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  1. Haven't Tried A Swim Meet Yet? Go for It! (Sept-Oct 2017)

    by , August 31st, 2017 at 03:54 PM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    In 2007, as a new Masters swimmer—six or so months in—I waited behind the blocks for my first swim race in 30 years. I was in the first heat of the first event, the 1,000-yard freestyle. The “Star-Spangled Banner” played as I stood alongside my fellow competitors, none of whom I knew, in my plain, wide-strap practice suit, new team cap, and comfortable goggles.

    When the anthem started, I was shocked to feel an unfamiliar— maybe forgotten—anxiety and emotion. My eyes stung and suddenly I was 12 years old again and all the other girls had grown taller and I hadn’t and I knew I was going to choke and….

    I didn’t know most of the people on my new Masters team because I practiced at an off time, and I really had no idea why I even signed up for this dumb event. Waves of regret lapped at my toes as I stepped up on the blocks.

    But off I went and before I knew it, 40 lengths went by. After the race, someone asked me, “How did it go?” Basking in a sense of accomplishment, I was proud to report, “It was great!”

    What I didn’t know: Around length 27, the swimmer counting for me dropped the plastic lap counter into the (deep end of) the pool. She dived down, retrieved it, and scrambled back on to the bulkhead. Officials and coaches buzzed briskly to the end of my lane to see what, if anything, needed to be done. She had some difficulty with the wet numbers and there was confusion as to what number should be displayed.

    But I never noticed a thing.

    Such is the power and magic of a competitive event, even if you’re not really a competitor. Although I had some long-ago age-group experience, I was a noob that day. I have no recollection of what place I came in or what my time was. I just remember feeling the exhilaration of doing something seemingly frivolous, yet oddly important to me.

    Some of my swimmer friends have literally started from scratch, learning to swim at 40 or 50 and never imagining they would step up on those (frightfully high) platforms, dive in, and race other swimmers. But they did, and have reported similar experiences at their first meets (minus any lap-counter snafus). They, too, don’t remember speedy times or ribbons or glory. But they cherish those moments and how they felt when they touched the wall for the first time in a meet.

    Looking through the images captured in Riverside, Minneapolis, and Budapest this year, I’m reminded of how much fun championship swim meets can be. Yes, the nonswimmers in your life won’t understand why you would hang out all day or weekend or week(!) in the sun or inside a biodome-like natatorium, only to leap off the blocks occasionally, pitting yourself against faster swimmers. No, you probably won’t win anything. But you won’t care.

    You’ll be too busy cheering for your teammates and discovering (or rediscovering) the crazy fun of relays. If you travel to an unfamiliar city, you and your swim peeps will enjoy exploring it after the meet, taking pics, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

    Set your sights for Spring Nationals in Indianapolis or Pan-Ams in Orlando for 2018.
  2. Q: How to prepare for an international event

    by , September 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: What should I tell my swimmers who are preparing for an international meet?
    A:
    Eliminating surprises when swimming in any event, especially international competition, can help alleviate stress and increase your chances of having a successful meet. Preparation should begin as soon as there is interest in a particular event, not after you arrive at the meet.

    1. Don't assume everyone speaks English. Learn basic questions and answers in the language of the country you're visiting.
    2. Familiarize yourself with the venue and potential weather conditions prior to arrival. This will help you pack accordingly.
    3. Make a written list of everything you'll need to pack. Plan and pack for worst-case scenarios. You should have more than one swimsuit and pair of goggles. Replacements of these items may not be available at the meet. Clear and tinted goggles should be packed for varying conditions.
    4. Plan your transportation from your lodgings to the venue. If you're using your own vehicle, know your parking options, the cost, and the distance to the venue.
    5. If you're traveling to a different time zone, try to arrive at the event early enough to adapt to the change.
    6. Visit the venue before the meet starts and find the toilets, lockers, and showers.
    7. Locate a drinkable water source. If none is provided, know you'll need to bring your own. If you'll need to eat at the venue, know what your options are and, if necessary, bring your own food.
    8. Find a spot where you will be sitting during the meet. If no comfortable seating is provided, bring your own--portable chairs are inexpensive and easy to transport.
    9. If the event is being held outdoors, find shade and protection from the elements.
    10. Have a plan for your warm-up. If you'll be competing in more than one pool, schedule your warm-ups to familiarize yourself with all pools. Note the temperature of each pool, the walls, flags, turns, starting blocks, markings on the pool bottom, water clarity and variations of pool depth. Practice every aspect of the events you are swimming in each of the pools. Starts, both dives off the blocks and backstroke, should only be practiced in designated start lanes. If the blocks are different from what you are accustomed to, ask a USMS On-Deck Coach (if available) for help. In most cases, start lanes are only open during warm-up periods in the competition pools.
    11. Study the timeline for your events. If the meet organizers don't provide one, calculate your own with the heat sheet or psych sheet. This can be tricky, so allow yourself a comfortable margin to get to the pool and your events early. No one is going to wait for you. Know how much warm-up you need. Often the warm-up pools are crowded and you'll need more time than usual to swim or kick the same amount of yardage. Generally, swim gear such as snorkels, hand paddles, and pull buoys are not allowed during warm-up.
    12. Pay attention to the progress of the day's events leading up to your swim. Many international meets require you to report to a marshaling area several heats before you're scheduled to swim. If you were issued credentials at registration, bring them with you. Also, bring your goggles, a towel, and a drink. Use the toilet before you report, as there's no telling how long you'll be waiting. If you need to leave the marshaling area, ask the marshaling personnel. A smile goes a long way when asking for help.
    13. Well before you get to the block, listen to the starters' instructions and translate if necessary. Know the procedure for when and where to exit the pool after your event. Ask a coach or teammate to record your finish time, as it may be difficult for you to see the scoreboard from the water at the end of your swim.
    14. Event results may be online or posted in a designated area. Often, results are not available for an hour or longer after the event is completed. Each event has a limited period during which a protest may be filed. If you were disqualified from an event and want to file a protest, immediately seek out the meet referee, a meet official, or a USMS coach (if available), and ask what procedure to follow.

    Swimming at international meets can be a very rewarding experience if you're prepared to accept that not every meet is run like a USMS National Championship. Maintain a positive outlook and make the best of every challenge you face. Remember, in most cases, the conditions are the same for all competitors—it's your preparation and attitude that may differentiate you from your competition.
  3. How to encourage participation in swim meets

    by , August 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: How do I encourage my novice Masters swimmers to participate in their first swim meet?

    A: Swim meets can be very intimidating to both the novice and the experienced meet swimmer. While the majority of USMS members choose not to compete, those who do compete do so for a variety of reasons: the thrill of competition, the need to measure athletic prowess or fitness level, the catalyst that keeps them in the pool training, or the fun they have at swim meets with their teammates and friends.

    Before encouraging a swimmer who has shown no interest in swimming in meets to try his first meet, a coach should teach the basics--starts, turns and finishes--and explain the rules. Make this part of your weekly routine. Get the swimmer comfortable performing everything he will need to do the day of the event. Once the swimmer has mastered these basic skills, then you can approach him with the idea of trying a swim meet.

    A progression of low pressure preparation for swim meets may include:

    • Hosting a swim for time during a scheduled practice where the novice can start from a push from in the water, dive from the side of the pool, or dive off the blocks. (All backstroke starts are from in the water.) The coach should explain and follow swim meet protocol for starts by blowing three short whistles and one long whistle to ready the swimmer. Have teammates cheer for the novice at both ends and sides of the pool.
    • Introducing relays during practice with each foursome consisting of a fast, less-than-fast, not-so-fast, and novice swimmer with as close a finish as you can organize. Cheering by teammates should be made mandatory.
    • Inviting the novice to observe a swim meet. Not everyone that swims in meets swims fast.
    • Hosting an intersquad meet. Include 25s in the order of events as well as 100s for relays.
    • Hosting a duel meet with another local Masters program. Earlier this summer, the Richmond Plunge Masters challenged the Cal Aquatic Masters to a duel in the pool. The event created a welcoming atmosphere for both the novice and accomplished meet swimmer and a positive team building opportunity.
    • Finding a local one-day meet that offers 25s and/or 50s. Arrange for a post swim meet gathering. Promoting the event as a social gathering with a little bit of swimming can help erase or reduce the anxiety many newbies fear.
    • Locating a swim meet where your swimmers can carpool. If possible, rent a bus and travel to the meet as a group. I'm sure your swimmers will quickly realize how much fun the ride back home in a bus can be.

    Your job as a Masters swim coach is to keep your athletes in the water swimming for a lifetime. Don't push so hard the swimmer abandons the sport. Making swimming the funnest sport should be your priority along with safety. The more fun your swimmers are having, the more fun you'll have coaching.

    Updated September 18th, 2014 at 09:47 AM by Bill Brenner

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