Different programs have various goals, and these goals should be the primary basis for developing the practice attendance system. There are several factors to consider when looking at practice requirements. Among them are:
- Design or overall goals of the program
- Goals of the members of that program
- Swimmer's age
- Swimmer's other sport experience
- Swimmer's level of development
- Limitations on swimmer commitment
- Time of season
- Length of practice
- Policy consistency within a program and among other programs in the same system (such as a school)
A high school team would probably base its requirements on a school-wide system for consistency set by the athletic department. Based on the available number of practices, what is required for a student to remain eligible for competition for the team? This number should not be vastly different between sports programs offered by the school. This does not mean that if basketball requires four practices a week, swimming should require four as well. It does mean that if basketball allows its team members to miss one practice a week with prior permission, then the swim team would be likely to have the same policy. The number of practices that need to be held to meet the team goals will vary. An established team with experienced swimmers (that practice only with the school team during the season) might have as many as nine or ten practices each week. A new team, a team that has swimmers that practice with their club team during the season, or one that does not have swimmers capable of handling the stress (both positive and negative) associated with two-a-day practices might only hold four to five weekly practice sessions.
If the athletes in a program are used to practicing three times a week for soccer, and now are required to practice five times a week for swimming, there needs to be some basis for this difference, and that difference needs to be sold to the swimmers. More practices are needed because? Individual programs must answer that question, but reasons could include shorter practice times, a higher element of fitness development required, more time needed to teach skills, or different program goals from those of the soccer team. What if the athlete has other commitments, perhaps some type of religious services or extra educational needs? Should the athlete be allowed to miss more practices than those that don't have those same conflicts? Certainly faith or education are more important than sport; how a program deals with potential conflicts to attendance must be handled consistently and with common sense.
Where is the line drawn between forcing the swimmer to make a choice and allowing them to participate in a multitude of activities? Should they be encouraged through all levels of development, and at all ages, to do as much as possible, or should they be steered towards narrowing their focus, with the potential of developing to a higher level in fewer areas? What is the program's overall goal, and how does that interact with the goals of the members?
What about a team that is trying to qualify swimmers for Olympic trials or place swimmers on a national team? What does it take to reach that level? It could take a few - or as many as 14 - practices each week - maybe more! The number must be determined by the coaching staff and sold to the athlete.
A program might have vastly differing requirements for different groups within the same team. This could be for several reasons. It may help to develop and introduce the novice to the sport in a graduated, controlled manner. It might keep some athletes in the sport longer, perhaps long enough to get them to reach the next level of commitment. It might serve as a revenue generator, allowing overall team dues to remain lower.
Swimmers need to practice to get better beyond the level of improvement that might be achieved as they mature. The number of practices needed to improve will vary among swimmers and teams, but some number will be needed. The team leadership must establish that number, make decisions on recommending or requiring practices, then get the team membership to buy in to that part of the program. It is up to the swimmers and parents to make commitment to themselves and their team in order to improve their abilities. So get to practice and...