Summer Swim Team! Which Stroke is the Best for my Child?

Post by Brian Yee, PT, DPT, MPhty, OCS, FAAOMPT

As summer break kicks off, summer camps, travel teams, and most notably- swim teams go into full force! Every day practices, weekend meets, hours in the water and sun… oh what fun! But have you wondered why your child may excel in one stroke such as breast stroke but not in freestyle? Or why he or she is a good all around swimmer in medley events but simply does not have the power to excel in any of them?

There are many reasons why a child excels in a stroke or event, and on the flip side is likely to get injured. This could be pure coordination, athleticism, determination, and body development in their pubescent years.

But I will never forget a conversation I had while I was in Physical Therapy school with one of my classmates. She was a Heptathlete in college, very fit and focused. She said, “I truly believe anyone can make it to the Olympics if they had some sort of athleticism and determination – so long as they found the right sport – and more importantly the specific position (or stroke/event in this case) within the sport that fit their structural body type.”

In a nutshell, what my classmate meant is, assuming that you have enough discipline to train and athleticism to compete, understanding exactly what your body presents with – may help you have a competitive advantage over your peers.

The best example I have for swimmers is the breast stroke… or as my young kids call it… the frog stroke. We, at Motion Stability, have been able to work with some of the best young swimmers in Atlanta. One girl has been highly successful in the breast stroke. We would make comments, however, as she would walk into our clinic that she would walk in like a ‘duck’. Her knees and feet were turned out wide like she was riding a horse. We would ask if she could straighten them out, but would be done so minimally.

Upon further examination, we performed a physical test that revealed she had a structural position of her hip sockets that made her thighs and legs turn outwards. Something we call femoral retroversion – or in layman’s view… duck footed or bow-legged.

Could be a nature versus nurture thing, but regardless, here is this world class swimmer in breast stroke that requires her legs to be turned out as part of the kicking stroke in her event – and yet she walks on land and upright the same way. One could argue that there may be a tendency for breast strokers to walk that way, but the point is – not all do so. More significantly, more young girls tend to walk more pigeon toed with the legs pointing inwards, not outwards.

My argument would be if she was born with a structural anomaly that turned her hips more open, has this enabled her to have a more competitive advantage to succeed in her stroke? I would lean towards thinking so.

There are so many other cases in which we have worked with world class athletes and found that they have some structural uniqueness to them that allows them to perform outside of the bell curve within the sport and position/event they play within that sport.

If you’re a parent and see your child performing well in a certain event or sport, it may not just be because they are good at it. They may physically be built to do it better than someone else. Bring your child by sometime, we’d love to help you figure that out!

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