I wanted to provide some clarification and reasoning for the decisions that we make as coaches about swimmers events, practices, distances, etc. I think more information about why we do what we do, will help parents understand and support our coaches' decisions.
1. A question that I often hear is "what is the benefit (in the short term and the long term) of long distance training and competing for age group swimmers?"
As parents you are likely aware that your swimmers often train and compete in sets/events 400m long or more. One of the reasons that we emphasize these longer distances is to cater to the way that swimmers' bodies develop between the ages of 9-14. During this age period in particular, longer sets and events allow swimmers to focus on developing their skills and techniques. This is especially true for freestyle. Improving technique at these ages is crucial as a long term preventative strategy to reducing the chance of injury. A high number of athletic injuries come as a result of improper technique wearing down on the bones, muscles and joints of the body. We want to ensure that proper technique becomes automatic for swimmers, so that when their bodies develop further during puberty they can handle the increased strain of heavier workout regiments. Long distance swims are particularly useful for this because they provide the swimmers with more time and opportunity in which to focus on specific aspects of a stroke. In a 400m swim, a swimmer has mouch more time to establish a methodical rhythm than say a 25m or 50m swim.
These distances are not just good for preventing injuries, but also for developing stroke efficiencies. Focusing on technique now will pay off in the long term. During puberty, their bodies and muscles will develop to the point where strength becomes a much more crucial part of the stroke. When this happens, proper stroke techniques will start to pay off even further and they will have a far better chance of avoiding injuries.
It is scientifically proven that youths have the highest capacity for aerobic development during the 9-14 year old age group. The biggest gains here come from long duration, low intensity swims. In addition, in order for anaerobic capacity to be developed later on, this aerobic capacity must come first. While anaerobic development (brief, high intensity exercise) during this growth period may result in short-term time drops, aerobic development will result in improvements for all swimming distances. It is also a crucial base for the development of anaerobic development.
2. Parents often talk to me about specializing their children in short-term/long-term or fly/back/breast/free events early on.
The reason that I do not promote this is because it is not good for the long term development of the swimmers. The development of basic stroke foundations in all of the strokes is more beneficial in the long term. The different strokes rely on different parts of the body, so developing all parts together is another way to help prevent injury. For example, swimming only breaststroke events will likely put undue pressure on the swimmers knees. On the other hand, a variety of physical activity will ensure that different parts of the body are at work at different times throughout the training process.
3. Parents also often request that their children be put in certain events during competitions.
The reason that we pick these swimmers events so specifically is in order to compliment that training that we do on a regular basis. In a regular practice, we work with the swimmers on specific skills in order to benefit the development of the swimmer on a whole. During competitions, we as coaches need to see the swimmers apply the specific lessons that they learned in practice in order to provide us with a more complete stroke evaluation. We want to make sure that the lessons we are drilling into the swimmers are translating into improved performance during competitions.