How frequently a swimmer should compete is a commonly asked question. A related issue is the definition of a competition.
We can describe a competition as any meet that requires two or more days of rest or any meet that includes an expectation of a personal best time. An event can also be considered a competition if it interferes with the training program of the athlete, either the week before the meet or the week following it. Coaches must ensure that swimmers do not miss training for club or team competitions.
We recommend that swimmers not exceed one competition per month, or 12 competitions per year. A competition generally occurs over three days. We try to avoid rolling meets, that is, competitions that take place on two or three weekends in a row. Twelve competitions of three days each translate to 36 days of competition per year.
If, as recommended, the swimmer aged 18 years or older performed within 3 percent of his or her best time in 12 competitions per year, the athlete would have 36 days of meaningful competition per year. The swimmer aged 17 years or younger uses a standard of performing within at least 1 percent of his or her best time to define meaningful competition. This athlete should also aim to compete at that level 12 times per year.
The recommended number of competitions is an absolute maximum. Some swimmers may compete significantly less often. Competing in a club-level meet that does not interfere with the training program of the swimmer should not be considered a competition.
Swimmers should compete in competitions at different levels. The following rules generally apply:
- Swimmers should compete at their own performance level in three competitions. The coach is critical of their results, expects them to be extremely competitive, and demands perfection.
- Swimmers should race in two competitions below their performance level. They could win while experimenting in performing the race in different ways.
- Swimmers should compete in one competition above their current performance level. In this competition they are out of their depth, and the coach praises the swimmers for their results.
This progression repeated twice in the year will give the swimmer 12 competitions. Competing too frequently is a problem within our sport. Good coaching can mean that swimmers need fewer competitions. Coaches should construct training to meet the needs of the swimmers they coach. The session for a 9-year-old will be much different from the session for a 20-year-old.
At a midseason meet, the less dedicated or less committed swimmer may have more success than the dedicated, committed swimmer. This occurs because the drop-off in training toward the end of the week for the less committed swimmer is not significantly different in stress from the first part of the week. In contrast, the hard-working athlete faces adaptation changes as soon as the workload decreases. The coach should structure the training week to build into the competition so that the dedicated athlete has suitable preparation.
The A track shown in figure 12.1 on the weekly cycle rewards the athlete who has low to medium work ethic and is less dedicated. The approach of resting into the meet offers little change in total stress, and the small rest offers great opportunity for the swimmer with low to medium work ethic. This approach, however, offers the dedicated athlete major changes in stress that can cause a disappointing result.
The B track shown in figure 12.1 is a better plan for the dedicated, committed athlete. This approach gives the athlete rest early in the week with a lighter work load building into the meet, providing the same training volume as the A track. It offers a much higher standard of quality for the committed athlete while being no different for the less committed athlete.
This is an excerpt from Championship Swim Training.