October 11, 2017
We stress the importance of preparation each day on deck. Most swimmers and their families understand that the better they prepare, the more success they will have in the pool. This post will go over how to properly prepare for a swim meet.
There are many different types of swim meets. Competitions can range from a two hour developmental meet to five day prelims / finals championship meet; one where each day can involve being on the day for two four hour sessions. It’s important that each athlete has the right tools and mindsets so they can be at their best from the beginning of the meet to the last swim.
The most common question I get from new swim parents is, “what should I bring to the meet?”. The requirements depend on the type of swim meet mentioned above. We try to have our Blue Wave swim families attend a few of our smaller home developmental meets when their swimmer is new to the sport. As mentioned, these are shorter one session affairs. That said, I strongly feel that it is a good idea to get into good habits right from the start of a person’s swimming career. Attending a meet should follow that rule as well.
Here are some best practices when preparing your child, and yourself, for a swim meet.
What Is The Purpose Of This Meet? - Meet types vary. So do the expectations your coach has for your child. A season ending championship serves a much different purpose than an early season one session event. The goal of each swim meet will be clearly defined prior to the start of the meet by our staff. If you are unsure of the goal for your child, contact your training group coach and ask. We want to make sure that the swimmers, parents and coaches are all onboard with the plan. I can, and have, written extensively about only celebrating when a swimmer achieves a personal best. It is tempting for us to gauge success or effort in that manner. For the long term benefit of your child, praise what they did well in each swim, regardless of their outcome. If they had a great start, let them know. If they finished without breathing, awesome...let them know you noticed that detail. We want to reward the process, not just the outcome. If they did not do well, your coach will give them appropriate feedback so they can do better next time. There will come a time when best times are only achieved at the end of a season. We want to set up our swimmers for long term success. Having our swimmers’ realize that when the master the process, the outcome will eventually take care of itself. Know the purpose of the meet and swim and react accordingly. Best times are great, but learning how to train and swim events properly is more important. Also keep in mind that goals should be individual-based. A high point award or beating Johnny or Jane is out of the control of the individual so it should never be a thought or concern. Do I like to win? Of course. But we can not control what other athletes or teams do or do not do. Individual and team awards are serendipitous. They should not be the sole focus of any meet.
Pack Your Gear - Most people think all you need is a suit, goggles, team cap and a team shirt and you are all set for a swim meet. I wish that were the case, but for most meets, packing the right gear requires a little more thought. Bringing just one towel, for example, may not be adequate as the swimmer will use it after warm ups, ater events and after warm downs. Packing extra towels will help keep your swimmer dry; especially when the weather starts to cool off. Goggles and caps break. It happens. Bringing extra caps and goggles will help ensure your swimmer is not scrambling for a cap or goggles if his or hers breaks pre-race. It is also important to bring the right type of goggles. Mirrored goggles are important for outdoor events while clear goggle are more useful indoors or during cloudy days. Have the goggles ready the night before a meet ensures that you are waiting in line at the meet, buying goggles and trying to customize them to your child’s face at the meet. Find out if any team apparel is required during each session. Sometimes, we ask the swimmers to wear certain apparel for certain meets. Many venues do not provide seating for athletes or for spectators. Find out the needs for you and your swimmer beforehand. We usually send out an email a couple of days in advance with these details, so be sure to check your inbox for it. Some swim meets can last a while. Having a deck of cards, or some other water-friendly device or games to help pass the time is helpful.
Heat Sheets - These days, most meet hosts offer electronic heat sheets. This means you can print out a listing of events, heats and lane assignments prior to going to the meet. This is important because fewer and fewer host teams are printing heat sheets and selling them the day of the meet. It is helpful to highlight your swimmer in the heat sheet the night before. You can even use a sharpie in the morning and put the event/heat/lane assignments for each event on your child’s arm before you leave for the meet (see pic below). This is not necessary for more experienced swimmers, but it does help the newer ones have a handle on where they should be for each event.
Fueling For Success - Having the right food and drink on hand is essential for your child’s success. Preparing a cooler the night before will ensure your swimmer has everything they need to properly fuel their bodies throughout the course of the session. Buying your child swim meet nachos from the concession stand, will not benefit them in the water. Lean meats, healthy carbs, fresh fruits and vegetables are a good source of nutrition for your child. Processed foods, sugary drinks and other unhealthy choices should be avoided at all costs. Sports drinks are ok, but they are much better when they are diluted (half drink, half water). Bags of sliced fruit, veggies, sliced deli meat (leaner the better) and whole grain products are all good choices. The swimmers will need to stay hydrated and refuel before and after each event. Sometimes it is easier to simply place some power bars in their cooler for pre and post race fuel. The important take away here is to give your swimmer healthy options. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.
Warm Up & Warm Down - Make sure that you know what time your child is expected to warm up each session. Many of the meets we select for our swimmers are well attended. This means that we may only have a select time to warm up prior to the day’s event. We may also have to find warm up lanes for our swimmers. The warm up time can be very hectic. Check out the picture below to see what many warm ups look like these days. If our families come late, we may not have enough swimmers to hold off some team warm up lanes. Warming up is very important. Please be on time and behind the blocks, ready to swim, when asked by the staff. Note that there may be additional time needed to find our tents, set up your spectator seating, putting on sunscreen, etc. High performing teams consist of high performing families. Arrive early enough that your child is not rushing to get into the warm up pool. We do not want to start the meet off in that fashion. Control the controllables and great things can happen. Also realize that we want every swimmer to warm down properly after each race. Hopefully they will have their sports drink and power bar with them after each swim as well. Try to resist the temptation of asking your child to report to you after each swim. We want them to celebrate their successes with you. Let’s just ensure that they properly recover from their swims before they had up to see you.
Bring the Right Mindset - I mentioned having a process mindset versus one that is outcome based one earlier in this post. Swimmers, coaches and parents should be mindful of the goal of each season, meet, event and even each length of a race. At first, that is simply too much information to process. No worries, your coaches will help you and your child learn the nuances of the sport over time. From day one, however, we can all understand the importance of having a happy child on deck for a meet. Happy swimmers are fast swimmers. Undue pressure or unreal expectations will limit an athlete’s enjoyment of the race. Let’s keep it exciting and fun. With that as our team’s meet environment, we will get the best out of each swimmer.
We train to race. Swim meets provide us with the ability to test ourselves through racing. They should be exciting and fun. Many friendships are made at meets; both between the swimmers and parents. When we come to a meet prepared, both as individuals and as a team, great things happen. Let’s own the process and positively affect the outcome. Here is to many great meets; for this season and in the years to come.
See you at the meet - Rich