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Age group swimming is swimming which is divided by age group. There are a number of reasons to separate swimmers by age, and this practice is common in facilities which train swimmers as well as at swim meets. The definitions and expectations of different age groups vary depending on the nation and the facility; some national swimming organizations set out guidelines, for example, while others allow individual swim clubs and training facilities to organize their swimming in a way which works for them.
One of the reasons for age group swimming is to generate fair competition for younger swimmers. Having 13 year olds compete against eight year olds simply wouldn't be fair, for example, because of differences in body type and development. While there may be some eight year old swimmers who could compete fairly with older swimmers, most would struggle in such a competition. Thus, for children, swimming is divided by age group so that competition is not frustrating. Once people are “senior swimmers” who are more or less fully developed, classes of swimmers are organized by skill, as this is deemed more fair.
Another reason to use age group swimming is to ensure that swimmers receive training appropriate to their age. Young swimmers can benefit from conditioning to improve endurance and technique, but they should not be worked too hard. A workout appropriate for a 10 year old swimmer, for example, would not be good for someone who is only seven years old. Coaches break up age groups to ensure that their swimmers get the most suitable training, with the goal of laying the foundation for a lifetime of swimming rather than overtraining.
There are also different behavior and skill expectations in age group swimming. Very young swimmers are learning the basics, which includes simple swimming strokes and acceptable activities in the pool. Older swimmers are expected to know how to behave in the pool, and to be building on basic strokes with more advanced ones. Age group swimming keeps people at similar levels of development together.
Not all people who go through swim training turn out to be competitive swimmers, although some certainly do. Others use the swimming skills they acquire at age group swimming to stay fit later in life, or as the groundwork for careers as lifeguards and in other fields which require swimming skills. Training with this style of swimming gives people a chance to learn the fundamentals in a low pressure environment.
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