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How many races my child can swim per day in a competition?
1. To gain some experience in competitive swimming. Your child can race as many times as possible to experience different distances and strokes, familiarise themselves with the commands of the starter and referee, to practice starts and turns under pressure and at faster speeds than the training ones, and get use to a little bit of pressure. The actual times are less important than gaining experience per se (of course, getting some personal best times is always rewarding of hard work and dedication!).
2. To assess progress. Time here is important. The first one or two races during a competition are likely to be better performed than the subsequent ones, not necessary because of less physical fatigue, but rather because of the constant mental arousal induced by the competitive environment (mental tiredness from high levels of concentration + noisy and warm environment). So, a swimmer might want to swim only one race every 2 hours to ensure a good mental and physical recovery* before the next race, and therefore swim only two to three times a day. But the swimmer might consider accumulating more distance over the day (i.e. swimming more), knowing that the last times could not be as good as the 1st races (if these races - stroke/distance – are not so important for the swimmer). Why not get a training session out of the competition and gain some experience in the meantime (i.e. outcome 1 presented above).
3. To qualify for a competition of higher standard: If swimmers are aiming for Regional qualifying times or National qualifying times in a specific event, then being fresh for the race is important. Not racing 2 hours before the BIG race, or not swimming Saturday AND Sunday, or morning AND evening, would be a good idea. This would avoid the fatigue associated with the competitive environment. Now some swimmers also like to race "easy" to get familiarised with the pool (for turns and starts). It is cheeky to do so but when the stake is a qualification to the Nationals, world championships or Olympics, then racing at medium pace before the actual major event of the meet can be part of a strategic plan...
4. To win: Then make sure you are fresh physically and mentally!!! Swimming to win is what swimming is all about. Touching 1st! It is often, if not always why young swimmers compete. But I would advise parents and swimmers to consider this approach when racing in local meets and at young ages. Swimming to win can bring disappointment as it is not only under the control of the swimmer what rank they achieve. It is very stressful to rely on other swimmers' performance to feel happy about ourselves and long term, a "swim to win" attitude is likely to lead to burn out, loss of motivation, and unhappiness.
Interestingly, "swimming to win" is the last stage of what is called the Long Term Athlete Development plan, which is a "guide" for coaches to follow, to support the career of a swimmer. Before swimming to win, a swimmer should learn how to compete ("swimming to compete" stage) and before this stage, how to train ("swimming to train" stage). These 3 stages, in this order (1: "swimming to train", 2:"swim to compete", and 3: "swimming to win"), exemplify the need for parents and coaches to introduce the different outcomes of competition. Swimmers should understand the four and practice the four. The purpose of competing is very tightly linked to the different types of goals a swimmer can set within a year.
* Events in swimming are not very long (from less than a minute up to 6 minutes for the 400m – let's talk about the 1500m another time) and performances over 50 to 400m are unlikely to be limited by a lack of energy (carbohydrates) – unless the swimmers' diet is really poor. Muscle fatigue could however develop from the contractions of high intensity the muscles have to replicate 10 to 20 times per length (small muscle damage - nothing to worry about as the muscle will adapt and increase its potential from this physiological phenomenon; accumulation of by-products that could impair muscle contraction – again no drama there, the muscle will cope with it and get stronger from it!).
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