I've been asked by a few parents for a bit of an "idiot's guide" (their words, not mine) to competitive swimming. So I've had a go at listing out the basics of everything you need to know about competitive swimming for children. I've tried to make it really high-level and abstract away any club-specific nuances, so things may differ slightly for you but I'm hoping you'll get something from this post. I've assumed you're a parent of am eight year old for the purposes of this post.
1. Find a Swimming Club
Use your favourite search engine to find a local swimming club in your area. Have a look at their website and send them a message or give them a call. Usually, they'll invite your child to some kind of 'trial/taster' session or advise another local club if they're full. Some clubs have their own 'learn to swim' programme that feeds into their competitive swimming programme. Others use feeder swim schools instead. In either case, the club will either a) place your child in their learn to swim programme b) place your child in their competitive swimming squad system, or c) advise on a local swim school/programme that they feel might meet your needs better.
2. Find out the lesson/session times and stick to them
Are you able to get your child to all of the lessons/sessions that the teacher or coach wants them to do? If not, are you able to switch things around so that they can? Try not to miss sessions.
3. Swimming is a VERY long-term thing, VERY
Try not to get too excited by the prospect of your youngster being the next Olympic Champion. It won't happen this year. It definitely won't happen in the next 6 years. It almost certainly won't happen in the next 10 years. And it's unlikely it'll ever happen - how many people actually end up being an Olympic Champion!? Enjoy the ride, and more importantly, allow them to - they'll gain a lot from swimming whether they achieve great things or not.
4. Swimming tests commitment like no other sport
It is not unusual for youth swimmers (15 years+) to train for 20+ hours per week - it happens. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of workload like that... mine train around 10 - 14 hours per week but if you're at a club that expects that then your swimmer will need to do that so keep that in mind as things progress and they get older.
5. How do competitions work? What's an Open Meet?
This is such a large topic, I've put it in its own section. See Swimming Competitions - an overview.