The 13/14 Year-Old Doldrums…

Posted on August 30, 2010


All young swimmers go through periods of time when their times plateau, and it can be tough mentally to work through it. This can be especially hard for one specific age group: 13/14 year old girls.

When first swimming, young girls start out stronger and faster than boys; thus their qualifying times are quicker for most time standards. With consistent training and rapid growth, girls see their times drop quickly and they develop confidence in their strokes. They see that hard work pays off with faster times.

However, as girls reach that 13/14 year age group, puberty often is kicking in, and the maturity results in a different body structure that actually moves through the water in a different way than their previous bodies. More times than not,  their strength has a difficult time keeping up with their new growth, which results in a definite plateau of times.

This plateau can cause a momentary  road block in girls’ swimming careers, and even with encouragement, many may start doubting whether they are ever going to lower their times again. And couple this with other things–heavier homework loads, interest in boys, peer pressure, etc.–and it may make the interest in swimming wain.

This predicament is something that all coaches go through in respect to this particular age-group.  It’s a tough hurdle that can make casualties of some very good swimmers. It can be especially difficult for athletes who found great success easily as a younger swimmer, and they sometimes  have tremendous trouble overcoming the doldrums. However, hard work will eventually pay off!

How do I get around the doldrums as a coach? I teach my swimmers to get out of their comfort zone–this is one of the biggest keys to success. They have to go beyond the “getting in and just swimming” routine, and instead make the effort to “blow out a kidney” as I always say!

Athletes, to Eliminate the Doldrums:

Expect your times to plateau… and then be happy if they never do!

Just take your time, learn to train very hard, work as hard as you can on portions of the workout at first.  You will go further and further over time.  Swimming is not a yearly destination; it is a journey through and beyond college. It takes tons of time and much dedication.

Learn from the doldrums…Do you know what it teaches you?  It teaches you not to give up on something when you are stumped at a roadblock, stalled, or not improving.  The athletes that break through this are normally very successful in life.  It teaches you that perseverance does pay off!

For Coaches

  • Just one coach to another, and you probably already know if you have been doing it a while, but be ready for this and prepare to speak with your athletes.  Every team has a few girls that have little to no issues with this subject, but if you want a large successful team and business, you need to figure the doldrums out!  It will happen. Know that you are there to help them through this period in their lives and work with them on becoming successful, more adult swimmers.  No one said it would be easy. Good luck!

For Parents

  • I know they are your pride and joy and speedy little swimmers.  Remember, the pressure they get from their coaches and fellow swimmers is plenty in their development, so you have to be their “rock” that keeps them level and strong.  Added pressure from you to swim fast only applies direct strain that sometimes pushes them over the edge and wears them completely out.  So instead, give  support– make sure they get to practice consistently, and tell them to speak with the coach anytime they have issues.
  • Trust your coaches, because they only want the best for your child as a person…we know how truly small the percentage of all swimmers that go on to the Olympics, but 100% of them go on to become adults, and hopefully we can add to helping them become responsible, hard-working successes in whatever they choose to do, in or out of the pool. Ironically, most head coaches have been doing this longer than you’ve been a parent! (How is that for perspective?)  Coach Harry Meisel use to say, “I don’t tell you how to cook in your kitchen,” you can figure out the rest!

So, let’s all get through this period of the 13/14 doldrums.  There are many articles and great pages on the USA Swimming website for swimmers (especially girls) and parents to read through.  Check it out.  Remember, train, it will come, consistency is the key to anything.  Learn how to see it coming, take care of it and enjoy competitve swimming for years to come.

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