"We've got to keep them in the pool!" What coach hasn't heard this before? Whether from other coaches, board members, or even parents. But why do we train year round with little or few breaks? What is the reason we've gone from 5 days a week to 6 or 7 for even prepubescent swimmers? Money.
Swimming is a business. Around the world swimming has become more than just a sport but an industry. USA Swimming and YMCA swimming, both boast of having nearly 3000 teams nationwide. That is well over a million swimmers competing in year long programs.
More training equates to more revenue for the teams. Sounds cynical, but most teams- especially the mega-teams with multiple locations and over 500 swimmers- are all about the bottom line. But they ensconce that in a philosophy of starting them earlier, and keeping in the pool longer.
Is the relentless training and long hours without a significant break healthy for swimmers?
In the 80's rules were established to limit the amount of time swimmers could be in the pool. Now instead of four hour practices Monday through Friday we have most teams offering 7 days a week of training. Even if you say it is out of convenience or that you rest certain swimmers during the week, there will always be some parents who insist on bringing their swimmer to every session offered.
Does increased training lead to better swimming?
I recently stumbled across an article linked to a teamunify page. It stated, regarding breaks longer than 3 weeks, "Studies find that all of the training adaptations gained during the previous season will have dissipated by the beginning of the next season." I found the entire statement contrary to my own experience- not only as a coach but as a swimmer. When I was swimming we had nearly 3 months off at the end of the season. I remember coming back to huge time drops. Not back tracking, but improvements made with leaps and bounds. As a coach I think there is much to be said about the mind body connection. Having a significant resting period can give our minds a chance to catch up to what our bodies learned during season and are already capable of doing. Let's call this a period to process. Rest is an important part of this equation. Not just sleep but a break from the physical and psychological demands of training. There can be real detrimental effects to swimmers not doing so:
Injuries due to exhaustion and physical stress. In extreme cases even stunted growth.
Burn out- National Alliance for Youth Sports study shows that 70% of children quit playing sports by age 13 because it isn't fun anymore.
Anxiety- Swimmers face a lot of pressure from coaches, parents, and especially themselves to perform.
Performance- Taking breaks might actually improve performance. Numerous studies show over-training before age 14 can actually reduce the chances of later success.
Certainly there are advantages to fewer breaks and long continuous training. But ask yourself how you might feel at the end of the year without the benefit of some much needed time off. What good are personal bests if your swimmer no longer wants to swim?