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Age Is a Whole Bunch of Numbers (March-April 2016)

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by , March 1st, 2016 at 01:00 AM (3026 Views)
At a recent coaches meeting at my home pool, we were strategizing relays for an upcoming meet and surveying our swimmers in their various age groups and our head coach said: “Our team is aging.” After glaring at him for saying the word “aging” on a day I didn’t feel like contemplating it (is there ever a good day?), I had to agree with him.

We looked over our roster and, yep, our teammates— friends we’d been swimming with for the past 10 years— were all, well, a decade older. Our graying gang was gaining crows feet and losing hair right along with the rest of world, and we had 10 years of event photos to prove it.

This trend isn’t unique to our club. Between 1987 and 1993, the three largest age groups in USMS were 25-29, 30-34, and 35-39. Between 1994 and 2001, that shifted to 35-39, 40-44, and 45-49. The 2000s saw two more shifts in the same direction, and in 2015, the three largest age groups in USMS were 45-49, 50-54, and 55-59.

You can see where I’m going with this. Of course our volunteer leadership and national membership team are crunching these and other numbers, including U.S. Census data, in an ongoing effort to better understand and serve our members. And our marketing team is taking a hard look at these numbers and other research—attracting younger members is an increasingly important endeavor for us.

But what are we doing, as individual swimmers, coaches, and clubs, to encourage younger adults to join us?

Other coaches I’ve asked this question of have creative solutions. Some have reduced rates so that younger swimmers who are paying off college loans or raising young families can afford dues. Others recruit newly minted adults from their age-group programs and returning college kids on break. Not only does this encourage younger swimmers to join USMS, it can also be an effective way to win meets—as every coach knows, the deeper your roster, the more categories in which you can score.

It’s essential and comforting that motivated and knowledgeable people are working on these important issues, but my mind tends to wander (more so nowadays) to the less tangible aspects of our subculture—the empirical ether where those of us who are fascinated by the sociological aspects of it all live.

And when I think of the younger swimmers who have joined us along the way— some of whom have become dear friends—I know that it’s just way more fun to be at swim practice and events with swimmers of all ages. It never occurs to me that there’s really much of an age difference until we’re at a restaurant and someone gets mistaken for someone else’s mother (please don’t ask).

And there are older swimmers with whom I’ve developed friendships. Not in the sometimes patronizing sense of older and wiser—but in the sense that I simply enjoy their company. Period.

So yes, we might be ripe for statistical speculation, but in a real-life, every-day, get-your-butt-to-workout, swim, laugh, gossip, party, prank-each-other sense, our community is stronger and much more enriching when we have swimmers of all ages sharing the fun, chaos, and beauty of it all.

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Updated September 1st, 2016 at 11:27 AM by Editor

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