Tech Suits- At what age are they appropriate?

Editorial Opinion: Julie House

A few days ago, SwimSwam came out with this article:

When should your child wear a Tech Suit?

I couldn’t help but whisper a little “yes!” upon reading the headline.  I have been pining for this subject to come up within my swimming circle.  My daughter first asked me the question last summer.  Wearing a towel, still dripping from the pool, she peered into my eyes, still catching her breath from the end of practice.

“Mommy, can I get a fast suit if I make JOs?”

She was 9.  Technical suits are very new to me; I felt the anxiety bubble up from my belly to my throat right away.  I want to be the best parent for my swimmer.  I encourage her, I admire her, and I am very proud of her.  But this question scared me.  Technical suits cost a lot of money.  No, wait, they are insanely expensive!  She’s also growing at an exceptional rate.  If I bought one, which size would fit her and how many times would she actually get to wear it? Fast forward.  She’s 10, is in love with competition and the sport of swimming.  She has wonderful goals and is working hard to make as many JO cuts as she can.  I decided to do what most Swim Moms do- ask my swimming community what their thoughts were.

To give you some background, I grew up swimming in the Middle Atlantic region and swam at the Division 1 level in college.  I have daily struggles being a “swimmer mom” of a swimmer.  I like to think I handle it well, but if you know me… well, please be kind :).  Many of my friends are parents of current age group swimmers, and some are current age group coaches all over the Northeast.  In the 80s and 90s, paper suits were the big thing. They were expensive, hard to get on, and when you had one, you only wore it at the big meets.  Are tech suits the 2016 version of the paper suit?  I remember paper suits were expensive, but I don’t think they were over $100.  Tech suits today range from about $200 to over $500.  In case you would like to read up on the latest and greatest of these suits, Gold Medalist Mark Gangloff and NCAA Finalist Julie Stupp review 2016 tech suits here: 2016 Tech Suit Review

Almost everyone who commented thought it was crazy for a 9-10 year old swimmer to wear a tech suit, yet each one remarked they have seen it worn in an age group meet.  The common thought was there is no advantage or need for a 10 year old to wear a technical suit, and many goal-oriented swimmers should or could earn them as they age.  My friend Wesley brought up a great argument.  He remarked,

“Another point this article (SwimSwam) doesn’t make is that kids will drop time no matter what when they’re that young. Waiting until the typical post-puberty plateau to add in tech suits can help kids keep dropping time and not get discouraged.” 

I can attest to the drop in time at 10; my daughter recently dropped 14 seconds in her 100 free.  Pretty sweet stuff in a lycra suit.

When you see other swimmers at meets wearing technical suits, does it make you want to get one for your age group swimmer? Do you feel as if your swimmer has pressure to wear one because they ‘don’t want to be the only one not wearing one’?   Will your young swimmer be able to take responsibility for such a high priced piece of equipment?  Karin tells me,

“I bought my daughter a $100 fast skin (not kneeskin) when she was 10 to wear to JOs and Zones. She lost it at Zones. I did not replace it.   She will be the only 10 or 12 and under at JOs from our team without a kneeskin.”

But that did not seem to bother Karin at all.  She’s determined to teach her daughter that at this young age, it’s about technique and hard work, not the bathing suit.

In PVS this year, I have seen technical suits at early October and November meets. An age group swimmer wearing a tech suit at a championship meet is one issue here.  An age grouper wearing a technical suit in the beginning of the season is clearly another issue.  Are coaches in PVS instructing their age group swimmers to wear tech suits during these early meets?  If you are a parent who encourages your child to wear one at non-championship meets, is it because you bought it and want to get your money’s worth?  Or is there a bigger goal others aren’t seeing?  And what about summer league, championships, and all-stars?

Since my oldest is only 10, I polled the friends that have older swimmers.  Dannielle explained,

“I think this suit thing is like all things that kids want. Once they get it, then what? What comes next? Kids always want the next best thing. I feel that holding off on the suits as long as possible is great for two reasons: we are teaching our girls that they can accomplish goals by their own hard work and we are teaching them about delayed gratification. The second is something that is severely lacking in this younger generation.”

Yet, my friend, Kelly tells me,

“I let our kids earn a fastskin with their JO times which was way less than the lasers. Now they are into lasers but we haven’t moved to the $479ish ones. They take excellent care of their suits and only wear for championship meets. My daughter was the only 11/12 not in a kneeskin at Divisionals, which surprised me. She wore hers for all-stars though, as did everyone else. I think kids would feel out of place at Zones if they were not in a tech suit.”

The ultimate question is: Do you think it’s right that Southern California Swimming’s House of Delegates passed a ruling that now prohibits the wearing of technical suits in all age group competition for swimmers ages 5-10?  That ruling also states swimmers age 11 & up may only wear them for big meets such as ‘Invitationals’ and Junior Olympics.  Read the full ruling here: House of Delegates Acts to Restrict Tech Suits for Age Group and see the list of restrictions they posted here: Policy for “Tech” Suits in Age Group Competition

I understand both sides of the argument.  You want to level the playing field and also make a point that very young swimmers won’t benefit from a technical suit that costs hundreds of dollars. On the other hand, if a parent or coach has made the investment, is this an unnecessary and perhaps unfair regulation?

To wrap up my investigative reporting, I decided to ask someone at the heart of the issue, my 10 year old daughter.

When I asked her what she thought of technical suits I got a wide- eyed, “Yes, they are great!” When I asked her if she thought there should be age restrictions on who can wear them, she exclaimed, “No, no age restrictions at all, Mommy, but they should only wear them at JOs, or like, big meets.”  Then I asked her, “At the last two meets, you swam next to swimmers that were wearing kneeskin suits.  What do you think when you see a swimmer in the next lane wearing a suit like that?” She replied, “Oh, I think they are much faster than me.”

4 thoughts on “Tech Suits- At what age are they appropriate?

  • Nov 21, 2016 at 2:43 pm
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    As Julie suggests in the last line of her editorial, a kneeskin may have more of a mental benefit than a physical one, at least at younger age group levels. Is this why some coaches require their swimmers to wear kneeskins at all USAS-sanctioned meets, not just big invitational meets (i.e., to put kids in the frame of mind of taking each meet and race seriously (not just the big meets) and not “wasting” the opportunity to do their best in every race)? Or conversely, is this why some kids who qualified for Olympic Trials swam in practice suits at MCSL’s Coaches Long Course invitational meet last summer (i.e., to put them in the frame of mind of not overexerting themselves at Coaches LC so as to not hurt their chances at Trials)? Incidentally, in a STEM project at school, my daughter’s research found that tech suits provide younger age-groupers little advantage in terms of their actual times.

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  • Jan 22, 2017 at 1:53 am
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    Thank you for this! I am the mom of a 9 year old swimmer who is good but not phenomenal. I have not purchased a tech suit for her, but she is trying hard for YMCA zones this year. I wondered if I was holding her back if I didn’t get her the suit. It just feels like so much for a little body, and yes- she is still dropping time in nearly every meet swim as it is! I am glad to read an opinion that matches my gut feeling at this stage. Unless it nets her a drop of 4 more seconds, it seems like more than she needs right now.

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    • Feb 12, 2017 at 12:19 am
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      I totally think tech suits are too over the top right now. I was at a summer league championship meet and a girl who was not even close to me in speed was wearing a tech suit. she told me she wore it so she could break the NBSL record. but, in the race, I beat her by over a second and got the record myself. That shows that tech – suits are just too much and they don’t do anything to a 10 year old kid.
      And by the way, my mom (Karin) was quoted in the article!

      Reply
      • Feb 12, 2017 at 12:21 am
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        I personally think NOT having a tech suit helps people to race harder. It pushes kids to beat the ones who have to buy themselves to the finish line.

        Reply

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