Racing Suits and Age Group Swimmers
All swimmers racing at the highest level of the sport wear a racing suit, some even get paid in sponsorship money to wear a suit. Wearing racing suits is also common place at age group meets, the idea being that wearing a special suit will give the swimmer the ‘edge’ over the other swimmers in the pool.
There is a lot of discussion at the minute in America and Australia surrounding this and whether or not children should be wearing such suits. I have looked into the issue and ultimately I think it boils down to 3 main points.
The suits in question can range in price from £80 and £130 for boys and girls respectively all the way up to £300 and £400. Yes, that is for a junior suit! Now bearing in mind that kids grow and some kids grow a lot, a suit bought in September may not fit in January and a suit bought in January may not fit in June. In this instance you could end up buying 3 suits in just 1 season. For some that isn’t a problem but for others it could be a financial issue. Surely in kids sport, swimmers should not be penalised for their parents earnings?
Focus of Racing
I won’t be the only coach who would prefer their 9-12 year old's swam a race properly rather than like a spider in a bathtub. I would much rather see a 10 year old in a training suit execute their race with skill and efficiency than see a 10 year in a racing suit thrash their way to a super fast time. Sure, just because you're wearing a suit doesn’t mean that you aren’t a skillful swimmer, however swimmers will see the suit as something that “makes me faster.” Isn’t that only going to take the focus off executing skills properly and put it onto having to swim fast? There is a huge difference in being fast and being skillfully fast.
The idea of the suits is that they are more streamlined in the way they are designed, they compress the muscles allowing for greater blood flow and thus allowing for improved performance. There is also something to be said for their psychological impact too; “I have a suit on so I am going to swim fast”. All of these benefits are sound and true. However, the actual performance benefit from wearing a suit is minimal now that swimmers cannot wear full body suits like Ian Thorpe used to. This also begs the question, has the swimmer done everything else they possibly can to make sure they swim fast before they turn to a suit? Have they practised their skills tirelessly? Have they put the effort into training? Have they eaten well, are they hydrated? All of these factors are going to have a much larger effect on performance than wearing a suit will.
Finally then, should these suits be worn by age group swimmers? Well, taking into account all of the above there is a clear argument for 'No'. Then again, a ban would be hard to police and even harder to get buy-in from parents. Perhaps a halfway house solution? Coaches designate select meets in a season where swimmers should race in training suits and call them “process meets” (although every meet for a young swimmers should be a process meet). This will make the swimmers much more focused on being skillfully fast and not just fast besides most kids only have 1 or 2 suits and often wear the suit all day. This is not good for the suit and is a great way to reduce it's already short lifespan. So a meet without suits will be good for development and focus as well as the wallet!