View Full Version : How old should a child be when they start to compete?

February 20th, 2003, 11:18 AM
My granddaughter, who is 4 and a very good swimmer for her age, was just asked to an invitational meet in March. I don't have all the details on the meet, what events she might be swimming, the ages of the other children she might compete against, etc. My daughter will talk to the coach soon. But, I would like to hear from some of you. Any thoughts on participation/competing at this young age? Anyone out there who started this young?


February 20th, 2003, 11:28 AM
It depends entirely on the child. Does she WANT to compete? If so, let her. If it's her parents or the coach that really wants her to compete and she isn't all that interested, don't force it. If she does compete, she will need a lot of support because she likely won't place against the older kids.

I started competing at age 4 in a weekly 15 meter race. I had to swim in the outside lane in an 8 and under age group because half the time my father had to fish me out before I finished. The key was that I really wanted to do it because all four of my older brothers were competing. It was several years before I earned my first ribbon - a third place ribbon that I still have. Never being able to place as a youngster can either devastate a little kid or motivate them. In my case, it was a motivational factor - I wanted it more than others.

February 20th, 2003, 02:37 PM
Laineybug -

Jim's reply reminded me of a situation that brings up another angle to your question.

A few years back when I was Referee for a YMCA meet, one of the teams entered a 5 year old who spent more time under water during the race than on the surface. Although the swimmer did not appear to be in any trouble while swimming, it was obvious the swimmer was not competing - only playing.

If the swimmer cannot stay on top of the water and has to be, as Jim states, fished out, they pose a liability and insurance risk to the host team and the host facility.

I would suggest not putting them in that position if this kind of scenario fits your situation.

Paul Windrath

February 20th, 2003, 03:07 PM
Guess I should have added, my daughter tells me that my granddaugher can swim 25 meters, back and free, without stopping/sinking, and can do 800 yards broken at 25s.

February 20th, 2003, 06:58 PM
I used to swim in and coach in a recreational league and we had a 6 and under age group and I had several four year olds through the years compete. They loved the ribbons and enjoyed practices. As long as the child wants to, I say go for it.

February 21st, 2003, 12:29 AM
There are a lot of fast 5 and 6 year olds that can even beat us master swimmers. It depends upon the child. I didn't start competively until age 12. But my father wanted me to know butterfly. Girls even more than boys develop in swimming early and starting early for them has some advantage. The disadvantage for the child is that a very early start means the child gets bored with the sport by high school. Most age groupers drop out at 13 years old that start early.

February 21st, 2003, 02:02 AM
My mom started me swimming as an infant, on a team at age 3, swimming my first meet at age 4 years, 3 months. (I recently came across the pictures and the times... my first event was 100 meter free, which I swam in 2:51. I was swimming with the girls 6 and under.) When I was five, I earned a high point trophy. I ended up with a few cigar boxes filled with ribbons and metals (that I trashed when I was 11 or 12). When I first started on the team, I remember not being able to count the number of laps that the team was told to swim for warmups (maybe 'cause the coach was giving us yards, not laps?), so I would just swim until I was told to stop. I remember crying silently to myself when I was swimming (tears of course invisible to all), because I hated feeling all alone in the pool, forced to do something that I didn't want to do all the time. I was not allowed to miss a workout. I even had to swim a meet once with a painful boil in my ear; it was horrible. As I got older, I didn't want to be pushed to swim harder or faster. I stopped swimming altogether when I was 13 or 14 (rebelled, refused to go to workouts, played hooky, got involved with boys, drank, took drugs... not all owing to a life of early swimming, I'm sure). I also always had constant cold-like symptoms from the chlorine as a kid, although that, and the burning bloodshot eyes, didn't bother me that much back then. The chlorine just about ate the hair off my head, and the poor (brittle, broken) state of my hair as a young teen really bothered me... I also have very bad teeth and wonder if that problem can be attributed, in part, to the constant chlorine exposure in my childhood.

I did enjoy my friends on the team, but it was rather bitter-sweet.

Now, at age 41, I have just started back to swimming. It feels good but I don't remember it being such a cardiovascular activity when I was a kid! The 25 yard pool feels much smaller now, although I've recently ventured to a 50 meter pool and still hate it. (I have a sort of mild acrophobic and/or agoraphobic reaction in the deep end of 50 meter pools... grew up swimming in a 25 yard pool.) The one positive thing I gained from the early swimming is that I have fairly good form (had good coaches who taught me before I had the opportunity to develop bad habits on my own). And I mastered the "old school" backstroke turn that I can still manage after not swimming all these years. (I am bummed to hear that it isn't used any more.) I think if my mom had not pushed swimming so seriously at such an early age, I would have kept swimming through high school at least...

(My mom also made me play softball on a league when I was first old enough (3rd grade). It was not a good experience (got hit in the mouth with the ball when the coach was trying to teach me to catch high flies overhand, and I wanted to catch underhand), but I was made to finish the season (had to eat sliced bananas and drink milk through a straw while my lips healed). I also couldn't hit the ball (never hit the ball), although I had the strongest throwing arm on the team. I never played again after that year. If I had first played at a little bit older age, and upon my own decision to give it a try, I think it would have been fine, since my coordination would have been better and, thus, the skills easier to learn.)

That is just my experience. I am sure there are others out there with better ones.

I think little ones should be allowed to swim, if they want, and when their swimming and maturity level is compatible with the event/circumstances. I don't think any sport should be forced on a kid because a parent wants to make an athlete or star out of the kid. Kids will find what they are good at and can enjoy, given gentle introductions, opportunities (that they are free to accept or reject) and encouragement.

February 21st, 2003, 08:30 AM
Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I'm afraid that too many young people may have had much the same experience as you, and as a result have been turned off to sports of all kinds. We, Delaney's parents, coaches and grandparents, are working very hard to be sensitive to her desires and needs. Thats the reason I started this thread.

As of now, you can't keep the child out of the pool. She gets angry if she has to miss a practice for some reason, like an ear ache. She really seems to think its fun and even "jokes" about her mistakes. When my daughter gets all the info about the meet, she will decide whether or not she wants Delaney to compete. If she doesn't she isn't even going to mention the meet to her. But if she feels it would be an appropriate meet to go to then she will ask Delaney if she wants to... so ultimately it will be up to my granddaugher.

Last night my daughter was telling me something funny that happenned at practice this week. The coach had her group practicing backstroke. He asked my granddaughter to go first. She grabs the gutter then curls her little toes over the gutter, but when she pushes off she doesn't streamline, she arches her back and dolphins, causing her to go deeper in the water. When she does pop up she flails both arms backwards and continues to dolphin so she is kinda doing butterfly on her back. By the time she gets to the ladder the coach is there. He says, "Delaney, WHAT was THAT?" Without missing a beat, she replies, "THAT was the DELANEY backstroke!" In a joking tone (he was trying not to laugh), the coach says, "Delaney, you may be good, but there are a lot of other good swimmers in the world and no one has a stroke named after them." Then everyone had a laugh about it and the practice went on.

February 26th, 2003, 08:03 AM
I thought all of you who posted might like to know what my daughter finally decided about the meet. First she wants to tell you all thank you for your input that it was very helpful and gave her something to think about.

After talking to the coach abour the meet, she discovered that there would be a special "six and under" category for Delaney to swim in. BUT, that most of the 6 year-olds would be swimming in the "eight and under group." The coach also told her that he knew of only one other team going to the meet that had a swimmer as young as Delaney and that there was a good chance there wouldn't be any other girls there for Delaney to swim against. The meet is about three or three and a half hours away from where my daughter's family lives. So, the decision was made not to go to the meet.

The coach said that he was also inviting Delaney to the meet so she could watch some of the heats and get a feel for what went on. There are three more meets in the town or close to where my daughter lives this spring, so she will have the opportunity to go see a meet soon.

Thanks again everyone. Lainey

February 26th, 2003, 09:15 AM
What my daughter's club did was to have 8 and unders swim together but the awards were separated out to 6 and unders and 8 and unders. You might also look into 8 and under swim meets. the 6 and unders swim together, the 7 year old and the 8 year olds with relays being mixed.