South Africa’s (SSA) aquatics governing body.
  3. KZN Aquatics: the provincial affiliate of SSA. Responsible for all aquatic disciplines in the region.

All age group and club swim meets are held and have to meet FINA’s rules and regulations.  There are timekeepers (at least 3 per lane), electronic timekeeping devices, judges, and officials.  It is quite a big list.

The times are captured in a database.  SSA and KZNA use the times in the database to determine a swimmers’ ranking in the region (KZN) and Nationally (South Africa).

We have 4 levels:

  • Level 1:  Beginner and development swimmers. (10 & Under)
  • Level 2:  Intermediate swimmers (10 and Under)
  • Level 3:  Advanced swimmers.  (11 or and Under)
  • SANJ:  South African National Juniors (16 & Under)

The levels have different qualifying times.  Swimmers progress to the next level when they swim qualifying times irrespective of age.  In our case, our 10-year-old daughter is swimming Level 3 qualifying times.

Age group meets take place mostly on Saturday afternoons and only feature a couple of events.  There is a gala calendar and it is the coaches’ responsibility to ensure that the swimmer has enough opportunity to swim qualifying times for the different strokes and events.

Age group meets are also timed finals, therefore not heats and finals as we see with Provincial and Regional championships.  Medal presentations only take place at KZN Junior champs (September), KZNA Premier champs (December) and SSA Regional Swimming Championships.

Level 1 and 2 provincial championships take place in February every year.

Age group swimmingClub galas:

All registered clubs have at least one competitive swim meet a year.  These meets also serve as an opportunity to raise funds for the club (food sales etc.).

Most club galas are timed finals which means there are no heats in the morning and finals (top 10 swimmers) in the afternoons.  Club galas or swim meets award medals to the top 3 places and normally have a Victor and Victrix Ludorum or best female and male swimmer in each age group.  This is where the medals are if you plan to swim for medals!

Club galas or swim meets structure swimmers of the same age together.  For example, 10 & Under, 11-11, 12-12 etc.  Unlike age group swimming where swimmers with the same times swim in the same heat.

Fun galasThis implies that our level 3 swimmer at the age of 10, will swim against younger swimmers with slower times.

However, swimming to us is not about the medals, trophies, accolades anymore.  Monica is homeschooled, and as a result, do not have to perform and be in the limelight all the time in order to maintain a scholarship.

We, therefore, decided this year to focus on age group swimming.

10 Reasons we prefer age group swimming:
  1.  Log book: Our 2016-2017 swimming season log book indicates that Monica is swim faster times at age group swim meets than club galas.
  2. Swim for times: Monica is older now and told swim mom that she has a lot of medals, the room is full so she would rather swim for times because it makes earning a medal special.
  3. The challenge: At age group galas Monica swims against 11-13-year-old swimmers based on her seeded time.  It is a challenge as there is always someone faster to chase.  As a result, she swims better times and love the challenge.
  4. Inspiring younger swimmers: This might sound a bit strange but we love giving younger swimmers a chance to win medals too.  Not, arrogant about it, but part of our Swim to Inspire project.
  5. Goals: This is the first year that Monica set times as goals.  We work as a swim family and a team to make these targets possible.  It is a whole and not a part of the picture that renders results.
  6. Economics – age group galas are cheaper.  We swim just 2 events, and time-wise we save too as these meets take place on Saturday afternoon from noon.  Club swim meets normally take all day Friday to Sunday.
  7. Health: We have to face reality.  Our swimmer is still not out of the woods with asthma and health in general.  She tends to be very pale after 3 days of intense competition, despite iron top-up.  Swimming only 2 events on a Saturday afternoon is working.
  8. Less is more: Swimming less events focusing on the middle distances which she prefers to swim results in better times.
  9. Motivation: Feeling better, more rest combined with diet and defined goals keeps the swimmer motivated and fights off boredom.
  10. Rewards – short, medium and long-term goals with short term rewards as the season progress renders a happier swimmer.  We measure goals gala-to-gala with medium term goals every 3 months and annual goals over the longer term.

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Swim training or playing for motivation?

Swim training or playing? ~ in this article we take a look at a different approach with swimming in the new 2017-2018 season.  How do we keep our young swimmer motivated?

Swimming playing or trainingNew swimming season, new beginnings for our swim family.  There is a sense of excitement in our household despite winter arriving with a big bang a week or two ago.

Swim training in winter

Snow report – May 2017

One day we still play training on the beach and the next we are sipping hot chocolate under a blanket as snow fell in the mountains and we get the icy cold wind down the coast.

We have a rested swimmer, SSA registrations for the 2017-2018 season is done and we changed clubs.  Yes, we decided that a change will be as good as a holiday for our swimmer.

This is also a time of year (April/May) when we take a look at everything we do and apply changes where needed. Time to set goals for the new season.

Nurturing a love for healthy living and swimming as a sport is at the forefront. We know how much Monica still loves swimming after 3 years of hard work, dedication, and competitive swimming.  We are also winning the race against asthma and chronic illness as a result of swimming with a healthier, happier, stronger Monica.

Swim Club change:

North Coast Dolphins swimming clubWe joined North Coast Dolphins Swim team as of 1 May 2017.  NC Dolphins is a new club with the first season (2016-2017) behind them.  It is a small, family-oriented club. We really like this as it fits in so well with what we teach our swimmer:

“Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. ” ~ Coach Gary Gaines

NC Dolphins Swim Team is run under the auspices of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation South Africa. There are 3 squads with highly experienced coaches. Terence Parkin and Dominique Donner.

Monica will, however, still receive coaching from Dad Coach Jan.  NC Dolphins trains in Ballito on the North Coast. We live, work and train in Amanzimtoti on the South Coast (51 minutes drive one way.)  Distance is still an issue.

Swim training or playing as part of motivation:

Swim training I want to focus on some aspects of swim training vs playing in the process of staying motivated.  How do we keep our young swimmer motivated?  How do we nurture the love for swimming?

This article circulated the other day on social media:

25 most likely reasons swimmers quit.

Pressure and athletes/swimmers:  As swim mom, I must say that the swimming community never seizes to amaze me.  There are two camps.  The naysayers and the yeasayers.

One would think that the whole swimming fraternity gets behind young swimmers that excel.  The 2016 US female team consisted of 8 veterans and 14 newcomers.  Michelle Weber was the only female swimmer (open water) on the RSA team in 2016.

Everybody talks about the fact that South Africa needs more female swimmers – especially ones that swim A qualifying times! There is, therefore a lot of spots open on the team.  Do not worry at the age of 10,11, 12+ whether or not you are going to make it!

At the end of the day, it does not matter which club you swim for.  Swimmers end up representing a province, region or country.  We should teach our kids that we all stand for one thing at an early age:

The love of swimming.

Set aside the negative comments when someone does well.  Congratulate your teammates and inspire each other to do better as individuals and as a team.  Stop worrying about the Olympics when you are young – focus on your times and do your best.

 Best is good enough.

Maintain childhood in swimming – how do we do it?:

To me, as a swim mom, all swimmers are different.  I am sure if someone does a survey they would find a lot of reasons kids swim.

The point is this.  I think we should all ask ourselves which type of swimmer we have.  How do we do right by our children and preserve their childhood without pressure?

The answer: Once you know which type of swimmer your child is, build their strengths and turn weaknesses into opportunities.

Our Example:

We know that Monica has an extreme love for water and training.  She also loves the beach.  Instead of doing dry-land training in the gym, we go to the beach on beautiful days and we let her just have fun.  Yes, we do core strength but she does not mind that.

There is a burst of energy on the beach when she plays in the water, runs to heart’s content, yells at the top of her lungs until she is exhausted.

We just have a lot of fun and laughter when she plays training on the beach.  Super child, super day, super happiness and super motivated.

Swim training or playing – take away:

Therein lies the answer.  Sometimes the athletes do not need more training to improve.  They need playing to preserve their childhood.  This builds incredible memories where training is not punishment but something they just love to do.

When kids love something, they want more of it.  When they get more fun and enjoyment out of training they grow into highly motivated optimistic individuals.

 The sky is the limit. You can do everything you set your mind to and work at it.

Pick a day in training, make it a huge surprise and let rip!  Make swim training, playing!

Please share this post if you like it or comment below – we would love to hear your opinion or experience!