Diving In At An Older Age: Preventing Burnout

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By McKenna Ehrmantraut, Swimming World College Intern. 

A common question among high school and college swimmers is, “How long have you been swimming?” The normal reply is ten or more years. When you get to a certain level in the swimming world, everyone assumes you’ve been swimming all of your life and competed in state and national meets since the ages of 10 to 14 years old. For most college swimmers, this is true. But occasionally, you come across an oddity: a college swimmer who has only swum a high school season or has only been swimming year-round for a season or two.

When a newbie to the swimming world tells someone they’ve only been swimming for a few years, they will almost certainly get an eye roll in return. People who grew up in the pool sometimes don’t understand how someone can get to the collegiate level without doing 5 a.m. practices since they were nine. While rare, a few late-start swimmers have enough natural talent and endurance to become the best of the best.


Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @conorjdwyer

Not only do these swimmers have natural talent but also a true passion for the sport of swimming. By the time athletes reach the college level, they are usually starting to feel burnt out and possibly at a plateau in their swimming careers. It can be frustrating, and many swimmers end up opting out of the pool when that love for the water disappears.

The late bloomers of the swimming world don’t seem to have this problem. They are getting into the sport late, and their passion for the water is still strong.

U.S. Olympians Dara Torres, Rowdy Gaines, Conor Dwyer and Allison Schmitt all started their phenomenal swim careers later than most. Torres clearly made up for her lost years in the pool to become the oldest swimmer to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team, and Gaines proved his love for the water when he claimed the title of “the voice of swimming” by calling some of the biggest moments of swimming history in the past thirty years. Dwyer (who started swimming in high school) and Schmidt (who started swimming at age 12) are both still actively training for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Dara Torres

Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @swimdara

USA Swimming has become concerned about the pressure being put on swimmers at younger and younger ages, so they recently enacted new rules to help keep young swimmers safe, healthy, and more engaged (to avoid burn-out) as they grow older. Ten and under swimmers are not allowed to swim in prelim/finals meets, young athletes cannot be kept at meets or practices for longer than four hours, and the more recent development of banning tech suits for 12 and under swimmers. Banning tech suits for younger swimmers has been a controversial debate due to the high costs, improper sizing for adolescents, and the pressure it was putting on young swimmers to succeed early on in their swimming career. For more information regarding the pros and cons of 12 and under swimmers wearing tech suits, check out this article.

Not many people see swimming as a wise choice for their primary sport once they get to high school if they didn’t grow up in the sport. However, they need not fret – with enough hard work, it is possible to make it to the collegiate level of swimming. Whether you are four, 10, or 17, the love of swimming is universal. With enough perseverance, you will be able to swim toward your goals.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff. 


  1. avatar
    cynthia curran

    Girls its harder but there are a few late starters. Guys, mature physically later. I think its much better for male swimmers to start later.

  2. avatar

    I know a young man who began swimming late in high school and is holding his own at the collegiate level. It’s fun to see.