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Lane Etiquette

Mixing the rules with a dose of humor

Samantha Grant | October 1, 2005

After paying dues, and receiving that nation-wide passport known as the USMS card, immigrants to the People’s Republic of Swimming must realize that they have entered a new culture, with its own language and nuanced rules of etiquette.  Unfortunately these rules are largely undocumented, and the immigrant may be breaking them left and right, whilst completely unaware.

To avoid making enemies of your fifth generation fellow swimmers, a few words to the wise for the practice or lap swim novice:

First, if there is an empty lane in the pool, take that one.  Don’t join a swimmer in some other lane because you don’t “like” the lane that is free (eg: the lane against the wall).  It creeps out and annoys other swimmers when there is an open lane that you didn’t take.  This is the equivalent of sitting down next to the only other passenger on an otherwise empty bus.

Second, before you get into a pool with plenty of swimmers, try to figure out who is roughly your pace.  You need not time their 50s to compare with yours, but if you are a novice swimmer, try and swim with another person who appears to be a novice as well.  Signs to look for:  they stop to rest at both ends of the pool; they aren’t paying attention to the clock; if female they are wearing a bikini, if male they are wearing knee-length board shorts.

Third, if you join a lane already containing one other person who is lap swimming, it is polite and appropriate for you to wait until they stop on your end, and ask if you can split the lane with them.  Let that person chose which side they prefer, and make every effort to stay on your side.  In the event that a third person joins your lane, the two in the water should to begin circle swimming counter-clockwise immediately.

Fourth, (and this is applicable to many advanced swimmers) if you are circle swimming with other people in your lane pay attention to where you push off the wall when you flip-turn.  Envision yourself swimming down the right side of the lane, with another swimmer five seconds in front of you.  If that person swims straight into the wall and flips such that her feet push off the right side of that big black cross, she will have to cut a very sharp angle to gracefully end up on the other side of the lane.  She will narrowly miss crashing into you with each turn.  If, conversely, she angles left into the wall, and pushes off to the left of the black cross, she can then streamline straight off the wall and is automatically on the correct side for the return lap.  No near crashes.  No need for you to give her ten seconds of lead time.  

Fifth, if you are slower than anyone else in your lane, you must always yield to them.  Never ever begin your lap as they are approaching your wall for a flip turn.  Let them go first.  If you notice that they are normally doing freestyle but end up stuck behind you and start doing breaststroke to slow down, you need to let them pass at the next turn.  Consider move to a lane containing people your own speed.  Remember that for many people this is their gym and you’ve just turned their stair-master down from a level 12 to a level 3. 

Sixth, when you need a rest break, don’t stand at the end of the pool in the middle of the lane.  Other swimmers need to use the wall for flip turns.  To take a break, swim into the wall on the right side, and stay as close to the lane line as possible. 

Seventh, if you are doing a set with a group of more than three people, pay attention to the person behind you.  With three people, each person can touch the wall at the end of the set and look up to see his or her time.  With four people, the third swimmer needs to move away from the wall so that the fourth person can touch the wall at the end.  Usually the way this works is at the end of a set the first person touches in on the far left side of the lane.  The second person touches in the center, and remains there.  The third person touches to the far right, and then immediately moves to the center of the lane, no longer adjacent to the wall, so that he is pool-side of the second person.  Now the fourth person can touch in on the far right.  This seems complicated, but I’ve swum with upwards of 10 people in a lane, and it works if everyone plays along.  With more than four swimmers, each additional person needs to move to the center of the lane after they touch in on the right.

Eighth, by all means don’t “borrow” your lane mate’s fins/kickboard/pullbuoy without asking. 

With any luck, by following these rules a new swimmer can become a happy and productive member of our aquatic society.  After all, we would hate to have to deport you back to the Nation of Jogging.

This month's article, "Lane Etiquette" was submitted to us by Samantha Grant of Davis Aquatic Masters in Davis, California. Grant enjoys competitive open water distance swimming and has been swimming for the last ten years.

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