“I don’t know what happened? She was a really good swimmer and now she just refuses to go anywhere near the pool……” Ahhh if only coach’s could get paid by this comment alone, the bad coach’s would be millionaires. Ok so that’s a little harsh, but keeping kids involved in swimming as they get older can be quite the challenge especially if the child is not competing well.
So here’s the simple answer for you. If you want to have 16, 17, 18 year old swimmers staying in the squad then work on your 11, 12 and 13 year olds. Easy right? Lets look at your average 16 year old girl, hormones raging, body still changing, homework and school work get harder, you are trying to be popular at school, and boys….. Omg I’m in love with Harry Styles or (insert name of boy band singer here). You get the idea, and the boys aren’t much different.
Look at the swimming environment and what your asking teenagers to do, you are expecting them to train twice a day for two hours or more plus gym sessions in some cases, you are also expecting them to watch what they eat, get up to train at 5:00am or 6:00am 6 mornings a week, stare at blackline for hours on end, compete at a high level on weekends plus all the other things I mentioned before and all the other challenges of growing up. So imagine you are doing it on your own or there is only 2 other kids close to your age to train with. There are other factors that can include things like: they don’t like the coach, boredom, other sports activities and I could go on.
So where to start? Well sorry to say if you have 2 or 3 teenagers in the squad currently then it is going to be near impossible to keep them motivated to keep up training. The trick is to get hold of the kids when they are younger and form clusters of kids, for example you have 12 girls in one lane and 17 boys in the other. You split the kids into age groups, so all the 9-10 years old are together the 11 and 12’s plus and so on. Ok so then you split the girls and boys up too, so that you have small groups (clusters) of girls together all about the same age and boys about the same age. From here you have your core kids that you want to form a training friendship, now what will happen, if your lucky, is that these clusters will interact in similar ways to a small network and each will connect through association. For example brothers and sisters are in different groups but the two groups have a social connection due to the siblings. If you can form these groups at an early age then you will find that a culture will develop and the kids will stick together through their swimming life as well as motivate and push each other. This also helps when they go to carnivals and camps because more than likely that one or two of their friends will be going also. Again once the kids start going to carnivals and camps and if you encourage them to be friendly but competitive then they will make more friends, except these new friends won’t be seen as much, and these are the friends that will push your kids even harder to succeed because they only see them every now and then. Once this culture is formed then you will find that they will keep swimming longer because they have a good group of friends swimming too.
Now for the hard part, if you only have about 3 teenagers in your squad with big age gaps then it is very hard to keep them motivated. One way you could try would be to treat them more like an adult with set goals. So what I mean is that you sit them down and plan out the next 6 to 9 months in the way of time progression and carnivals to attend. The teenager may want to compete in a carnival or get into a squad that has qualifying times. So sit down with them and develop a plan of attack to get to the goal. Outline what you as the parent and/or coach are going to do to help them get there, basicly your responsibilities. Then you do the same for the swimmer and outline their responsibilities in the plan, be sure to include what will happen if certain responsibilities are not met. Now type it up and print off 2 copies, you sign them both and so does the swimmer/teenagers and presto you now have yourself a swimming contract. This will give the swimmer a sense of commitment and they will also know that they are not doing this on their own, they now know that the parent and/or coach is part of their “team” and is working behind the scenes to help them. You could also include bonuses into the plan if they go beyond their responsibilities. This is just one method to help keep the older the kids motivated ,the older they get the more creative you have to be. A simple movie night might not cut it.
On the topic of movie nights and extra things, try to organize non-swimming activities for the kids to do. If you’re lucky enough to have a squad of about 30 kids or more then go and speak to the local cinema and arrange for a private screening of a movie and a package deal. Another example of what you could do is go to somewhere different, as an example not far from where I live we have an indoor trampoline park so we will be planning a trip to the trampoline centre for the kids to go to. Team trips away are also a great thing to try and organise, you don’t have to go far only about one and half hours to two hours away but call it a training camp. So for example in summer find a caravan park near a beach or lake. If there is a pool near by even better. Everyone leaves on the Friday after school and meets at the accommodation that night, If you have time have a team dinner or even better the next morning have a morning session at the pool and then a team breakfast. After you have your breakfast get your coach or a guest coach (a coach who lives near by) to do a lecture on something specific such as Dives and turns.This will give the kids another perspective on the skill. Plus the guest coach could give a different perspective on the skill. On top of this hearing the same things the same coach that has told them a thousand times before, but from a different person could make all the difference. Then it’s back to the pool to practice the skill that they guest coach is teaching. Everyone stops for a team lunch and then the afternoon is free time followed but team dinner at somewhere nice (well nicer than McDonald’s). The next morning have the team breakfast first and followed by a training session (should finish about 11am) and then everyone packs up and heads home so that they can do home work or rest or whatever.
All this sort of thing helps the kids to bond outside the pool and then they go to school raving about what a fun time they have had at the movies or their weekend away. This now has the possibility to create a knock on effect and other kids at their school will hopefully want to join the club/team too.
So the main thing I would like to emphasize is for the parents, coach and the club committee to get creative. The kids are putting in their hard work and training as best the can, and guess what parents “your part of the team too”. So pull your weight and help make swimming fun for your kids.