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.

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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.

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The home pool during warmup at a meet.

What are your thoughts about club versus high school sports?

“I Don’t Have a Life!” and other Swimmer Problems

My daughter racing, a few years ago.

My daughter racing, a few years ago.

One of the reasons why swimming gets so difficult as kids get older, is they want to have a life. A life outside the pool, that is.

There were so many conflicts for both of my kids with swimming when they were in high school. I longed for the earlier years when there were fewer demands on their schedules.

Having a heavy AP class load and getting up before 5 a.m. for practice wasn’t easy. My son eventually lost interest in swimming, because he had a tough time balancing six AP classes and competitive swimming. Then he joined a band, and music became his passion. One of my favorite songs he wrote is here: “I Love Desert Nights” by the Saucy Stenographers.

My kids with a swim friend.

My kids with a swim friend.

My daughter stuck with swimming. The ongoing conflicts her junior and senior year seemed unfair. She had to choose between CIF finals (California Interscholastic Federation) which was our closest thing to a state championship—or Senior Night at Disneyland.

She had to choose between NCL Senior Recognition Night or the Speedo Grand Challenge.

NCL Senior Recognition night.

NCL Senior Recognition night.

There were weekly challenges of Friday nights — the night before a big Saturday a.m. practice. “Do I stay home and get to bed early, or can I go out with friends?” was a question she had to answer for herself.

Her junior year there was a conflict between swimming and swimming!

A high school open invitational meet and a Speedo meet were on the same weekend. She was trying to get her first junior national cut and be recruited for college. The high school meet was fun with about 20 high schools coming to her home pool. Her high school team wanted her at the home meet. She knew college coaches were going to be at the Speedo meet and that she needed to work on her long course racing to get the cuts she was pursuing.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

She chose the long course Speedo meet. Boy, did we get an earful! Either choice she made, somebody was going to be upset. It was truly a “no win” situation. Some of the high school parents told me she should either be “on the team” or “off the team,” and it was unfair to let her high school team down.

I explained that it was her choice and a hard one. IF it came down to choosing between high school swimming or club swimming exclusively, she’d choose club. By allowing her to do both, she could help the high school team in their League championships and at CIF, plus enjoy the joy and fun that high school swimming brings to the sport. It was a choice that she suffered through, but the high school meet she viewed as a  “fun” meet with no consequences. It wasn’t going to affect the team’s standing in any way.

We were fortunate to have club and high school coaches who worked well together. They both had the swimmer’s best interest at heart. I know some swimmers who have to make the choice between swimming club or high school, due to a coach that doesn’t allow both.

When life was easy.

When life was easy.

There’s no right answer, the way I see it. It’s all about learning to make choices and living with your decisions. A good life lesson in itself. Although both of my kids said repeatedly, “I don’t have a life!” Actually they did have a life. They had the life they chose.

What hard choices have your kids made trying to balance school, fun and sports?