Sunday, October 12, 2008

Public, Prep, Home Amateur, Professional

The landscape is certainly changing when it comes to secondary educational opportunities. At the same time, the path for swimming development at the higher levels is changing as well.

There have always been "Prep" schools, or so it seems. Many on the East Coast have been in existence for over 100 years. Originally they were considered mainly for the wealthy, the elitist folks - read, the ones with money. The overwhelming secondary experience was in public high schools or to a lesser degree the "trade" schools which were also public.

We were thinking about this topic the other day as we coaches pondered the work load placed upon today's student/athlete. It seems that schools take it fairly easy on freshman, then turn up the work load in the sophomore year, sort of acclimatizing them for the junior year which is by far the most rigorous, or so it seems from our vantage point. If you can survive that third year you probably will handle whatever you need to do to finish up in your senior year. Granted this is a generalized snap shot but it seems a valid one.

Then we came across an interesting article in this month's Swimming World Magazine by Bill Colucci who is the director of Admissions for Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, CA. Colucci states "Prep schools offer swimmers the opportunity to excel not only in the pool, but to develop into young men and women who have the intellectual and social skills necessary to meet the challenges ahead of them in college and beyond." His article goes on to make several points about the value, as he sees it, of the prep school experience. It focuses on the "Opportunity for Growth" and the "Emphasis on Leadership".

We'll leave it to you to agree or not. In our county there are numerous private school options, as well as charter schools and religious based schools. And of course there are some public high schools with wonderful reputations and others with, what? not so grand images. We guess our landscape is not so different from yours.

Now there is even a very real and growing presence of home-schooled youngsters. We know of several places in the country where home-schooling is the preferred option if your youngster has been identified as an outstanding swimming prospect.

You read that correctly! For decades parents with "promising" tennis players and young gymnasts have enrolled their youngsters in "academies" focused around those sports. Part of the curriculum has been academic but the focus was on the sport. One of the driving forces is the money and fame (read more money) that comes with excelling in those sports. Until recently swimming was not part of that mix.

Today that has changed. Swimming superstars command impressive amounts of money. Put aside Michael Phelps and his economic appeal. He is similar in our sport to LeBron James or Tiger Woods in theirs. We are talking here about the rest of the field. Every single swimming Olympian on the US Team - and there were 51 besides Phelps - has a pay day coming.

So if you can home-school your son or daughter what do you lose? A very good argument can be made for that option. He/she still gets an education. The swimming career is fully explored. Socialization occurs with the team and the travel to meets. And there is no interruption of the training regimen due to homework or school demands. So the swimmer has a much better chance of reaching her/his potential. We are not saying this is correct or even true. It is, however, the argument being made.

Correspondingly, the path was always from secondary to collegiate. Now that is not the case. The fastest swimmers coming out of high school are often faced with the option of signing a lucrative professional endorsement deal vs. signing a letter of intent at a university. Either way their education gets paid for. Either way they can compete at the international level. Once they sign for money they cannot compete in college. Michael Phelps did this 5 years ago. Our understanding is that Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff have followed this path.

So, while we will keep our opinions to ourselves for today, we think it is interesting to note that educational options and swimming path options exist today that were not available even a few years ago. Life is rarely static. The very nature of it makes it dynamic. We challenge ourselves every day to adapt, to be aware of the changes. We hope you will as well.

This much is true. If you don't keep your eyes and ears open, you will not be equipped to deal with the change - any change.

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