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How to Make the Most of Swim Meets

Swim meets can help you improve as a coach if you take advantage of them

Terry Heggy | April 12, 2017

Swimmers receive significant benefits from competing, and if coaches pay attention to those events, we’ll improve at our jobs. Here are some ideas for incorporating lessons from swim meets.

Study the Stopwatch

Race results tell us a lot about the effectiveness of our training programs. But there’s more to it than simply watching races and recording times.

Compare times to goals

  • If performance surpasses the goals we set with our swimmers, our first duty is to congratulate the swimmers on the effort and focus that brought them success. Our second task is to work with the athletes to choose more aggressive goals for the next season. Goals should be challenging, inspiring swimmers to reach beyond their current limits.
  • If performance fails to hit targets, then we need to adjust workouts to provide the training needed. Is more fitness required? Was our taper so long that athletes lost conditioning? Or so short that they didn’t fully recover? If technique or race strategy were to blame, then you need to look at the execution.

Examine Execution

  • What technique flaws did you see? Were mistakes common across the team or were problems unique to individuals? How were their starts, turns, breathing, and turnover rates? Was anyone disqualified? Do you need to review rules with the team? Adjust your practices to add more drills to correct the flaws you observed.
  • How was pacing? Did people finish strong or did they fade during races? Were pacing problems caused by a lack of fitness or by poor strategy? Use pace-oriented distance sets to develop the ability to hold speed.
  • Was performance consistent throughout the meet? If athletes performed well at the beginning of the meet but became fatigued in later events, consider adding more intense race-pace sets. Another option is to recommend fewer events to allow sharper focus on target races (especially for older athletes).

Mental Matters

Obviously, your primary job at a swim meet is to watch your swimmers race and to dispense race advice, both before and after each event. But don’t forget to observe and manage the activities on deck and in the bleachers. What can you do to ensure the best experience for each member of your team?

  • Are swimmers executing a good plan? Are they on track for fueling, hydration, and rest? Are they cooling down adequately after each race? Should they be stretching more between events?
  • Are swimmers aware of their upcoming heats? Are they doing the appropriate warm-up and pre-race visualization?
  • What individual swimmer tendencies do you notice? Did they enter appropriate seed times? Do they get more inspired in relays? Should they be swimming other events? Did you observe any excitement or emotion you can leverage to inspire them at future practices?
  • Are teammates supporting each other? Do you proudly display your free USMS co-branded banner? Is there enthusiasm and positive team spirit? Do you have social activities planned for after the meet? Get people to count laps for each other, yell from the pool deck, and talk about how much fun they’re having. Group energy is contagious and it brings out the best in your swimmers when teammates motivate each other.

Follow Up

It’s common for athletes who have attended the most practices and worked the hardest to have the best meet performances. Share those examples with the team as an incentive to attend practice and to focus. But don’t neglect to mention and congratulate all participants in your post-meet follow-up email to the team and website results posting. Try to also get coverage in local media to spread the word about your club and encourage others to participate.

Provide opportunities at practice for swimmers to share what they enjoyed about the meet and to encourage their peers to sign up for the next meet.

And don’t forget the most important post-meet element is your own incorporation of the lessons you’ve learned into your workout program. Enjoy the excitement of each swim event, but be observant and take notes that will help you design workouts to convert those observations into better results for future competitions.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Terry Heggy

Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

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