View Full Version : Training my 11-year-old for first open water mile. Tips?

September 17th, 2012, 12:13 PM
My son has decided that when we take our family trip to St. Croix so that I can do the lovely Coral Reef Swim (5 miles from Buck Island to the Bucaneer), he would like to do the 1-mile option.

He's got a great stroke, is really strong, but has never done anything like this before. He's going to do the fins option, since it's his first time, and I am wondering about anyone who has trained their kid for something like this.

He's comfortable in open water, and has grown up going to these swims with me, so he's not nervous about that part.

My concern is making sure he can complete the distance. My husband is going to do the mile with him, so he won't be alone, and my husband will pull an open water buoy, just in case. It's from one beach, around a point, and to another beach, so there is an element of being somewhat off shore for a bit.

Right now, he's swimming about 1300 yards a workout, with a combination of distances and intervals in there, and I'm upping it a bit each time. He is training every other day so he doesn't burn out. He's doing his training swims without fins, for the most part, so he can get accustomed to what that feels like.

The swim is in one month so he will need to increase his yardage fairly quickly. I'm trying to go gradual so he doesn't end up hating it.

He has NEVER expressed any interest in a competitive athletic event before so this is huge for him mentally. And he's very psyched for it.

Any tips from other parents? Or coaches?

September 17th, 2012, 12:54 PM
We have a lot of local OW events that allow kids that age to do swims up to 1 mile. The ones who have trouble usually seem to have one of two kinds of trouble: (1) they freak out about being so far away from anything they can touch, or (2) they get cold.

If your son is comfortable in OW then (1) shouldn't be a problem for him, especially if he and your husband use the buddy system. Get him to practice sighting so that he doesn't get exhausted doing it on his big day. Don't know what you can do to prepare for (2), although maybe in St. Croix it won't be a problem even for a skinny kid. If he can do a 1300-yard workout I am sure he can complete the distance; the extra motivation of achieving a goal would take care of the rest even if he didn't up his workout distances between now and then.

I would think again about the fins. In salt water (as I am sure you know) a little hot spot can grow quickly into a gaping crater. If he really wants to wear fins for the swim I think he ought to train in them to be absolutely sure they won't chafe, or to figure out an anti-chafing strategy.

September 17th, 2012, 01:49 PM
Having your husband swim with him is a great idea. Years ago, I took my daughter on her first 4K lake swim like this and it worked great. She was probably about that age. We just did it for completion, not worrying about speed and I encouraged her to stop, stop me and rest whenever she needed to.

I agree with ourswimmer's comments about the fins. I'd strongly recommend against them, especially in salt water.

I'd also encourage your husband / son to mix up freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke in their training and the swim itself. Switching strokes around helps rest different muscles.

Finally, to the extent possible, I'd encourage your husband to do most of the sighting and allow your son to sight the race by simply swimming next to your husband. There's a lot of energy used in lifting your head forward; there will be plenty of time for your son to learn that skill once he gets his first experience underway.

The only issue I see with doing this swim is that you're going to set his expectations very high for the beauty of OW swimming by starting him off in St. Croix ;)

September 17th, 2012, 02:30 PM
This post is highly confusing to me.

On the one hand, a one mile swim with fins should be relatively easy for a swimmer. On the other hand you state he's never done an athletic competition before leading me to believe he isn't a swimmer. If he's never done anything like this before I'm no fan of the first event being an open water ocean event.

1300 every other day isn't enough for training, nor burnout.

Always play it safe in open water is my motto.

September 17th, 2012, 03:01 PM
In seems to me the fact that he's comfortable in open water means he's past the biggest hurdle. Geek's right that 1300 yards three times a week isn't much, but it's hard to know how far he can swim based on this. Does he do any long, non-stop swims? A one mile open water swim isn't far, but the middle of the swim isn't the time to realize it's too far!

September 17th, 2012, 03:43 PM
The more I think about this the more I think it is a bad idea. I have been to a number of age group open water swims. Here are a few of my thoughts.

All the kids start like they are shot out of a cannon and it makes it hard for the adult escorts to stay engaged.

Having a parent there is fine but it isn't a safety device. Safety comes from the race organizer. An adult and a kid can get into trouble in the water.

You have him training without fins. So, when he gets in the race he is going to feel supercharged, until he runs out of gas cause fins wear out the legs in a hurry.

One month is not enough time to train for anything, especially if he has to "increase his yardage fairly quickly."

Like knelson said, the open water is no place to mess around. And, it doesn't matter if the race is 1 mile or 1000 miles or .1 mile, if you get in trouble the distance becomes irrelevant.

There's a reason the ow sanctioning document is 20+ pages.

Rob Copeland
September 17th, 2012, 04:25 PM
Any tips from other parents? Or coaches?
My first tip - Do not solicit advice from people who have no clue about your sonís swimming ability. But since you have asked for and received advice then keep in mind that none of us have any idea what your son is capable of, so all advice comes from that point of view.

My second tips - If you are not a swim coach then go find a local experienced swimming coach, preferably one with open water experience. Have the coach watch then evaluate your sonís goal and ability.

As for fins, my wife did the St. Croix 5 miler with fins a few years ago (using her regular Zoomers). She had no problems with the salt water. As long as your son has well fitted fins AND he has practiced with these fins there should be no problem.

September 17th, 2012, 05:09 PM
I agree with not asking for advice from people who don't know my son or his stroke. That said, I guess I threw myself into it! :)

To start with, my son has a very high fitness level and has been swimming for years, albeit not on a team. (We have an indoor lap pool in our backyard.)

I teach young swimmers myself and feel confident about his stroke and ability. As a double-check, I also had my own coaches look at and evaluate his stroke. All three of us felt confident in his ability to swim and complete the distance.

My son has been to St. Croix with me 5x before, is very familiar with the water and setting there, both the entry and exit beaches, and is quite calm in open water. In terms of open water experience, while he hasn't done this distance in a competition, he's has done open water swimming and been in the water with sharks, barracuda, at a sea ray nesting area in Belize, in significant chop, etc., and has proven that he is not a kid who panics.

I don't see the fins being an issue as he's used fins there many times and never had a foot chafing problem. I've done the 5-mile race 5 times myself and also feel confident in the race organization. He and my husband will be doing it as a "fun" swim rather than a race. It's about him doing it and enjoying it. There will be no charging from the beach for him. If they decide to go in last and avoid the melee, so be it.

Bottom line: I would never put him in a position I didn't feel he was ready for and that could be done with the most safety precautions available. Having had some pretty intense experiences over the course of my open water life, I know that there are no givens. And if on race day, it's not right for him, that's okay too.

My question was more about particular training that has worked for other kids. I've got a training schedule for him, with increases in yardage as appropriate, and he's handling it really well. Motivated, able to do it, and asking for more. He is a goal oriented kid and when he sets his mind to something, the determination is fierce!

Anyone's kids want to weigh in on what worked for them?

September 17th, 2012, 05:29 PM
Yeah, so it seems like the only real question is can he swim the distance? He probably can, but to erase any concern actually have him swim a mile non-stop in the pool with no stopping at the walls permitted. If he wants to rest he can float or tread water in the middle of the pool.

September 17th, 2012, 05:45 PM
I agree with kirk -except I think if you want to be assured of open water prep, he should be able to go about 25% in the pool.

Now, a month isn't really time enough for me to train for much of anything.

But I'm 59.

That's 417 in dog years.

A kid is different. I grew four inches in three months when I was about his age. He has that Human Growth Hormone thing going for him.

September 18th, 2012, 10:02 AM
Let me add my two cents.

Two summers ago my son - 11 at the time - was gung ho about his first open water swim as well.

He trained very hard all summer long and it was agreed he would not be able to compete until he could swim 1 mile in the pool in under 40 minutes.

The week before the swim he suprised me by swimming 1.5 miles with out stopping.

We headed to the event confident in his ability. When we arrived he began to look less confident than he had all summer. I assured him he was ready - but could tell he was hesitant.

Moral of the story - he did not swim - and to this day I think he made the right decision.

If your son is properly trained, you are confident of his ability, and he is confident on the day of the swim you should be fine. Remind him his first swim is not a race and to enjoy the swim.

September 18th, 2012, 11:30 AM
Thanks for that story. We also have a bottom-line about what he needs to be able to complete before can do the swim.

For me, it's really about him learning about himself, feeling strong and healthy, and learning what his body is capable of.
If that doesn't end with him actually doing the swim because it doesn't feel right to him, that's ok. He's a kid with good instincts and if his gut tells him that it's not right on that morning, I trust him to make the right decision. And of course, my husband will be right there to support whatever that choice is. (He's a kid who, thankfully, could completely care less about peer pressure and is very able to decide what's right for him without the "everyone else is doing it" pressure.)

I still marvel at the 11-year-old girl who flew from India to compete in the Kindgom Swim 10-miler a few years ago. I cannot imagine having had that ability to commit at that age. She was incredible!

Is your son still swimming? And how much did he train at the time?

September 18th, 2012, 05:19 PM
BTW, I think that training your son every other day is exactly right.

September 19th, 2012, 08:19 PM
Thanks. Seems to be working! Today he did 1800 yards, and then told me he could have gone longer!

He has actually asked if his next workout, he can do just a quick warm-up, then a straight 2000. Um--okay. :)