The Development of American Swimmers: A Recipe for Success

USA Swimming world championship team 2015
Photo Courtesy: David Plummer/Twitter

Commentary by Kevin Gill, Swimming World College Intern.

With the conclusion of World Championship Trials a little less than a week ago, Team USA’s top swimmers begin their preparations for this year’s FINA World Championships. In Budapest, the United States will be represented by some new faces who are taking advantage of several big name retirements.

Out of the 45 members on the current roster, 27 of them will be competing in their first World Championships. Within those 27, 15 will represent Team USA for the first time in a major international meet. These numbers show a very similar trend to last year’s Olympic team.

Over the past two years, younger and more inexperienced swimmers have found there way onto the US national team alongside some of their role models. The United States’ ability to have fresh faces poised enough to represent their country under pressure is a product of the developmental system in place at USA Swimming.

There are many pieces to the complicated puzzle, but every aspect of the developmental process at USA Swimming leads to success on the sport’s biggest stage. Individually these pieces are good, but when put together, the system creates some of the greatest to ever compete in the sport.

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Starting from a young age, USA Swimming creates a competitive atmosphere for its athletes. With meets requiring time standard qualification such as Junior Olympics, Zone Championships, and the Speedo Sectional Series, the idea of setting and achieving goals is implemented into young athletes early in their careers.

USA Swimming creates this competitive environment while also making the sport fun and enjoyable. Through programs like the ‘Funnest Sport’ campaign, young swimmers learn to love the water while competing at the same time.


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

The age group swimming piece of development leads in to one of the most important parts of the system, the Junior National Team. The young swimmers who are apart of this team are given great opportunities to gain valuable experience on an international stage.

The Junior National Team holds training camps throughout the year in addition to traveling to meets like Junior Pan Pacs and Junior World Championships. USA Swimming also sends a group of Junior National Team members to compete in the World Cup Circuit every year so that up and coming stars can race some of the best in the world.

The NCAA is one of the most unique aspects to American swimming and plays a crucial role in the development of world class swimmers.

From a technical standpoint, the short course yards platform offers swimmers a chance to sharpen their skills and details of their swimming. Competing for a university aids in preventing burn out in swimmers because of its unique, fun atmosphere.

The NCAA also offers an opportunity for US swimmers to learn what it means to swim for something much greater than themselves. That team camaraderie is evident at meets such as World Championships and the Olympics.

Training under a different coach and in a different environment keeps swimming exciting and fresh. The constant racing on the college level builds great experience for all swimmers.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The products from this multifaceted developmental system have been seen now more than ever before.

At the 2012 Jr. Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii, team USA was represented by talented young stars including Simone Manuel, Leah Smith, Olivia Smoliga, Chase Kalisz, Jack Conger, and Cierra Runge. Between the years 2012 and 2016, all of those swimmers competed for a Division I university.

In Omaha at the 2016 Olympic Trials, all six of those swimmers punched their tickets to Rio. After competing in their first Olympics, all of these swimmers brought medals back the US and now all are headed to Hungary at the end of July.

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

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6 years ago

And Kathleen Baker!!

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