This may be heresy, but the prevailing swim meet system in most major swimming areas is horribly broken. Swim meets are now expected to consume a weekend – from Friday afternoon or evening sessions to late Sunday sessions. A session itself can take 6 hours, the presence of rules that try to limit the session durations. And I can’t really blame the meet hosts, as often they are swamped with teams trying to get in. Many meets in the Toronto area are full within a few days of the meet being announced.
To some extent, we’re a victim of our own success. Swim meets weren’t this crowded decades ago, but that’s only because there were far fewer swimmers. And so the model of short sessions and more free time has gradually been expanded to this present time-devouring monster.
I know some will say we have no alternative. This is the price of a high population of swimmers. But let’s look at this in more detail.
The biggest issue is simple. Between training and lost weekends to swim meet, we’re telling our children that in order to be a swimmer they can’t have a life outside of swimming. This is definitely true of high school age swimmers as they prepare for college swimming. But more and more this is happening to 11-14 year olds as well.
When faced with this choice, some leave the sport well before they’ve seen what they can do. Others may not even start if they know the commitments ‘required’.
Other downsides to this approach are that we aren’t developing well rounded athletes. It’s not just other sports they aren’t exposing themselves to, but often they have no time for school groups such as band, drama, robotics, chess, etc.
They also have less time to just relax, or spend time with family.
And finally, this never ending schedule is extraordinarily hard on coaches and their life/work balance. We already give up many mornings and late afternoons/evening. But these meets destroy our weekends as well. I know so many coaches who are just exhausted at the end of a season.
Like any other complex issue, there are upsides to this situation as well.
These mega meets can earn an obscene amount of money. Last year I wrote about the Central Region Short Course Championship meet (here) where the host club made roughly $80,000. The fact that it was not enjoyable for the majority of swimmers was almost irrelevant. Many host clubs look to these meets for much needed cash for their programs.
The process of giving up everything else for one activity also helps many athletes buy into the training and discipline that is required at the highest levels in our sport. Once they’ve made the decision to dedicate themselves to swimming, life becomes simpler.
These meets can also help the top swimmers prepare for longer and more intensive regional and national championship meets. Bridging to 4-day meets or longer doesn’t come easily.
This idea has been kicking around for years. Let’s add one session, highly focussed meets that could be held Saturday mornings. Done by noon.
The idea is that one version of the meet could consist of the 50, 100 and 200 of a single stroke. And then rotate through the strokes on different Saturdays . Or we could have just 50s of each stroke, or 100s, or 200s. Or 100/200/400 IM. Or a distance meet with 400/800/1500.
We’d be competing more often, give our swimmers a chance to do different events, and leave most of the weekend open for other activities, including spending time with families.
Anyone want to start hosting these?