Your First USA Swim Meet: 8 Things You Should Know
So, you’ve completed a great and rewarding summer swim season and decided to have your child try year round swimming with a local USA Swimming member YMCA or Private Swimming Club. Or perhaps your child just likes to swim and seems pretty good at it, and you’ve decided to try the year round route out. Maybe even the year round swimming club coach did the equivalent of an on-their-knees-beg-and-plead for you to have your child join their swim club because they came out and lit it up in Summer swim. Any way you got in, everything in this new and very exciting season sport for you and your child is completely unexplored territory. If you are lucky, you have a club that does a great job communicating what you can expect from your first swim meet, but in case you have a sink-or-swim club team (see what I did there?), here are some of the commonly unspoken things to expect for both you and your swimmer in their first swim meet:
1. Pack a good book: unless your summer swim meets were just beastly large, you will probably find that you have FAR more time between your kids events than you thought humanly possible. You may want to plan something to fill the time, such as starting on that novel you’ve been meaning to read, watching an entire season of House of Cards on your tablet (some pools even have Wi-fi!) or learning Mandarin Chinese. By the end of the short course season, you could conceivably complete all three, or as they say in Mandarin Chinese, “你是成品” (you are finished)
2. Wow! What a time!!: Your kid swims their first meet and junior’s times are amazing! A good 10% time cut at least! This year round swimming this is the real deal! I’m buying tickets to Rio now! Unfortunately, if your trooper has been swimming in a meter pool all summer, which many outdoor pools are, you have been swimming Short Course Meters. You are now swimming Short Course Yards, meaning the pool is actually only 22.86 meters. Hey, their times will improve on a pretty good clip, just not that quick. Hey, if you hurry, I think in Brazil, you can fully cancel any hotel reservation within a week of booking. Not sure how it works with the airline tickets, though.
3. You can’t hold their hand: in some summer leagues, you may have already experienced this, but in year round swim, you are generally precluded from accompanying your child to the blocks. It doesn’t matter if your child is 4 years old (you chuckle, I’ve seen it), or 14 years old (who probably would rather eat an aparagus-pine nut muffin than have you escort them to the blocks), the decks or starting area at least are closed to parents during warmups and the competitive events. There are even these volunteers at these meets specifically and strategically placed to deny your entry to give your princess that one last pivotal pep talk prior to her swim. Your absence, however, breeds a bit of tension when your half pint still isn’t lined up for their event by 3-5 heats prior to their swim. The coaches generally have it covered, but I’ve yet to go to a meet where at least one new swim parent of an 8&under didn’t just about complete lose it (including me) because their kid was still playing Minecraft on their iPod under a towel fort down in the team seating area instead of being at the blocks where they belonged. It’s at these moments when you find out just how loud you are capable of yelling.
4. Wait! You can’t start the race yet!: most summer leagues, due to the experience levels of the swimmers (or lack thereof, that is) have all the swimmers clear the pool before the next event starts. For the most part, USA Swimming meets feature overhead starts. In an overhead start (with the exception of backstroke events), when the swimmers touch the wall, they stay there, and the next heat dives and starts swimming while the finishers are still in the water. So don’t start screaming at junior to get out of the pool thinking the next event can’t start until he does. He, and the other kids who are similarly and leisurely camped out in the water looking up at the next guy on the block are actually doing it the right way. This is not the case many times in 8&unders, though, due to their propensity to jump straight down in the water off the blocks, since to them at their size, going straight in head first feels like Acapulco Cliff diving.
5. No longer shooting for ribbons : So you’ve artfully taken all of princess’s ribbons she won in summer swim and put them in their own shadow box, super. Well guess what? Ribbons aren’t really going to matter to your kid anymore. Success is now going to be measured in two letters: A and B. Well, those two letters in various combinations. I’d get into length on it, but that’s why I wrote a whole other blog post just on that subject. Suffice it to say that your child just became goal-centered instead of ribbon-centered. Actually, goals and small rubber ducks, key chains or other $20 per thousand, Made in China trinkets given to heat winners. It’s better this way, trust me.
6. Small fish in a big pond effect: your kid is used to placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd likely in their summer meets….maybe 7th or 8th worst case if your team is pretty huge. Unless your areas swim meets are very small, or your kid is some insane phenom, prepare for them to finish in the 50’s or 60’s. You need to switch your parental expectation and motivational approach now to best times, instead of placing. This kind of feeds from 4 and 5 above. Remember that other kid on your summer team that seemed untouchable? They are probably only placing 5th or 6th in the year round meet. Homework: find six ways to use “constant improvement” in a sentence.
7. No more mystery- The Meet Sheet: I think our summer swim team runs a pretty tight meet, but even our kids and parents get their event info from a select group of Moms with Sharpie’s that get the roster events from the coaches and disseminate the meet info. A little frustrating, I admit. Great news, those days are OVER (until next summer). I introduce the Meet Program, that has all the race events and all the heat and lane assignments printed on them. The meet program or heat sheets are absolutely essential, since the order of events from meet to meet is pretty much determined by someone picking events out of a hat, or rolling bones or something…Downside? In order for you not to seem like a cheap leech creepily peering over people’s shoulders all day, you’ve got to get your own, and they run anywhere from $5-12. There goes that Soft dough pretzel you were eying at concessions.
8. Kid to Folks, “my gears not cool enough”- so you got your kid a cool little drawstring bag with their name and “Swim Fairy/Swim Monster” embroidered on it. That’s very nice. That just became the smaller bag they put their extra change of clothes into inside of their real Speedo gear bag that you are about to get bugged to buy in 3….2….1…following the first meet. Seriously Mom and Dad, did you seriously (they will say seriously twice like that, it’s that big of a deal) think that that bag was going to hold their towel, change of clothes, shampoo designed to get the chlorine smell out of hair, cap, goggles case, extra set of goggles, extra cap, favorite stuffed animal and food to eat during the meet? Well did you? It doesn’t even have pockets for their iPod/iPhone, or clips to attach the keychain duckies to. Oh, and that bathing suit you bought for them to practice in at Dick’s is not nearly fluorescent enough and/or doesn’t have black and white striping around the neck line. I’ll say it now so you are ready when your kid says it…”Get with the program!” The only way you escape this is you have one of those “who gives a crap” kind of boys who would carry their stuff around in a plastic Wal-Mart bag if that’s what you gave them. And we’ll save the ‘kneesuit’ discussion for another time.
So there you have it. You are now mostly fully armed for your child’s first competitive year round swim meet.
May the Time Clock be ever in your Favor.
About the author: Jeff Sullivan is a Professional Blogger on Youth Competitive swimming at The Splashfather Chronicles
. He is the President of his community swim team, father to a competitive swimmer, Founder of swim apparel company Chlorine Gear
, Publicity Director for his local Swim Club, and an all-around self-proclaimed swim nut.