The Ten Eight-and-Unders You’ll Meet

Photo Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

By Katie Wingert, Swimming World College Intern.

Eight-and-unders bring vitality to any age group swimming program, but their eccentricities also add entertainment value. Over the years, coaches come to learn that there are a few recurring characters in the youngest division of swimming programs.

Here are the ten eight-and-unders you’ll encounter in swimming programs everywhere:

1. The Fist Pumper


Photo Courtesy: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how many speeches you deliver on the topic of sportsmanship, this swimmer will continue to celebrate a bit too effusively after a race. Some well-meaning parent showed this little one video footage of a champion swimmer celebrating a World Record with great glee. Ever since then, whether in lane four or lane eight, this eight-and-under will raise his or her arm high.

Watch out for this eight-and-under in a couple of years; the Fist Pumper can become the Goggle Thrower as a ten-and-under, if he or she waits too long for that all-important growth spurt. Additionally, it is vital to protect this swimmer from videos of Michael Phelps sitting on the laneline. If attempted, the results can be fatal for both pool lanelines as well as for young backsides.

2.The Bruiser Baby


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Never underestimate the youngest child in a family, especially if she’s a girl with older brothers. This is one eight-and-under with some serious spunk. If it’s late at night and past this swimmer’s bed time, you may want to protect the sensitive areas of your body. This pint-sized athlete can pack a punch, particularly after sneaking a third Pixie Stick while Mom was dealing with the older siblings’ antics.

In spite of it all, this swimmer can be a particularly powerful asset in a relay, where he or she often instructs other swimmers on pull-out technique or relay take-off timing.

3. The Chronic Breaststroker


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

You can ask this swimmer to flutter kick. You can dream of this eight-and-under doing a legal butterfly kick. No matter how many analogies or strategies you employ, this swimmer is will open his or her feet and whip them around in a natural breaststroke kick.

Choose your battles with this swimmer. A 25 butterfly may not be realistic. Five flutter kicks per lap of backstroke could be a good starting point. Use candy as a bargaining chip if necessary.

4. The Gamer

Jul 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Sierra Schmidt of the United States dances on the pool deck before competing in the women's swimming 800m freestyle final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel/USA Today Sports Images

Your swimmers have finally gotten into a groove during practice. They’re listening, they’re leaving the wall at the correct time, and they’re working on their lateral freestyle breathing. Then, this swimmer pipes up: “Can we play Sharks-and-Minnows?” The next step is often pulling noodles or kickboards into the water without being asked.

This swimmer can be particularly volatile if he or she has a strong voice. The Gamer has been known to disband entire pools of eight-and-unders through the spontaneous introduction of a raft relay. Your best chance of proceeding with practice as anticipated is to stay on your toes and make your practice into a game, whether through continuous relay sets or through competitive streamline kicking.

5. The Relay Villain


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

You look to this eight-and-under to come through for relays, and he or she is consistently unable to do so. In his or her defense: it’s usually completely beyond the swimmer’s control. He or she projectile vomits and somehow singlehandedly infects the entire age group in practice the week before your first meet. He or she always magically disappears on vacation on the morning of the biggest meet of the season. Finally, this eight-and-under somehow manages to break his or her arm the night before championships in a fluke accident involving a hamster.

Maybe in a couple of years, the Relay Villain will have his or her act together. Until then, look into bubble-wrapping solutions, and keep alternates on hand while making the line-ups.

6. The Shiverer

cerave invitational

Photo Courtesy: Heidi Torregroza

This eight-and-under’s constant refrain is “It’s so cold.” While coaches are standing on the pool deck drenched in sweat, this swimmer is prancing from one foot to the other and rubbing his or her shoulders. Once in the pool, this swimmer tends to walk more than swim. Additionally, this swimmer is particularly apt at giving heart-wrenching, frost-bitten looks to coaches. 

The truth sometimes must be stretched with this swimmer. Helpful, grammatically slippery phrases include, “Just a few more laps,” “You just have some minutes left,” and “The sooner you get in, the sooner you get out.” At meets, towels held in outstretched parents’ arms at the other end of the pool can be highly effective.

7. The Racehorse


Photo Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

This particular eight-and-under swims so little during practice that you wonder if you can call it a swim practice. This swimmer tends to push off the bottom, slap the water, and turn his or her head everywhere. Then, magically, as soon as the starting buzzer sounds, this swimmer flies to the wall with pristine technique.

Embrace the mystique while it lasts. Experiment to see this swimmer’s possibilities and limitations: does he or she demonstrate good strokes for other kids? Does he or she race other swimmers in practice?

8. The Cannonballer


Photo Courtesy: Lola Gomez, Daytona Beach News Journal

The beep sounds, and in lane seven, where you just arranged your swimmer’s feet in perfect track start position, there is the unmistakable mushrooming splash of a cannonball. The accompanying grin is usually not far behind.

This swimmer is also typically the one who enjoys flailing his or her legs in the air while backstroke kicking, just to soak you. Your best response is to wear a rain jacket and smile wide, because at least this swimmer is having fun and jumping far off the starting block.

9. The DQ Champion


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Without fail, this eight-and-under dives in the pool and immediately gets disqualified. Sometimes, you’re not sure how the swimmer can swim so illegally, to the point that the officials look at you, shrug their shoulders, and mouth, “just not right” as justification for the call.

With the DQ Champion, all you can do is say “two-hand touch” in the place of his or her name and plan on entering this swimmer in freestyle for the next three years straight.

10. The Deep Sea Diver


Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

This swimmer spends more time under the water than on top of it. While you are giving directions, this swimmer is hosting elaborate tea parties under the water for fellow eight-and-unders. After the tea party is over, this eight-and-under imagines what it would be like to spend an entire practice on an aquatic pogo stick. This swimmer is most likely to ask “What are we doing again?” after your third explanation of breaststroke kick.

This swimmer is particularly helpful as a lure for the Shiverer, as the Deep Sea Diver typically enjoys playing host or hostess to other, more timid swimmers.

No matter how crazy they may drive us, our teams would not be the same without our quirky eight-and-unders. The best we can do is smile at their quirks and nurture their growing swimming abilities.

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


  1. avatar

    I have them all…sometimes more than 1 set…lol

  2. Cherie Empson

    I laugh but it is oh,so true!

  3. Lin Tozer

    Emily Brown Heather Williams funny!!!!

  4. Alison Apodaca

    I’m not sure you can say it’s 8 and under! I know some 11 and 12 year olds, both girls ans boys, who still fit the profile!😂

  5. Jen Welder Caron

    Oh my goodness… so true! Bette Brendle Courtney Kerschner Shana Bellairs Matz Scott Troy

  6. Beth Dubroff Kolbe

    Renee Laper, share this with your daughter! 😂

  7. Sara Harbison Mackay

    Hilarious. And proof that great humor is based on truth

  8. Bette Brendle

    So many names come to mind for each one! Lol

  9. Kayla Rusby-Wood

    Megan Kaleigh Rebecca between the four of us we were all ten….and it did not stop after we turned 9…

  10. Jennifer Little

    Kym Redden i bet you can relate to all of these 😀

    • Kym Redden

      Sure can, I live with number 6 she is always cold

  11. Lara Bartkus Barber

    Maggie Ryan McCarthy, I think we might both have #2’s. Hahah

  12. Bryony Mitchell

    Pippa Byrom Lindsy Tudor-Cole ..

  13. Cora Cummings Gauvin

    Thought you could all appreciate this one… Scott, Elaine, Maggie, Lisa, John, Sam, Jonathan, Eric, Jeffrey, Marcella, Caitlin, Kailey

  14. Amy Trace

    Madison Marie I can think of a couple

  15. avatar

    I always joke that I make a good stroke and turn official because my kid has committed every dq’able offense in the book, so I know what they all look like. He’s 13, and *still* finds new ones!