How Early Should Kids Get Into Competitive Swimming?

USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States, traditionally recognizes the youngest age group of swimmer-athletes as age 10 and under 3. Many local meets break this down further, with events for kids 8 and under. Your child may be ready to learn to swim by age 5, the average age for reaching this milestone, according to the Mayo Clinic, but even if he can swim a lap of the pool, he may not be ready to join a swim team. Some rules, even simple ones, could be too complicated for some 4- and 5-year-old children, KidsHealth explains, making competitive team sports too much to handle.

Emotional and Mental Readiness

Competitive swimming levels are determined by age, but your little one’s emotional and mental readiness are equally, if not more, important when she begins swimming competitively 3. Should her swimming abilities be on par with her teammates but not her cognitive skills, she could have a harder time with drills, following a posted workout or using the pace clock without constant cues from her coach. Kids need to be emotionally ready for the stresses that come with coaching critiques, winning and losing, and the self-discipline needed to stay on course during a team workout. If your child starts swimming competitively before she’s emotionally and mentally ready, she may soon decide that she does not like swimming; that it’s too much work and not enough fun.

Basic Swimming Skills

Before they are ready to compete on a swim team, children should learn to be safe in the water. Water safety education should follow established skill upon skill development taught in a loving, fun and positively reinforced environment. Taking swim lessons from a qualified provider such as the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, Starfish Aquatics Institute or Swim America can lay the foundation for your child’s progression through lifelong aquatic activity, USA Swimming explains 3.

Transitioning from Lessons to Team

A child who is not quite ready for swim team after successfully completing a learn-to-swim program can continue learning and developing her skills and endurance in a bridge program. Whether the class is called pre-team or stroke school, bridge programs, according to USA Swimming, help prepare swimmers by teaching competitive strokes and drills 3. An advantage to learning this way, rather than as part of a team, is that the swimmer will get a higher level of individual instruction while becoming stronger and safer in the water.

Ready for Competitiion

If a child has a basic command of the four competitive swim strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly), is ready mentally and emotionally, and expresses a clear desire to join a swim team, she is most likely ready to try out. The coaches will try to place her with other swimmers in her age group and ability. Because the type of meet a swimmer competes in depends on her achievement level and her age on the first day of the meet, explains USA Swimming, swim practices are also usually divided into groups based on age and achievement level 3.