Swimmers’ Rates of Improvement
Over swimmers’ careers, they will experience many races which go to plan and some which do not. It is important for swimmers to understand every race is part of the journey. Knowing how to maintain excitement when they have a good race and how to remain focused when they have a disappointing race are important skills which will assist swimmers in achieving the most from the sport.
There are several factors which affect swimmers’ performance and many actions swimmers can implement to change their results. These factors will change during swimmers’ careers. It is important for swimmers to remain aware of the changes they will experience so they can adapt and remain focused.
Younger and less experienced swimmers will improve their times frequently. The degree of improvement between their races can often be substantial. At the beginning of swimmers’ careers, they are learning quickly, and each race offers new experiences. New swimmers learn the basics of how to swim fast, how to cope with nerves and pressure, and how to be comfortable in their training and racing environments. This ever-increasing knowledge of how to race and train will result in improved performances.
As swimmers become more experienced, factors which improve their performances become more specific. They already have a large knowledge base which they used to get to where they are, and now need to focus on the details of swimming to improve performance.
As children grow, their strength and fitness improve. This improved strength results in improved performances. The graph below from www.childhealth-explanation.com shows the average growth patterns for children.
The average peek growth occurs at 12-13 years for girls and 16-17 years for boys. These growth peeks result in accelerated improvements of swimmers’ performance.
Growth peeks occur at different times for each child. Very often a swimmer who grows earlier will swim faster at a younger age. It is important for swimmers who have not yet experienced their growth peek to be aware they will catch up, and they should therefore not lose motivation when other swimmers advance before they do.
The main factor affecting swimmers’ rates of improvement is how frequently and well they train. Swimmers who adhere to their training plans will improve their performances more frequently than those who do not. Swimmers should focus on improving their skills and technique in every training session, as each session is an opportunity to improve. If these opportunities are not utilised, swimmers’ rates of improvement will decrease.
Because training is the factor over which swimmers have the most control, they should dedicate their focus to their training. While swimmers are unable to control how much they grow over a year, it is important they do not dwell on growth and instead focus on what they can control.
Time of the Season
As swimmers become more experienced, they tend to primarily improve their times at specific periods of the swimming season.
The graph shows a teenage female swimmer’s times for the 200 Individual Medley over a two-year period. This data was collected from the Swimming Australia National Database. This swimmer improved her best time on four occasions over the two years (highlighted by the green circles). These improvements occurred at major swimming events: State and National championships.
There are several reasons why senior swimmers will not achieve personal best times in every race. The main reason is due to their training loads. As swimmers increase their training, they experience more fatigue, which results in lessor performances. The purpose of this training routine is to ensure swimmers are able to swim their best performances when it is most important: at major competitions. If swimmers were to rest for every competition, they might improve more frequently, but their results at the end of the season would be slower overall times.
Swimmers may also swim slower in-season due to their focus on various aspects of the race. During the season, swimmers are working on developing their race plans, technique, and skills. For example, sometimes they may perform a race with the focus of kicking 10 metres underwater off every wall. To achieve this, they might need to swim a little slower. The overarching goal is to perform this skill while swimming at full speed at the major meet of the season.
Coaches typically compare in-season races to those performed a year ago in order to assess if the swimmer is improving. In the above graph, the swimmer’s slowest times for each season (highlighted by the red circles) have become faster each year. This is a sign of improvement from season to season.
It is important swimmers are aware of all these factors and how they affect their performances, as having a greater understanding of these factors will better prepare them for their swimming careers. If swimmers are ever unsure of or concerned with their performance, then it is best to have a discussion with the coach.