Coaching

A Really Big Problem With A Really Big Meet

Something needs to be done about the Central Region Championships in Ontario, Canada.  Swimming does not seem to be the priority.

We just finished Central Region “B Championship” meet held at the Etobicoke Olympium on the weekend: basically the big meet for the first half of the year for those who didn’t quite make provincial qualifying times (A times).  Granted, it wasn’t the taper meet for all swimmers, as provincial qualifiers could still swim their off events, but for the vast majority of swimmers in the meet, this was the big one.

I can’t tell you how much I disliked it. During the meet, I talked to a lot of coaches, and not a single one likes this meet, even though it was exceptionally well organized and managed. Let me describe it.  There were over 1300 swimmers entered in the two pool meet (50m pool divided in half).  The Saturday and Sunday morning sessions each had over 800  13&Over swimmers, and no separate warmup/cool down pool. This meant there were swimmers and coaches everywhere: in the on-deck bleachers; on the deck itself; on the stairs; in the hallways. Everywhere. They would have been up in the stands as well, but that was overflowing with parents.

If you do the math, you’ll realize that this means there were over 400 kids trying to warmup at the same time in each 8-lane pool. This meant that in-water warmups were pretty much useless.

In other words, it was ridiculously crowded, with the side effect of poor air quality, and it seemed like the swims weren’t nearly as good as they should have been for a focus meet.

Part of what prompted me to do this analysis was how my swimmers generally struggled.  We had a Personal Best [PB] rate of below 40% , while in unrested invitational meets we have typical PB rates of 60-80%.  Something was off, and I needed to find out what.

Now, it wouldn’t really be my style if I didn’t included some data in their somewhere, so I decided to do a complete PB analysis involving every one of the over 6000 races in the meet.

Below are the PB rates by session. (I assume entry times are the swimmer’s PB).  I talked to quite a few coaches at the meet about what PB rate they would expect for this type of meet.  I got numbers ranging from 65% to 75%, with most in the 70-75% rate. So I’ve provide a 70% line as a visual reference.

Notice that only one session beats 70%, and that’s the distance session with only 313 swimmers.  But the biggest surprise to me is the incredibly low PB rates for the 13&Over sessions on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Both had over 800 swimmers, and both have PB rates of roughly 40%. That’s a ridiculously low PB rate for a championship meet, especially for age groupers.

I then decided to break the PB rate down by age group.

These perfectly fit the expectation that younger swimmers should have much higher PB rates, and it gets harder and harder to PB as they get older. But what’s interesting here is that not even the 12 & Under swimmers (I lumped together 10&U, 11 and 12) were reaching the 70% expected rate.  And by the time we got to the 16&Over swimmers, they were barely above 30%.

Since I don’t have data for other meets, I can’t say if that’s normal for a championship meet. But I can say that it’s far below general expectations, and far below my experience with invitational meets.

Possible Reasons

It seems to me that the probable reason for these low PB rates has to do with the conditions around this meet. As shown above, there are just far too many swimmers. This leads to ineffective in-water warmups, uncomfortable and crowded conditions during the meet, poor air quality, etc.

Given the number of swimmers, it would make sense to just split it into two meets.  In fact, various split-meet suggestions have been put forward for many, many years. However, somehow we always end up with huge Central Region meets run out of the same facility every time.

So why is there such a reluctance to provide smaller, more swimmer-friendly meets?

It’s possible that the Central Region board just isn’t aware of how much everyone dislikes this meet, and how poorly the swimmers tend to perform.  But that’s really hard to imagine as there have been complaints and boycotts for many years.

The most plausible reason is far more unsettling.  This meet raises a LOT of money for the host team.  A LOT of money.  With over 6500 individual races at \$11 each, and over 400 relays at \$16 each, I calculated that the meet fee revenue alone is just over \$76,000. And that total doesn’t count revenue from concession stands, sales of heat sheets and meet apparel, income from the official photographer, etc.

So, without a resolve to make the meet smaller, this facility and this host club essentially have a monopoly on a gold mine. Swimmer comfort, enjoyment and performance all take a back seat to the sheer volume of money that is generated.

Summary

If Central Region in Ontario, Canada is serious about swimming, and serious about prioritizing enjoyment and performance over money, then they need to make some big changes. Swimming and not money should be the priority here.

They need to find a way to make this meet much smaller. Many suggestions have been provided to split the meet in two, such as East and West meets. But however they do it, they need to address this right away.

A Championship meet should have conditions suitable for excellent swimming, and not one that makes swimmers feel slow and uncomfortable.  These kids deserve far better than that.

Random Notes

• It’s always interesting to me that some swimmers always find a way to do well, irrespective of conditions.  Certainly the top swimmers always find a way to rise to the top.  We even had 6 team records set, despite the majority of our swims being quite ordinary.
• The general consensus among the swimmers I talked to is that they either hate this meet with a passion, or they put up with it. Nobody seems to actually enjoy it.
• One leading coach pointed out that with so many swimmers in one place, it was disturbing to note so many fundamental stroke, turn and finishing flaws in otherwise fast swimmers. He noted that these fundamental mistakes should have been corrected years before.
• A bizarre side effect of it being so crowded is that bleacher seats were at a premium. As soon as a swimmer left their seat to swim, or get fresh air, it was immediately taken by someone else. The really big teams could handle reserving spots to a certain extent, but smaller teams had no chance.  Our team got to the pool early and so got bleacher spots. But when we went to warmup, our spots were immediately taken by another team. And when that team went to warmup, a third team came along and claimed the spot. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so annoying. Not surprisingly, once warmups were over there were a lot of conflicts over seating, and a lot of swimmers forced to go elsewhere to find a place to sit.

11 thoughts on “A Really Big Problem With A Really Big Meet”

Good article. Making friends?

Kim

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2. Does Central Region need to become 2 regions?

3. Hi swimnerds (awesome name!). I read that blog! Great idea! Although we don’t tend to do a lot of dual meets up here (maybe we should), and we’re a young and small team. I doubt we could get enough swimmers for all events. Being a veteran of university swimming, I’m a huge fan of dual meets. Quick, focussed and fun. Your suggestions of various meet formats makes them just that much more enjoyable.

With our situation, my preference would be a nice friendly invitational meet with reasonable swimmer numbers, but these can be hard to come by. The Toronto area is known for many swimmers and not enough pools. Not a great combination.

4. Mark says:

Hi Rick – the Swim Canada competition review will likely address the issue of performance meets vs cash register meets. Well written

1. Thanks Mark,

That would be fantastic if they could. We need to get our priorities back on track here.

5. Denise M says:

Coach Rick,
The Mid-Atlantic LSC (USA Swimming) only allows any session to run no longer then 4 hours (I think five there are a few exceptions for.) The best run meets in our LSC are usually divided up into 2 sessions per day. 9-12 and 13+O. Some meets do have a third day with a evening distance session or sometimes distance is in the middle of the morning and afternoon session. There usually are no relays except at championship meets like JOs., Zones etc. I know the Bucknell Senior meet in the Summer LC season has prelims and finals. It could be a great model to look at.

1. Hi Denise. We have the same rules and practices here. The difference seems to just be the volume of swimmers they allow in the meet. With a 50m pool divided into two 25 m pools, there are two meets running at once. And between very efficient meet officials and unrestrained entries, we just end up with a crowded mess.