On every team there are girls and boys who are early bloomers, their Rate of Growth curve steepens sharply upwards way ahead of girls and boys of equal age on the team. In some cases, there are children in grade 6 or 7 who grow so sharply that they can easily be mistaken for high school students. There are also children who are late bloomers and end up in high school and are still waiting for their growth spurts to happen.
What is the typical pattern in performance across these groups of children? If you are a parent who has sat in the bleachers, the stands, on the side of pools, tracks, courts or fields you know what happens… the early bloomers start to out perform everyone else.
But are these performance gains thanks to capable and competent coaching? No!
But this is exactly what tends to occur: the coach is perceived as being capable because a handful of children excel, meanwhile athletes and parents turn a blind eye to the reality that the gains have nothing to do with the coach and everything to do with nature (as in a handful of children hitting their PHV earlier than all others). The children who are not excelling – the late bloomers – are made to believe that whereas the others have ‘talent’, they do not. These children typically stick around for awhile but they tend to either quit the sport and switch to another, or quit sport entirely. All because of the belief that its not the coach who failed to coach, but they somehow failed… as a child.
Now its easy to think that for those athletes and those parents of athletes who hit PHV early that their career in sport is set… they clearly stood out at an early age, so these children must end up going on to continue in progressing, going on to earn scholarships, qualifying for National and International level competitions placing them in the position to be selected for teams representing Canada.
Not so fast.
When a child has made all their performance gains as a result of hitting PHV earlier than others, the belief is at first that they are ‘special’, they are a ‘natural talent’, they are supposed to succeed in the sport, that they are on their way to greater and greater successes. What parents of children who are late bloomers – those who tend to quit at an early age – do not see is the struggle these children encounter the moment their growth spurts starts to slow, and especially when it ends.
First, when these athletes stop growing, their times no longer improve by 5, 10 or 15secs between swim meets and all of a sudden improving at all becomes a challenge. Herein lies the first test of how ‘special’ is the athlete, how naturally talented they are, how destined to succeed. All of a sudden, the wind is no longer at the back of the athlete. In addition, if they follow the typical progression at most Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs, the older the athlete the more times a week they train, meaning that at a time when the athlete is training more hours per week then ever, their performance gains stop or at least slow. Typically this leads to doubling-down on training and with progress failing to materialize, athletes quit sport spent, exhausted, disappointed, some even hating a sport they once loved.
Second, these athletes are no longer the stand out amongst a handful of similar aged swimmers, these athletes are typically moved up to train with older athletes as a result of their gains in performance, and without the added benefit of being taller and stronger than all their counterparts the only advantage they had is now eliminated. Now, these athletes are faced with the task of actually competing on level ground… with other children who were early bloomers, with other children who were told that they were ‘special’, naturally talented, who could be certain that they were to go on to success after success in the sport.
But let’s not forget what the point of this post is…
Its not about children and growth curves, its whether or not any coach on your child’s swim team can actually coach.
If the coaches are capable and competent then these issues should not exist, these issues should not be the ‘typical’ story of any athlete.
If the coaches are capable and competent then all of these issues would be discussed with the athlete and/or at their parents so that inappropriate extrapolations of success are not made based on early successes, and that the child is encouraged to understand how growth rate influences their short and long term performance in sport.
If the coaches are capable and competent then the focus is never on short term bursts of progress from growing, the focus is always maintained on skill acquisition, repetition, and preparation to execute skills on demand across a wide range of circumstances and conditions. As in… coaches actually coaching.