Top 100 Rankings for 9-10/11-12 Year Olds – Is That Something We Should Be Celebrating?

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Swimming is a long journey - as the legendary Dawn Fraser noted at the end of this swim session with the kids - Photo Courtesy: Swim Australia

Commentary: When a member of the Swim Coaches Idea Exchange Group posted a question yesterday, he also gave his answer: ‘Is top 100 rankings for 9-10/11-12 years olds something we should be celebrating?’ was followed by the suggestion that the coaching community “needs to get as far away from focusing on age group performances as possible.”

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The question was sparked by the recent release of teams top 100 rankings for 9-10/11-12 years olds by USA Swimming with the American Swimming Coaches Association. There’s fun in the mix of measures but the downside of ranking very young children is lost on few in the sport.

The young coach got a fair few loves and likes and affirmative comments in response. Among them was this from Todd Schmitz, mentor to Missy Franklin: “Coaches – you don’t want to coach the 10 and under wonder trust me!!!” In words that remind us how hard the journey can be – even for those who make it big – Schmitz added:

“Long-term development is where it is at.”

The world of swimming loves rankings – in context and at specific moments in time and along the thread of history – but even at the pointy, deep end of business, rankings of late have not matched the standards of past eras, neither at the level of proper provision, availability nor accuracy.

And that’s the deep end. In the birthing pool of talent, the shallow end at the start of long voyages, do rankings even make sense?

What purpose do they serve? Used as motivation and incentive, some children might harness them to their goals. Even then, would they do so in a way constructive to their own development? Can a nine-year-old, for whom a 40-year-old can feel like something out of the Book of Noah, really fathom what an elite career of 20 years, with a 10-year build up, might look like?

Probably not. I was eight when I met Shane Gould, 14, for the first time. That same day, I met Forbes Carlile, too. He was 49 – and would grace the swimming world for a further 45 years until Ursula Carlile, Shane and the rest of us lost him on the eve of racing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Forbes was saved from the booing that rained down from the Rio stands over issues with their roots in governance and culture that Forbes had fought to rid his beloved sport of just about his entire adult life. Those issues run through the thread of this exchange of thought between Don Talbot and Bill Sweetenham that Swimming World published yesterday.

The work and views of great stars of the sport in their youth, such as Gould and Franklin, also speak to the wisdom of years and wider issues.

The trouble with the notion of a 9-12-year-old coupling the improvements they’re working on to rankings is clear: the tool is one that often means more to coach, club and parent than child.

How do you feel about it? Do you love rankings for nine-year-olds? What are the positives you see? Let us know if you see another side to what follows.

One of the legacies of Carlile is the eponymous swim program Carlile Swimming with its many programs across Australia.

Michael Gale, recently retired from his role as Senior Assistant Head Swim Coach at Carlile Swimming, was among those who left a comment on the post at the Swim Coaches Idea Exchange Group.

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Swimming – a big voyage ahead for a nine-year-old – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Tapping into his own experience and that of Swimming World columnist Wayne Goldsmith and his cross-sports writing on youth sport and related issues, parenting, coaching and the culture and environment of sports in the mix of specifics and generalities, here is what Gale wrote about top 100 rankings for 9-10/11-12 years olds:

Rankings of 10-12 is an absolute disgrace.

It just goes to show how low sport in general has stooped to a level to appease the “SMALL“ decision makers in those sports.

So what if a child is No. 1 at 10 yrs of age or 12 but has left the sport by the time they reach 16!

We want to see the best elite athletes in the world at Maturation Age. Yes, we will get girls 14/15 who have won an Olympic medal and we will see a 40 yr old win a 50m free race and get an Olympic medal. These are RARE EXAMPLES.

We need children to experience a variety of sports when they are young. It’s when they are in that age group of 16-18 where they need to specialise in 1-2 sports and have the time and mental dedication to aspire to be amongst the best.

SADLY, it’s at this Age Group where we lose so many people from sport.

WHY? Often because they have parents/coach who have their child marked as a future World Champion. Most often, a child discovers something that they are good at. Not many youngsters will excel at something they dislike and that is a true basis to expose children to a variety of sports.

The problem occurs when the child is pushed to a ridiculous training regime that he/she hates it but continues due to adult pressure but once they are 16-18, they rebel.

As a recently retired coach working with the whole spectrum from young kids to elite athletes who represent their country, it sickens me to see 10yr-olds doing 5-7 sessions a week. I’d prefer they do 3, maybe 4, and try other sports.

L.T.A.D.— Long Term Athlete Development, is something all sports Associations and Parents need to be aware of. In these days of computer games, mobile phones, Social Media via the Internet, the days of kids being kids – running around at school and after, being active, playing sport on the weekend – has been greatly eroded.

Throw in the commitment of schooling and if you have coaches/parents pushing young children to undue pressure in all that the child does [it] makes life very stressful for that child.

Why are so many YOUNG CHILDREN HAVING TO RESORT TO SPORTS PSYCHOLOGISTS?

Simple – PRESSURE OVERLOAD! As a parent, yes, of course we want our children to be successful in all that they do, BUT LOVE AND HAPPINESS are the two most vital things that you can give to a child. I hear parents saying they feel like they are a TAXI SERVICE!

That’s only because the parents have committed their child to so many sessions of sport or extra tuition, be it a school subject or music or similar. These same parents that complain are often the group that expect their child to be number 1 (apologies to those who have more than one child doing different activities on the same day).

People [looking at the likes of [ top 100 rankings for 9-10/11-12 ] will argue with me that there is alway pressure to perform, be it in a classroom or on a sporting field – true, but not to the extremes we have today.

Do you wish to see real competition? Look along the sidelines at weekend sport and observe some of the disgusting screaming, yelling, arguing, whether it be at some official, or the opposition or amongst other parents.

These same people think they are an authority on the sport because they have watched it or even studied it on the internet! So with that comes the questioning of the child’s coach’s strategy and methods.

My philosophy has always been “if you don’t like what you pay for, go somewhere else!”.

ALL OF THIS FOR THEIR CHILD TO BE THE BEST.

Want to read from someone else who travels the world lecturing to a whole range of people about this very subject?

Thanks to the Swim Coaches Idea Exchange Group and its members for raising important themes.

Let us know your thoughts on  the theme of top 100 rankings for 9-10/11-12 in comments.

Gale concludes his own comment by recommending the work of Goldsmith.

Here, from the archive, are a couple of articles written by Wayne Goldsmith on a theme that may speak to parents who think top 100 rankings for 9 year olds is something they care about, the emphasis on ‘they’, not the child.

All commentaries are the opinion of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, nor its staff.

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15 comments

  1. Val Acosta Mehta

    Now is a good time to revisit how we train young, talented athletes. Keeping them in swimming but avoiding burnout and negative pressure at younger ages. Lots of great kids out there, future is bright.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Indeed, Val

  2. James Ash

    We should be celebrating those coaches. Imagine the challenge in knowing you have to make it fun every single day to keep those future Olympians from burning out at 13. Like so many do and will.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Indeed.

  3. Tamara Olberg-Kelm

    When we were new to swimming, I have to be honest, I looked at rankings every month, however as the kids get older we found it’s harder to achieve those rankings when they age up, so in turn our son started to resist a bit, then when this COVID happened and we decided to at least get some coaching at home privately, we found that the bad habits had formed and in a fierce way ( no wonder he couldn’t shave any times and felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere) so now we are spending this (downtime) retraining with his coach, every stroke and breaking bad habits. So, I would definitely have to say less focus on rankings and more focus on technique, as well as helping them remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Thanks for that insight Tamara

  4. Jennifer Rinesmith

    The age group team list is a joke. I know for a fact that it is not correct. They have one team listed in top 20 that gets trounced by several other lsc teams in all age group events (the other teams beat them and have a lot more depth). So I wouldn’t pay any attention to this list. My daughter is on the Top 100 All time list for 11-12 girls and was shooting for being Top 10 on that list before Secrionals, NCSA’s, and Zones were canceled. But that was her own goal. Why? Because she loves competitive swimming with all she is. Does she have pressure? I’m sure she does. But she doesn’t let that pressure define her as a swimmer or derail what she wants to accomplish down the road. She seems to brush a lot of it off and does her own thing. She’s just starting to come into her own. When she was 8-9, she was really good, but not top dog, but she kept working. Her coaches have been wonderful. She loves to go to practice and give it her all. Her training isn’t as grueling as some same aged peers around the country. She is starting to reap the benefits of her own hard work. I know she likes being able to see how she is compared to others her age in the country. I know not every kid is that way. One of her younger sisters could care less about anything but having fun in the pool! So I would say it depends on the kid as to whether these types of lists are good.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Thanks for the feedback Jennifer. Absolutely agree that each child will come to this and much else from a different angle, the parental understanding of that and the difference in kids important in the picture you paint, along with the need to have the child own and the path they chose to follow on their journey of discovery and their take on what’s fun (and what’s not). “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”- a great quote from child psychologist Thomas P. Johnson

  5. Sheri Thompson

    My son is very proud of his North Texas #1 ranking for his age group in 50y BR and 100y BR!

  6. avatar
    Michael

    Interesting, thoughtful article. I think overall, the kid needs to lead, especially at this age. Each child is different and it’s the parent/coaches that need to funnel and guide that unique personality to attain the best possible for them, it may be encouraging more or holding them back. I’m a big proponent of letting kids be kids. Mine just turned 12. I admit that when seeing his times that I have to temper my emotions and not to live vicariously through him . He’s just a kid and it’s just a race (and it helps that I’m not a swimmer) He was so excited to go to Far Westerns this year as an 11 yo. So bummed for him that was cancelled. We’ve deliberately held him back having him swim only 3x/4x a week. Something changed in him this short course season before it got shut down. He became much more serious about swimming and competitions I asked him him if he wanted to play little league this year. He flat out said No, I want to swim more. I practically begged him to play baseball one more year since he had such a good year last year (and I’m cognizant of burnout and downsides of early specializing) and he said no. So we didn’t sign up. He wants to move up groups at the beginning of summer and I was not necessarily on board b/c of burnout and he was going to middle school. I wanted him to settle in at school first He wants to go though and start 5x/week so I’ve relented. He still rock climbs though once a week. We’ll see what happens once practice starts again. I’ve always told him I’m proud of him no matter if he swims like Michael Phelps or this Michael (I don’t swim). And that’s these thing you can do as a parent.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Thanks for that insight Michael.

  7. avatar
    NENETTE Abinuman

    Why not celebrate the young swimmers? They swim just as hard in their young world. Give them what is due.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Nenette: that can and is done in many ways (and what is due is the love, the care, the fun, the freedom to grow and learn about a vast world well beyond a timed swim, the celebration of life when we’re talking ‘9 years old’) but the point of the commentary is to ask what role a somewhat meaningless ranking list for 9-year-olds that speaks more to adult aspirations actually brings to the majority of kids whose names make those lists.

  8. avatar
    Jen

    Where do I find this list of rankings? On USA swimming? I don’t want the teams but individual ranks!

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