Should kids compete for club versus high school sports?

27750385_10216008558030578_2414009673401613488_nThere’s a conflict many high school students face regarding their sports. With club and travel teams more common than years ago, how do students balance their high school season with their year-round team? Our experience is with swimming and I saw many of my kids’ classmates and friends struggle with this dilemma.

In a perfect world, club and high school coaches work together in the best interest of their swimmers, so training stays consistent and meets won’t conflict. But often, coaches on either side of the fence, are not able to work together and believe their program is the most important.

My son had a high school coach who wouldn’t allow him to miss practice, even though the club team was swimming at the same pool right after high school practice ended. He had to swim high school practice, get out and swim club — making him swim extra junk yards that he didn’t need and weren’t helpful to his growing body. Of course he didn’t HAVE to swim club, but he wanted to. That’s where he found improvement and success.

Our daughter’s coach took the opposite approach and said the girls needed to check in with him daily and then swim with club. He wanted to keep track of their attendance and make sure they were working out, but he knew his workouts weren’t going to help them.

I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal from 2015, when California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) introduced the first statewide meet. It pitted the north versus the south after the championships regional meets were over. It posed another challenge for club swimmers who were representing their high schools by extending the season. Here’s an excerpt:

Does High-School Swimming Matter?

As California finally holds a statewide high-school swim meet, elite swimmers face a dilemma: whether to compete for their school or focus on bigger things

By Frederick Dreier

California is to high-school swimming as Texas is to high-school football. The Golden State is the sport’s scholastic epicenter.

Northern California produced Mark Spitz, Summer Sanders and Matt Biondi, Olympic champions all. Southern California gave us Janet Evans, Amanda Beard and Aaron Peirsol, among others.

But until now, the two sides of the state never battled it out. There was no such thing as a California statewide swim meet.

“In my day you never knew how you stacked up against a lot of those guys from Southern California,” said Spitz, a nine-time Olympic champion and 1968 graduate of Santa Clara High School. “There was no way to know who was really great.”

This weekend, the California Interscholastic Federation will hold its inaugural boys and girls swimming and diving state championships in Fresno. “I can’t imagine another state meet having the caliber and quality of swimmers as California,” said CIF executive director Roger Blake. California previously held 10 regional contests because of its tangle of incongruent school calendars.

But while the state is beating its chest about the powerhouse new event, the swimmers themselves aren’t all thrilled.

The state championship meet has created a dilemma for California’s high-school swimmers who are also aspiring Olympians. The meet falls during a crucial training period for summertime club swimming meets, such as the junior national championships in San Antonio in July, as well as international events in Russia, Australia and Canada. All are steppingstone meets for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“If I want to really train for [Olympic] trials seriously, I’m going to have miss it,” said Aidan Burns, a senior at Bellarmine Preparatory High School and a member of the U.S. Junior National team.

It’s a hobby; it’s not serious.

—Coley Stickels of the Canyons Aquatic Club on high-school swimming

The situation highlights a long-standing rift in the swimming world between club and high-school teams. Club swimming spans the entire year, while high-school swimming is relegated to just a part of it. Club swim meets are often held in Olympic-size 50-meter pools. High-school meets are held in shorter 25-yard pools, which means that finishing times can’t qualify a swimmer for Olympic trials or other high-level meets.

And while high-school teams often allow casual swimmers to join, club teams generally attract more serious athletes.

“I’m not a huge fan of high-school swimming, and I get tons of backlash because of it,” said Coley Stickels, who oversees the Canyons Aquatic Club in the Los Angeles area. “It’s a hobby; it’s not serious.”

Top-level swimmers plan their annual training schedules around a handful of peak competitions. A swimmer may spend several months preparing for a single meet with weeks of endurance-building volume, followed by subsequent periods of strength workouts and lung-bursting sprint intervals.

Like marathon runners, swimmers then taper their workload in the weeks before a peak meet. The goal is to arrive with rested, strong muscles. After the competition, the monthslong training process starts anew.

IMG_9490

Some of my best memories are from high-school swimming.

—Olympic champion Janet Evans

“I never rested for [high-school sectional championships] but I still took it very seriously,” said Beard, a two-time Olympic champion who attended Irvine High School. “It was the only chance my friends got to see me race.”

Beard and Evans said they were glad that they competed in high school and attended the regional championship meets. High-school swimming exposed them to greater social opportunities, they said, and provided a break from the pressures of competing at national and international events. An Olympian at just 14 years old, Beard said she fondly remembers high-school swimming parties, where she socialized with “regular kids” who weren’t training for the Olympics.

“You need to have a balance so these kids don’t get burned out by the pressure to make the Olympics,” Evans said. “Some of my best memories are from high-school swimming.”

There are benefits to swimming club — and high school. Some club swimmers, like Michael Phelps never swam in high school. But, for many swimmers, it’s a chance for their high school friends and peers to see them race for the first time. All those hours of hard work, year-round allow them to shine during high school season.

High school meets can help college bound swimmers because the meets are similar in a dual meet format and schedule. It’s all about the team and individual times are the most important thing. It’s scoring points for the team that counts. The team spirit at high school meets and college are contagious, while many club teams focus more on the individual accomplishments. However, without a club foundation, it’s rare for swimmers to get into college.

Like I said, both are great experiences, and hopefully coaches put their student-athletes ahead of their egos to help them succeed on their journey.

33944149_10156550450214612_1114497597600432128_o

The home pool during warmup at a meet.

What are your thoughts about club versus high school sports?

Things Your Daughter Will Be Surprised to Learn about High School and College Sports

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

I Am Woman Hear Me Roar or You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, Part II

Isn’t it strange that women swimmers a few decades ago ended their swim careers in their teens, while it’s not uncommon to have women compete in their 20s and 30s today?

I was talking to Bonnie Adair — a former swimmer who held 35 National Age Group records during her career — including the 50-meter free for 8-and-unders that stood for 29 years. She quit swimming at age 19. Contrast that to say Olympian gold medalists Dara Torres, who swam in her fifth Olympics at age 41, Natalie Coughlin, still competing at 32, or Janet Evans who swam in the 2012 Olympic Trials at age 40.

Dara Torres

Dara Torres

 

Janet Evans

Janet Evans


What has changed so much in swimming since the 1970s that gives women the ability to still compete throughout their 20s and beyond?

Natalie Coughlin

Natalie Coughlin

I interviewed Bonnie Adair, the head coach of Loyola Marymount in LA, for another writing project I’m undertaking. She began swimming at age five and was an amazing and gifted swimmer. She said after she graduated high school she wanted to train for her third Olympic Trials. She lived at home with mom and dad and commuted to college — so she could still swim with her club team, Lakewood Aquatics coached by the legendary Jim Montrella.

images-6She noticed one day that there were no guys in her training group. They had all gone to swim on scholarship at colleges such as UCLA and USC. The girls did not. Why not, you ask? Because they didn’t have college swim teams for women! 

images-7Isn’t that stunning? My daughter, age 18, is swimming right now — this very minute — at a D1, PAC 12 school (Go Utes!). It was always her dream — since she was five years old — to swim in college and go to the Olympic Trials. She took it for granted that she had the opportunity, and that if she worked really hard, she could possibly achieve those dreams. She’s made the college dream come true and she has a couple seconds to drop for Olympic Trials 2016.

I was shocked and stunned to realize that these dreams were not remotely possible for women just a few years older than me! Their swim careers were cut short if they wanted to have a college experience where they lived on campus and were away from home. It was difficult or nearly impossible to keep competing with a club team for many years past high school.

images-5When I was in high school, we had no pool or high school swim team, boys or girls. I remember we had girls track and field and tennis. Cheerleading was the big thing for girls to do. Cheer tryouts was one of the horrors of my teen life, a total embarrassment that makes me cringe remembering being put on exhibition in front of the entire student body.

We didn’t have girls basketball or golf and I played golf. Since I didn’t make the cheerleading squad, I tried out for the boys golf team with my lifelong friend and fellow golfer Christy.  We were allowed to go to all the practices with the guys. We were the last group out on the course  — a twosome.  We were never included in any of the tournaments or competitions. I honestly don’t know if we were that much worse than the boys — or if it was because we were girls.

I wrote about how far along we’ve come from the time my parents told me I was going to college to get my MRS degree and when girls were required to take home ec in high school in “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, or You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” Our young women take all of this for granted. They are truly lucky and blessed to be alive today in the United States.

Of course, the main reason there are women’s collegiate sports today and weren’t say before 1972 can be summed up as Title IX — which has its benefits and its unintended consequences. This will be discussed on another day.

bathing_beautiesWhat high school and college sports did you participate in? Were there girls teams for all the boys sports?

How Not to Get into College

swimmer2I was talking to my 82-year-old dad the other day about how one of my friend’s kids may have to decide whether to swim for his high school  — or not.

Our kids swim year-round for a USA Swimming club team. High school swimming is a fun experience that they look forward to and do in combination with their club team. Most high school coaches work hand-in-hand with the club coach — with the best interest of the swimmer in mind — but, sometimes the high school coach won’t.

imgres-3

This is where my dad comes in. He said, “Then, he has to swim high school, because he certainly won’t get into college swimming for club.”

Wrong. It’s exactly the opposite. Very few high school swimmers get into college based on their high school swimming experience. USA Swimming coaches set long term goals for their athletes, with training cycles to get them to the college level. Some work with their swimmers for ten years or more. The high school program focuses on winning during the short high school season, which can be as short as 7 or 8 weeks. It is fun, it’s a great team experience, and I think it adds to the overall swimming experience.

swimmer3

But, college coaches are looking to USA Swimming for each recruiting class. At many USA Swimming senior level meets, college coaches attend with their swimmers. Our high school-aged kids are swimming side-by-side with the college athletes. College coaches are recruiting at the USA Swimming meets, not at the high school dual meets. The only high school meets that attract college coaches are the end-of-season championships meets, like CIF.

One of my friends is a club coach and has had two daughters swim for a top-ranked NCAA college team. He made the comment that only ONE swimmer in the past ten years at their University was NOT a USA Swimmer since childhood.

swimblog3

So, if your child has a dream of swimming in college, join a USA Swim team. Here’s a link to a great article on USA Swimming, “The High School – Swimming Club Relationship in American Swimming.”

If you need to find a USA Swim team, click here. If your child’s goal is to swim in college, be sure to ask the coach how many of their kids do swim in college and what schools they go to.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a high school coach like ours — not like my friend’s — who cares about the future of their athletes, not just their high school program. 

Our high school coach has told me, “I would never do anything to get in the way of a swimmer’s progress.” Now, that is a good coach!

 images-1Here’s a link to a new story on USA Swimming about Simone Manuel, a swimmer my daughter’s age who will swim for Stanford after high school next year. She specialized early in swimming with a USA Swim Team and she is self motivated. And she’s got talent.