Finding A Great Swim Team

by Coach Dave Tonnesen

"So now that I know that technique instruction is much more important than swimming laps, how do I know what year-round team is best for my swimmer?" The answer is: it depends! It depends on what you and your swimmer are looking for in a team. To find the best team for your family, you must consider your swimmer's goals, your family's lifestyle and time commitment, your swimmer's time commitment and other activities, team philosophy, the coaching system that your swimmer will be in, convenience, cost, travel, etc.

The Program Selection Chart below is to help you match your swimmers age, family commitment and swimmers goals to see type of program you are looking for to match you and your swimmer's needs. It is also helpful to see future time commitments and match that to your needs and the programs that are available to you.

Program Selection Chart

Good to Great Summer Swimmer - places well at meets, scores points for the team, swims year-round but also participates in other sports and activities

Good to Great High School Swimmer - places well at meets, scores points for the team, swims year-round but also participates in other sports and activities

Committed Year-Round Swimmer - Exclusively focused on swimming and school with little to no participation in other sports or activities (due to lack of time because of commitment to swimming)

Age Good to Great Summer Swimmer Good to Great High School Swimmer Committed Year -round Swimmer
7 45-90 min/week 45-90 min/week 45-120 min/week
8 45-90 min/week 45-90 min/week 90 min-3 hrs/week
9 45-90 min/week 45-90 min/week 3-5 hrs/week
10 2-3 hrs/week 2-3 hrs/week 4-7 hrs/week
11 3-4 hrs/week 3-4 hrs/week 5-9/week
12 3-4 hrs/week 4-5 hrs/week 6-11/week
13 3-4 hrs/week 5-8 hrs/week 8-15/week
14 3-4 hrs/week 5-8 hrs/week 10-19/week
15 3-4 hrs/week 5-8 hrs/week 12-23/week
16 3-4 hrs/week 5-8 hrs/week 14-27/week
17 3-4 hrs/week 5-8 hrs/week 16-30 hr/week
  • For 7 & 8 year olds, the weekly time commitments for successful swimming are similar across all three columns. It is crucial to find a program that focuses primarily on developing your swimmers stroke technique and is fun (For more on the importance of good technique instruction please read "Speed Vs. Technique?"). Studies have shown that the number one reason kids quit a sport is because it is not fun. Whereas parents are looking for improvement and a knowledgeable and fair coach, kids are kids and they want to love what they are doing!
  • For ages 9-11, the first two columns are the same and this is where the committed year-round swimmer's time commitment is almost doubled. At this point most swimmers can swim all the strokes, however, it is still critical that swimmers focus first on stroke excellence, then on improving endurance while maintaining stroke excellence and then learning how to swim at race pace with stroke excellence. Programs that are heavy on lap swimming without the continued focus on stroke technique will give your swimmer short term gains and limit their future potential.
  • By age 10 or 11, the committed year-round swimmer is almost exclusively focused on school and swimming.

There are exceptions to every rule, and I have had swimmers that were great year-round swimmers that did not start until they were 12, but for every one of those, I had many others that struggled to catch up and their technique usually suffered because they rushed their skill and technique progression. This chart is a guideline for successful swimming at any of these levels. Experts agree that a well-rounded athlete, that is, one who has balance in their life and participates in a variety of activities, has less chance for burn out once they do commit and focus on one sport. They also agree that should happen about age 10-11 for girls and 11-12 for boys.

For those of you that know me, you'll know I'm a big fan of the group, U2. So, I'll tell you that I believe Bono said it best: "It wasn't the answers, but the questions we had wrong."

So here are the Questions you should ask...

QuestionsTeam 1Team 2Team 3
Does the program focus on proper technique or just swim laps back and forth?

Do the coaches get in the water with the swimmers and correct techniques daily?

Does the program have a system of excellence? (reward system, whole team coaches training, all groups of the same level running the same training program regardless of coach) Or is it coach-dependent?

Is the team driven by one or two great coaches? Will my child be with that coach?

What is the cost of the program?

What are the additional costs? ie, Registration fee, Swim suits, equipment list and cost, meet fees

Are there fundraising requirements?

Are there volunteer requirements?

Where are the practices?

What time are the practices?

Does that work with my schedule?

What is my drive time at that time of day?

What is the commitment of practices per week for my swimmer's group?

Is there flexibility to fit my child's other activities?

Is the coach accepting if my child is absent?

What is my swimmer's interest level?

How many meets per month and per year?

How long does the program last?

What kind of meets? Inter-squad, local, championship and how long are the meets?

How far away are the meets?

Does my swimmer/family prefer AM or PM practices?

If it is a board-run team many coaches have short tenures, so how many years are left on the great coach's contract?

If the coach owns the team, is he or she a good businessperson?

If not, do they have a strong support staff to run the business end of things?

Is the team/group fun?

Do they do social activities outside of practice and how often?

Is the coach "old school" (a screamer, "my way or the highway")?

Is there frequent positive reinforcement?

Is the program old school? (laps, lots of yelling, static and/or not fun)

Is the program innovative? (progressive technique, interactive, dynamic, fun)?

It is my most sincere wish that you and your child experience the great camaraderie, work ethic, and life skills that swimming has brought me, both as an athlete, a coach, and a business owner. Please don't hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance to you as you strive to help your swimmer reach their potential!

For answers to the above grid for SwimKids Stealth Swim Team programs, please click here...