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by Terry Heggy

March 15, 2019

Internal competition can make for a fun workout

Does any other profession provide exposure to the number of excuses we hear as swim coaches? When I promote the benefits of swim meets to athletes in the Colorado mountains, I hear:

  • No way. Aspen just got a foot of new snow.
  • My buds and I have plans for some awesome mountain bike riding.
  • Dude, that’s an indoor meet. Weekends are for like, you know, catching rays and stuff.

Other coaches hear complaints about expenses, inconvenient travel, conflicts with work, or even silly excuses like prioritizing household chores just to please significant others. What’s a coach to do?

Make Competition Part of Your Training Plan

The top three reasons to hold a mini-meet during a workout are:

  1. It’s fun, and it provides a break to the regular routine. Even if you regularly include race-pace speed sets off the blocks, designating a practice as an intrasquad meet rachets up the intensity and gives swimmers a chance to think about important elements such as warm-up, recovery, and race strategy. Sprint sets encourage people to work hard, but a swim meet promotes an even higher level of mind/body engagement.
  2. It provides useful feedback for the coach. Not only can you coach the races and analyze performance, you also obtain data you can use to organize relays for upcoming multi-team competitions.
  3. It gets swimmers excited! Folks who have never swum in a USMS competition frequently fall victim to erroneous impressions. They suffer anxiety about going off the blocks, finding their correct heat, or being embarrassed. A friendly intrasquad meet shows them how supportive our athletes are of each other—regardless of speed, experience, or talent. Swimmers develop new confidence, form new friendships, and discover the benefits of entering other events.

Organize the event

Common approaches to an intrasquad meet include:

  • Surprise!—Swimmers first learn about the meet when they show up for practice. This approach may require some persuasion to get everyone on board, so bring all your enthusiasm, charm, and charisma to the pool.
  • Planned workout—Announce that your meet will be held during a specific upcoming practice, giving folks a chance to fill out entry cards, psych up, and pack their racing goggles.
  • Special event—Schedule the meet for additional time outside your normal practice calendar. This allows additional races, participation by family members, and incentives such as a post-meet party or potluck lunch.

Typical practice duration limits the number of heats you can run. Save time by identifying events by distance alone. Event 1 could be a 50 choice, for example, followed by a 100 choice as Event 2. Print and distribute your event list so athletes know what to expect. You may choose to skip seeding and just have each swimmer in the event grab any available lane, but that weakens the probability of having exciting and competitive races. I prefer to seed the heats by entry time (regardless of stroke, age, or gender), which means that a 75-year-old man swimming backstroke might race beside a 27-year-old woman swimming breaststroke.

You can print out compact entry forms that can be quickly sorted for seeding. Recruit swimmers to take turns helping (seeding, starting, timing) so everyone can swim the events they want. For pre-announced events, recruit family members and friends for additional support.

Follow all your facility’s rules and safety protocols, but otherwise be creative and have fun. If you don’t want to deal with seeding or event selection, just organize the events the way you want and instruct the swimmers that they’re each expected to compete in every event. Hey, you’re the coach, right?

Other considerations

Informal intrasquad competitions are easy to run. I’d recommend acquiring stopwatches, clipboards, and pens so you can accurately record results. It’s also good to publish those results in your next team newsletter. But if you want to just shout out times from the pace clock as racers finish, that’s OK, too.

For competitive relays, you can have everyone time a 100 free (or 100 IM) and then line up in order of those times. Divide the number of people by 4 (or 3…or 5 if that’s the only way it comes out even), and then count them off, reversing the order after each round. In other words, the first person in line is on team 1, the second on team 2, then 3 and 4. The fifth person in line would also be assigned to team 4, then the sixth to team 3, and so on.

If you are a bit more ambitious, consider hosting a USMS-sanctioned meet. Your LMSC sanctions chair can help you with the details. The more your swimmers participate in meets, the faster (and happier) they’ll be!


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