Summer Swimming




  1. Summer league swimming can be an effective feeder system for year round swimming.
  2. With burnout a major problem in the sport, summer teams can help foster enjoyment at the grassroots level.
  3. It is important to strike a balance between enjoyment and building fundamentals


Country clubs, rec centers, and full-time swim programs anxiously await the influx of summer swim kids. Summer programs and year-round programs have an interesting coexistence, where sometimes the only thing is common is the fact they involve swimming.

At the extreme, summer teams are sometimes perceived as one step above Marco Polo games, while year-round programs can seem like strict paramilitaries to outsiders. In reality, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and can vary greatly depending on the team. Despite these differences, many of the sport’s elite have begun their careers as purely recreational summer league swimmers before gradually increasing their commitment to the sport.

Most important with summer teams is to encourage fun. 

In general, summer teams do this very well -- with the sheer numbers of participants as evidence. This fact is especially important with burnout as one of the biggest challenges in the sport.

Modern literature and anecdote has shown that long-term-results are best when kids are allowed to diversify sports. Summer league swimming allows kids to pursue other athletic endeavors at early ages.

But there is also a flip side to remaining in summer swim, namely the difference in mindset. 

Most would agree that having 10-11 year olds swim doubles and 40-50k per week is a bit excessive. While it may teach hard-earned-lessons of commitment and dedication, it can also cause burnout and injury. But we also cannot avoid the positives that come from an environment of dedication, specifically those intangibles that we all see but sometimes struggle to articulate.

Chambliss (1989) conducted a lengthy study of elites and noted, “Olympic champions don’t just do more of the same things that summer league country club swimmers do. They don’t just swim more hours, or move their arms faster, or attend more workouts. What makes them faster cannot be quantitatively compared with lower level swimmers, because while there may be quantitative differences, these are not, I think, the decisive factors at all.

The best swimmers are likely to be strict with their training, coming to workouts on time, carefully doing the strokes legally. Their energy is carefully channeled.

Diver Greg Louganis practiced only three hours each day, divided into two or three sessions. But during each session, he tried to do every dive perfectly. Louganis was never sloppy in practice, and so, he was never sloppy in meets.

Ultimately one of the challenges in transitioning from summer league swimming into a full-time program is a shift in mindset.

While fun is the priority at the youngest ages, we also don’t want bad technical habits to develop. “It’s only summer league,” while maybe not explicitly stated, is often implicitly stated and may hold kids back who may consider a transition to a year round program. It is a delicate act to balance seriousness with enjoyment. Yet also consider that seriousness and enjoyment can also be one in the same.

As Chambliss continues, “The very features of the sport which the C-level swimmer finds unpleasant, the top level swimmer enjoys. What others see as boring, they find peaceful, even meditative, often challenging, or therapeutic. ... No amount of extra work per se will transform a C-level swimmer into a AAAA swimmer without concurrent qualitative change in how that work is done. It is not by doing increasing amounts of work that one becomes excellent, but rather changing the kinds of work.”

Too often, people focus on volume, numbers of practices, and the fact that a team practices year round as the main discriminators between summer-leagues versus full-time swimming. Instead, it is a subtle difference in mindset that can distinguish the two cultures. But rather than being simply an academic discussion, recognizing this distinction can help coaches effectively transition kids from summer to year-round if they make that additional commitment.

1. Chambliss, D. The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers, Sociological Theory, Vol 7, No 1, (Spring 1989), 70-86.

Original author

Allan Phillips, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. Allan is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

The post Differences Between Summer League Swimming and Year Round Swim Training appeared first on Swimming Science.

By SwimISCA, posted May 4, 2015 In Allan Philips, Mental, Psychology.

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