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Swimmers central to club vs. high school sports debate

Jason Hicks was sick of it.

Hicks, a Poudre High School senior swimmer who also swims for the Fort Collins Area Swim Team, wasn’t so much sick of swimming as he was sick from swimming — too much — last year.

“Last year, I did a lot,” Hicks said. “I swam FAST and Poudre, went to 10 practices a week. The week of (the Class 5A Front Range League Championships), I got sick.”

Hicks still swam at the conference meet, but he was admittedly slow from the sickness.

Even if he wasn’t, he may have been slow from simply doing so much. High school swimmers today, according to athletes, parents and coaches, are pulled in enough directions to cause head-spinning nausea.

“It’s certainly asking a lot of these kids to have (to think of) what their parents think is important, what their high school coaches think is important and what their club coach thinks is important,” said Lance Holter, a FAST board member and father of Fort Collins junior Max Holter and freshman Jack Holter, both swimmers for the Lambkins and FAST.

Competing demands

High school swimmers need only attend five team activities to be eligible to compete with the high school team.

Some coaches balk at that.

“My coach, Kelsey (Bailey), likes us to come to all of (the high school practices),” Hicks said.

That means Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, Thursday and Friday mornings for Hicks are with the Impalas. He works the opposite schedule with FAST.

“You have to do two-a-days,” Hicks said. “One with Poudre, one with FAST.”

As one of the few FAST swimmers at Poudre (many Impalas prefer Team Vortex, based out of Mulberry Pool, which is closer to their school), Hicks doesn’t get the special treatment swimmers from other schools might.

Fort Collins coach Aaron Thatcher became an assistant at Team Vortex in August. He, and Fossil Ridge coach Mark Morehouse, try to work with FAST coach Chris Webb to tailor schedules that fit club swimmers’ needs.

“Chris and I have a pretty good relationship,” Thatcher said. “The goal is to put Fort Collins (swimming) on the map.”

Holter has seen that firsthand with his sons. The Holters don’t do much more than the minimum five practices.

“Max has been with Fort Collins for three years, and he has been to 17 practices,” Lance Holter said.

Even without the practice conflicts Hicks sees, being a high school and club swimmer would be challenging, Lance Holter said.

“They have Tuesday morning practice with FAST, have school all day, then go to the high school meet, then stay and practice with FAST until 8 p.m.,” said Lance Holter rattling off the breathless list. “And they haven’t started on any homework or preparation. It crams it all in.”

Mixed messages

Hicks started swimming competitively as a freshman, and laughed when saying he still hadn’t figured out the sport of swimming.

“The new training thing in swimming, over the past 10 years, is you swim all your meets and stuff tired,” Hicks said. “Then you get to your big meet, and have a lot of rest and go fast.”

The myriad messages swimmers have to decipher grow out of different goals on the part of those message senders.

For many high school teams, and their coaches, the goal is scoring points at the state championships. For club, right now, Webb’s focus is on the long course season, Holter said. Webb didn’t return requests for comment.

Long course season starts after the spring sectional in Washington state, Hicks said.

High school swimmers are not swimming long course. So, when Max Holter looks to Junior Nationals in August as his goal for a fast meet, he must balance that with how he trains and tapers (rests) for the high school state meet.

“I can tell you right now, Max is concerned,” Holter said. “A meet they want to go to in July or August is long course, but they want to compete in as many long course events as possible. The club team is trying to focus on being the best you can be in a long course pool come August. High school wants you as fast as you can be in May (at the state championships).”

Problem, solution?

Poudre parent Robert Work, has his kids, senior Eric Work and junior Ben Work, with Team Vortex.

The reason, Work said, was Vortex didn’t push competition each and every weekend.

“I swam competition since I was 6,” said Robert Work, who swam with Team Vortex coach Marty Jasken. “So every weekend was dedicated to swimming. I didn’t want to force that on (my kids).”

For Work, the extra practices and meets serve only to burn kids out. Eric and Ben have lately just been working out with Vortex, and only competing for Poudre.

“I want my kids to love it; I want them to enjoy swimming,” Robert Work said.

Work said he thinks the competing influences within swimmers’ ears might not be so strained if folks changed their priorities.

Work rattles off a list of problems: Parents, trying to live vicariously through their kids; kids putting pressure on themselves to compete at a certain level.

“Sometimes, I think it’s coaches pushing — push, push, push,” Work said. “I don’t know if there’s a solution. I think everybody should worry about the kids. Sometimes they get away from worrying about the kids.”

Tyler Silvy covers high school sports for The Coloradoan. Reach him at TylerSilvy@coloradoan.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.

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