It is important for young swimmers to learn that within defeat, there is often a victory.

“While every child needs to win sometimes if they are to gain satisfaction from swimming, the fact remains that in a 10 person or 8 person swimming race, there will only be one winner in each heat or final, so a majority of swimmers will not experience winning in each race.

One should not be taught to win every time, or to be resigned to losing; rather, children and adults should be taught to expect both and to cope with both.

It is very important for young swimmers to learn that within defeat, there is often victory; an improved time, a personal best, the attainment of a short term goal or the contribution of points towards the team’s point score at a local swim meet.

Coaches and parents should remember that the occasional defeat is as important to an individual’s development as the occasional victory is.  Some coaches avoid strong opponents when choosing swim meets.  I do not agree with this.  To limit a child to the field of victory is to deny the child the chance to develop the capability to deal gracefully with defeat or coming second.” extract from Swimming for Parents (recommended for all parents of competitive swimmers aged 8 to 14 years)

Selecting Appropriate Swim Meets

Most coaches select swim meets appropriate for a swimmers ability level and age group.  By competing at these selected meets, swimmers will learn how to win and how to lose. A good rule of thumb each season is to select competitions in a ratio as follows:

• 3 swim meets where a swimmer will be successful by winning medals or ribbons or receive some sort of reward.  Winning is important and if a swimmer never gets to win or place they will never learn how to.

• 2 swim meets where a swimmer will have to work hard for success, swim fast to make a final or get the placing they would like.

• 1 swim meet where they are swimming out of their league, where the competition is fast and they have to work hard and focus on themselves.

This combination will provide swimmers with the experiences of winning together with the challenge of tough competition and how to focus on themselves when racing.

The Double Goal Coach

In his book ‘The Double Goal Coach’,  Jim Thompson talks about displacing the win-at-all-cost model of coaching and parenting and replacing it with the “Double-Goal Coach who wants to win (goal #1), but even more importantly, is committed to using sports to teach positive character traits and life lessons to young athletes (goal #2).”

“The real value in youth sports is teaching the kinds of character lessons that are learned from striving on the field – lessons that bear ultimate fruit years later in a person’s profession, values, citizenship responsibilities, and family life.” Jim Thompson

In regards to winning, Thompson explains that “It would be nice if we lived in a non-competitive world, but we don’t.  There’s nothing wrong with competition.  Learning to compete effectively is virtually a necessity in our society… Trying to win holds the whole sports experience together.  It creates the opportunity for great things to happen.”

He is however totally opposed to the win-at-all-cost mentality that has come to dominate youth sports today.  This book is a terrific read for coaches and parents and is highly recommended.