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Swimming | Healthy Sport Index | Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

1st

out of 10

Swimming

Girls

Swimming is a sport that keeps the heart rate up but takes some stress off the body, while also building endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. Recommended complementary/alternate sports for swimmers include gymnastics, track and field, volleyball and cross country.

Rankings in orange circles compare this sport with nine other sports offered for this gender before customization – meaning each of the three health categories is given an equal one-third weighting. The ranking is comprised of data collected or developed from various sources (75% of score) and expert opinion (25% of score). The healthiest sports in each of the three categories – physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits – and in each data measurement are ranked No. 1. Note: Some sports did not have significant differences between each other in the data. Learn more about our methodology.

3rd

out of 10

Physical Activity

Expert Opinion Rank: 2nd Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Swimming physical activity at practices ranks third among the 10 girls sports studied by North Carolina State University. Swimming has 56.4 percent vigorous activity; the 10 girls sports average 39.6 percent. Thirty-one percent of swimming practice time focuses on fitness compared to 28 percent on skills.

1 North Carolina State University research observing high school athletes in North Carolina, 2017-18.

3rd

out of 10

Safety

3

Injury Rate2

(1st out of 10)

13.8%

Injury Time/Loss3

(10th out of 10)

0.12

Catastrophic Rate4

(9th out of 10)

0%

Injuries Requiring Surgery5

(1st out of 10)

0.6

Concussion Rate6

(4th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: 1st Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Swimming has the lowest injury rate among girls sports, according to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study; other categories push down its overall Safety score. The most common injuries are to the shoulder, including rotator cuff impingement. Concussion rates are low for swimmers compared to other girls sports.

2 Injury rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
3 Percentage of all injuries resulting in greater than three weeks of time loss from the sport, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
4 Non-fatal catastrophic injury/illness rate per 100,000 exposures, National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 1982-2016.
5 Percentage of all injuries requiring surgery, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
Concussion rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
6 Concussion rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

6th

out of 10

Psychosocial

Aspen Psychosocial Survey7

3.543

Personal Social Skills

(7th out of 10)

2.819

Cognitive Skills

(4th out of 10)

3.733

Goal-Setting

(2nd out of 10)

3.733

Initiative

(6th out of 10)

3.667

Health

(6th out of 10)

1.596

Negative Experiences

(5th out of 10)

Substance Abuse

Cigarette Use8
11.1%

(6th out of 10)

Binge Drinking9
19.8%

(7th out of 10)

Marijuana Use10
17.3%

(7th out of 10)

Academic Achievement

Cut Class11
27.5%

(6th out of 10)

A/A- Student12
44.2%

(8th out of 10)

Graduate From College13
69.5%

(10th out of 10)

Psychological health14

4.13

Self-Esteem

(T-5th out of 10)

2.19

Fatalism

(T-8th out of 10)

3.86

Self-Efficacy

(T-6th out of 10)

2.8

Loneliness

(8th out of 10)

2.06

Self-Derogation

(8th out of 10)

4.2

Social Support

(10th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: T-4th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Swimming rates fifth among the 10 girls sports in the Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial survey, not too far behind No. 1 softball. Goal setting and cognitive skills are strengths for swimming. The sport fares below average in cigarette and marijuana use and binge drinking, according to Women’s Sports Foundation data.

7 Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial benefits survey of high school athletes nationally, 2018. Scoring ranges from 1-4, with 4 being the best except for the Negative Experiences category.
8 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.
9 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport binge drinking alcohol in the past two weeks. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.
10 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport using marijuana in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.
11 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who cut class for a full day in the past month. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.
12 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who have an average grade of an A or A-. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.
13 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who expect to graduate from a four-year college. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.
14 Average scores of high school seniors in the sport in psychological health report card. Data for these six categories came from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters. Scoring ranges from 1-5, with 5 being the best for self-esteem, self-efficacy and social support.

Compare Tool

Select Other Girls Sports to Compare and Scroll Down

Swimming (Girls)
Basketball (Girls)
Cheerleading (Girls)
Cross Country (Girls)
Lacrosse (Girls)
Soccer (Girls)
Softball (Girls)
Tennis (Girls)
Track and Field (Girls)
Volleyball (Girls)

Complementary Sports

Healthy Sport Index recognizes the benefits of youth engaging in more than one sport during the year, through organized or casual play. Some youth also may want or need to find alternate sports, due to interest or roster-size limitations. There are two types of benefits to sport sampling: athletic/skill development in their primary sport, and overall health. First, let’s take a look at sports that can help develop athletic/skill development.

Athletic/Skill Development

For youth whose primary sport is swimming, USA Swimming and USA Diving recommend the following complementary sports.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Skills

Gymnastics

Rationale: Gymnastics has the most transfer of learning due to body awareness and development of core strength. Track and field events are somewhat similar as swimming in terms of duration and the type of cyclical training required to perform at higher levels. Swimmers would also benefit from track field by increasing their leg strength. Cheerleaders tend to possess strong core muscles, which are important to develop good swimmers.

Not chasing an athletic scholarship or elite performance? Let’s now explore complementary sports that are less tailored to develop skills in this particular sport but can help build a well-rounded athlete for life.

Overall Health

For youth focused on this sport, the following are activities worth considering to build overall health and fitness. They are recommended by the Healthy Sport Index Advisory Group in consultation with the American College of Sports Medicine. Considerations include whether the primary sport is a team or individual sport, the amount of time the primary sport spends at practice on fitness, and options for sports that carry low-injury risks.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Health

Dance, Field Hockey, Futsal, Golf, Hiking, Jump Rope, Kayak, Rowing, Ultimate Frisbee, Weight Training, Yoga

Rationale: Swimming is an individual sport that would benefit from a companion team sport that is not socially isolating. Sports with an emphasis on lower body and skill development would be helpful, such as soccer. Swimming is one of the safest sports.

Best Practices

Tips on how to make swimming active and safer

  1. Treat nutrition seriously. Nutritionally-packed foods such as raw cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, fresh cut veggies and fruit give swimmers the fuel they need to compete and stay healthy. Cut out sweets, fructose and glucose. Ideally, swimmers should have a nutritional snack immediately after their last event. And drink lots of water.
  2. Pay attention to stroke technique. Swimming is a very technique driven sport. Some injuries can be caused by improper technique so paying attention to when the coach is suggesting changes is very important.
  3. Build training regimens around the individual strengths and weaknesses of swimmers. Not every swimmer is alike. Swimming is a rare sport where competing against one’s self by improving times can provide confidence and fulfilment.
  4. Sleep more. There’s evidence that the hours of sleep an athlete gets at night is a significant predictor of injury. In a survey published by the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, athletes in grades 7 to 12 who slept less than eight hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have been injured than those who slept at least eight hours.
  5. Take a break during the year. Competitive swim training can be time intensive, with many athletes often engaging in morning practices many days of the week. Find time to try another sport to avoid overuse injuries and burnout.

Learn More About Best Practices
American Development Model for Swimming (USA Swimming)

High Performance Tips (USA Swimming)

Resources for Swimmers (USA Swimming)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)