Which swimsuit: does it matter?
November 2016 – Update regarding this article which we wrote in June. Southern California (USA) prohibit the wearing of tech suits at all age group swim meets. Please comment below whether you believe tech suits should be allowed for swimmers in the 10 & under age group. Would love to hear your opinion.
We spend most of our weekends next to the pool as our swimmer is racing. Slowly but surely, we notice how the kids exchange their old school swimsuits for skins. The kids we talk about are just starting at the basic level of age group swimming (Level 1). Age groups ranging from 7-12-years-old, therefore still swimming as Juniors. The question here is whether it is justified for parents to go through the expense for their children to race in skins, or should junior swimmers still swim with old-school racer-back swimsuits that leave the arms and legs bare.
I recently read this swimsuit article, discussing how swimming technology is shaping, changing and even developing in the swimming industry. There is no doubt that the focus is on reducing drag allowing easier movement through the water which will give the swimmer an advantage. With all the technological developments, as parents, we should ask whether it is justified to spend the money and does the swimmer benefit from the technology at such a young age?
As old swimmers and old-school parents coaching our swimmer, we think that it is more important at a young age to focus on swimming correctly than swimming with a better suit. The hundredths of a second difference a swimmer gains from swimming with skins is not going to make a difference when someone is a body length ahead of you.
There are times at swim meets when swimmers older than Monica touched before her and yes, they did wear skins while Monica swam in an old-school racerback suit. Do we think the suit made the difference? No, because we teach Monica that speed and strength are not in the cap, the goggles or the suit – it is in the arms, legs, lungs and most of all, in the mind.
Swimming and speaking from experience:
Speaking from experience – if there was an award for the most unlikely person to advance due to equipment in triathlons, I would have won it. I placed fourth at the Olympic Distance National championships with an old-school racerback swimsuit and a borrowed wetsuit which was too big for me vs my counterparts that swam with drag-reducing materials.
My bicycle was a steel frame Bridgestone fitted with Shimano parts which I and my cycling buddy replaced ourselves. It was not easy racing against counterparts using carbon frame bicycles, which you could lift with one finger.
Running shoes: mine did not have all the wedges needed to compensate for pronation. Racing required mental strength, a conditioned body, and a high pain threshold. Granted, today I pay the price as my knees might have lasted a lot longer if I had the wedges in my shoes but back then it was not something I could afford so we did our best with what we had.
Old school racer-back swimsuits
Our swimmer uses old-school swimsuits and we cannot really say that at this stage that it is leading to a disadvantage. We have something else to consider which other swimmers do not have to deal with. As an asthmatic, our pediatrician recommended that we keep her dry. That sounds much easier than what we initially thought. In the first year of competitive swimming, we only had 3 suits. Before we knew it, Monica swam between 4-6 events on a given day. That meant changing into a dry suit every second event. We started to face an issue keeping her dry between events especially when it was raining or it is winter when nothing dries quickly.
Over time, we ended up buying a suit for every race. We do not use these suits for training, exclusively used for racing. Since we kept the chest dry during events, we noticed a difference in the chest infections and asthmatic incidences. Please note that it works for us which might not be the case with every asthmatic out there. Best to speak to your medical professional before you spend a bucket full of money on swimsuits.
We were quite amused when the swimmers thought changing swimsuits between events was a fashion statement. It is impossible to get 6 swimsuits that look the same so inevitably each color or style became a suit for an event at the swim meets. It just added a fun element to changing swimsuits all day which is a tedious and frustrating task when the swimmer is tired.
Using tech suits as motivation – earn your keep!
Use pretty swimsuits and skins as motivation
In our case, we use swimsuits as motivation. Girls always want pretty things. If she wants a pretty swimsuit she needs to earn it, i.e. swim for it. Might sound a bit harsh but that is part of growing up and as a mom, I believe that kids should learn at a young age to earn what they want, not just “get it”. Trust me, when I tell you that our 9-year-old also wants a full body swimsuit, but it is very expensive and we clearly set a goal for her to earn her suit. In our case, we set Level 3 qualifying times as the standard.
Another part of this motivation is that, at level 3, the difference a technical swimsuit will provide to her swimming might become important. Who knows how the rules will change and where the technology will go in 3-5 years from now. According to FINA rules, a swimsuit should not provide any swimmer with an advantage. Proving that swimmer have an advantage wearing skins is, however, another story so every swimmer uses their skins if they have it whether there is an advantage or not. I sometimes wonder whether the swimmers understand the technology behind the materials and the suits.
Skins, tech suit or racer back? Our conclusion
In conclusion, when you have a young swimmer, do not feel pressured to spend vast amounts of money on skins, caps, and goggles. Teach your swimmer that it is their hard work and talent which will make the difference. The clock does not lie and at the end of the day, it is the swimmer that touches the wall first in the fastest time that wins, regardless of the swimsuit they wear. Monica has proven this point at many swim meets as the most swimmers that she shares the pool with already wearing skins versus the old school racerback swimsuit she uses.