By Coach Lauren, INT2.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Coaches’ Corner has been a great venue for VIK coaches to pass on our knowledge to help our swimmers compete at their best. We have addressed important issues such as nutrition, sleep, pre- and post-race management (cooldown and warm-up) and developing a winning mental approach.
One question we have not discussed, however, is what type of suit your swimmer should wear for the big races.
We have steered away from this question for a good reason. This issue has been highly controversial for competitive swimming organizations across both Canada and the United States. We, as coaches, realize the use of technical suits can open a Pandoras’ Box of some of the uglier elements of our sport, such as elitism, and the ability to buy a competitive advantage. We also recognize that we, as coaches, do not have the right to tell parents how they should (or shouldn’t) spend their money on their swimmers. I will not take a definitive position in this article because I love my job and don’t want to be a catalyst for conflict (mama didn’t raise no fool). However, some of the new members may appreciate one coach’s perspective before they consider investing several hundred dollars on a new suit.
Technical suits (ie: racing suits) are designed to do one thing: reduce drag or water resistance as a swimmer glides through the water.
These tight-fitting suits accomplish this by compressing the muscles, thereby smoothing the bodies surface. The suits are also constructed with hydrophobic materials that repel water, thereby reducing water resistance. However, these suits are primarily designed for mature, elite competitive swimmers and can be very expensive. These suits can range anywhere from $200-$500.
The majority of our Viking swimmers, especially those under the age of 13-14, have neither the bulk to benefit from body compression, nor have the strong stoke mechanics to benefit from the suit’s streamlining properties. In fact, the largest improvements in swimming times will come from tighter streamlines off the walls, more efficient strokes, and having a solid race strategy. Where technical suits may provide an advantage of tenths of a second, more practical measures can drop your times by large amounts of seconds. However, while our swimmers may not receive any physical advantages from these hi-tech suits, they may experience a psychological benefit. Many swimmers simply feel faster when they put on a fancy, new, sleek looking suit. Moreover, if they feel faster and ready to race, they often will be faster in the pool.
Given that the benefits of a racing suit for the majority of our swimmers are only psychological and not due to the expensive hi-tech features of the suit, parents have several options when purchasing a suit for the big meets. A new training suit ($50-$100) or a reasonably priced racing suit (approx. $100-150) should do the trick. As long as the suit feels “special” to your swimmer and triggers that racing mindset, your swimmer will feel fast. I strongly suggest that you save the “special” suit for the last few meets of the season – when the times actually matter. If a swimmer wears a racing suit at every meet, it unfortunately becomes a “psychological security blanket” and their confidence becomes more reliant on the suit than their actual swimming technique. We also do not want to give our swimmers the false impression that the suit provided them with their great swims over the season, rather than the copious hours and hard work they put into practice. Technical suits are forbidden by most varsity swim teams for minor meets because coaches want their swimmers to put their trust in technique and race strategy and not on a silly piece of fabric.
It is most important to remember that the suit, whether it be a $50 training suit or a $600 space-aged racer, is never the key to your success. There is no shortcut to swimming fast. History has proven over and over again that there is only one surefire way to swim faster – ATTEND PRACTICE REGULARLY AND WORK HARD! Oh yeah, and trust the process! GO VIKINGS GO!