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When Is It Too Late to Start Your Child Swimming Competitively?

Many will be inspired by the Olympics. Former Internationally ranked swimmer and Aquatics Director at Chelsea Piers CT weighs in on whether it is ever too late to start a new sport & achieve success.

By Jamie Barone

With the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics commencing tomorrow, the sport of swimming gets ready to enjoy its once-every-four-years moment in the spotlight.  Millions of people around the world will tune in to enjoy the aquatic spectacle put on by the premier athletes in our sport.  It is easy to get wrapped up in the battle of Phelps vs. Lochte, but the real inspiration comes from the pride in seeing a fellow countryman atop the podium, eyes glassy as the Stars and Stripes are raised with our national anthem playing in the background.  Sports like swimming and gymnastics always see a surge in numbers immediately following an Olympiad.  Commonly referred to as the “Olympic Effect,” programs enjoy a boost in enrollment as eager children with dreams of Gold try a new sport attempting to emulate their newfound heroes.

You might be thinking, “But my child is already 11, he is probably too old to ever chase a dream like that!  I’m sure these Olympians have been swimming 6 days a week since they were 5.”  Well, the truth couldn’t be more different!  Consider this quote from US Olympic Swimmer and American Record Holder Allison Schmitt, who started swimming at 12 when she was cut from the travel soccer team:  “I can remember when I was in high school, coming in seventh and eighth at our state meet.” 

I was in a similar situation; I started swimming seriously at 17 after being cut from the high school hockey team and went on to enjoy a fulfilling career in swimming.  Don’t fall victim to the myth of specificity that seems to be particularly pervasive in Fairfield County.  Diversity in your young child’s athletic career not only helps them develop coordination and a sense of body awareness, but allows them to try different sports while looking for their passion.

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Sushi July 28, 2012 at 04:14 AM
MOST elite swimmers have indeed been swimming their whole lives. Starting to compete as late as 17 would be an anomaly for most. I don't understand why people take an extreme example and then turn it into a generalization for everyone else. So one Olympic swimmer started as late as 12. I can guarantee that 99% of the rest began swimming as early as 6 or 7 of those who made it to the Olympics. Starting early always gives an athlete an advantage.
Aidan July 28, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Swam and coached for decades. If you're not into it very early ... well before age 10 ... your chances for even moderate success are slashed.
Sushi July 28, 2012 at 07:58 PM
EXACTLY!!! It is brutally competitive - just ask Michael Phelps if anyone needs more proof of this. Learning to swim at any age is imperative for obvious reasons and primarily for safety purposes. But thinking you can be an Olympic level swimmer starting at age 17 is just ludicrous! Even at age 12 is a HUGE stretch and one in a million.
Leslie Yager August 01, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Jamie Barone was featured on NBC last night on the lead in show for the Olympic Games primetime coverage! He talked about his past competitive career and being Michael Phelps' old team mate.
hannah September 14, 2012 at 06:20 PM
im 13, i used to have swimming lessons from around 5 years old to about 10 years old and then i stopped after completing all levels of the swimming lessons, i am starting again but swimming for preston. do you think i am too old to start swimming again?

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