After being on the swim team for years, swim meets become routine occurrences and preparing for them becomes second nature. However, for new swimmers and parents, the first few meets can be overwhelming who don’t know what to expect. The following is a guidebook full of general pointers for getting through the first meet with ease:

The night before the meet:

Eat a healthy, balanced meal. Avoid fast food, greasy or sugary food, or otherwise unhealthy food. It is advisable eat plenty of carbohydrates before a meet.

Drink lots of water! Only hydrating on the day of the meet does not work. It’s important to start hydrating early so that the swimmer is in shape to swim his or her best on the day of the meet.

Prior to the meet, you should receive an email with a meet entries attachment. Find your swimmer’s events and event numbers, and bring these with you to the meet.

Especially if your swimmer is swimming in the morning session of a meet, it’s a good idea to pack a bag the night before. In that bag, include the following:

  • Swim suits. The swimsuit is obviously a very important thing to have for the meet; pack an extra in case anything happens to the first one.
  • At least 2 swim caps and 2 pairs of goggles. Caps and goggles break at the most inopportune times. Always have extras handy.
  • Two towels. Bring one towel for the swimmer to use during the meet, and one to dry off after the meet.
  • A sweatshirt and sweatpants. At most meets, regardless of outside weather, the stands range from comfortably toasty to boiling. However, the pool deck generally ranges from chilly to arctic. Bring comfortable clothes so that the swimmer can stay warm between events.
  • For girl swimmers, pack plenty of hair things. They inevitably break or mysteriously disappear, and it’s very hard to get a swim cap on a swimmer whose hair isn’t pulled back.
  • Flip-flops or other deck shoes. Pool decks can be nasty.
  • Healthy snacks. While there is usually a snack bar at the meet, it is cheaper and much more convenient to simply pack your own food. Good ideas for snacks are baby carrots, bagels, granola bars, or cereal.
  • Gatorade or water. As in any sport, swimmers lose water as they race. It is important to hydrate throughout the meet in order to restore lost hydration.
  • Sharpie markers for writing down event and heat numbers to stay organized during the meet.

The morning of the meet:

Double check your swim bag, to make sure that nothing is forgotten.

Have a substantial healthy breakfast. Avoid sugary and unhealthy breakfast foods, and remember to hydrate.

Spectators should dress in short-sleeves. Even in the middle of winter, the stands are almost always warm and humid.

Leave with plenty of time to get to the meet. It’s always better to be a little bit early than it is to arrive late and miss warm-up.

Arriving at the meet:

Be sure to arrive at the specified time, if not a few minutes early. It is important to make warm-up so that the swimmer can stretch out his or her muscles and get ready to compete.

When you arrive in the building, someone will be selling heat sheets, which typically cost around five dollars and list the events, heats, and lanes for the swimmers. Purchase one of these and find your swimmer’s events.

Use a Sharpie to write the swimmer’s events on his or her arm. This makes sure that the swimmer knows when to go up to the blocks. It is helpful to use Sharpie, so that the information doesn’t wash off in the pool. Time, or Dawn’s dishwashing liquid, will get the Sharpie off after the meet.

When writing down the events, it is helpful to write them on a grid in order to be consistent and organized. Below is an example a swimmer’s events:

E (Event number)

S (Stroke)

H (Heat number)

(Lane number)

#8

100 IM

#1

#3

#12

50 Fr (Freestyle)

#5

#1

#24

100 Fr

#3

#3

During the meet:

Have your child sit with the team on deck. Parents, however, are not permitted on the pool deck. This rule is enforced; having parents on deck becomes an insurance issue.  At first, it may be a bit of a leap of faith to let your young child on deck, but remember that they will be with their coaches and teammates.

Parents and spectators watch the swimmers from the bleachers.  Meets are long, and there will be significant gaps of time between your child’s events. It’s advisable to talk to other parents, read a book, or have a crossword puzzle handy.

Be courteous. You represent the team to the other people in the stands. Don’t criticize swimmers in the pool, even if they are not from your team; you never know who is listening.

Use your heat sheet to follow the meet. This way, you will know where and when your child swims, as well as where and when other swimmers from your team will compete.

If your swimmer might have to leave the meet early for any reason, notify the coaches at the beginning of the meet.

If your child is assigned to swim on a relay, either be sure to stay for the relay or have the swimmer tell his or her coach at the beginning of the meet they won’t be able to swim the relay. Otherwise, coaches won’t know to make substitutions and the other relay members will be left unable to compete.

Additional Tips:

Things might not always run smoothly for your child at the meet. This is all part of the learning process, so prepare to make room for errors. The following is a list of some issues to expect:

  • Missing a race. While it is important for your swimmer to pay attention and try to prevent this from happening, mistakes happen. This isn’t preferable, but as long as it’s only a very occasional occurrence, avoid getting too mad. Instead, explain to them that they must be more aware next time.
  • Disqualifications. Especially for young swimmers, DQ’s happen very frequently. It’s simply a learning process- no swimmer stars out with a perfectly legal stroke. Don’t dispute the officials’ decisions and try to tell your child what he or she did well in the race. The officials and coaches will handle what the swimmer did wrong. Also, DQs and Dairy Queen conveniently have the same initials. If your child is really upset about a disqualification, this is a good trick to remember.
  • Losing the heat. Swimming is about beating personal bests before beating the other swimmers. A child who beats his or her seed time could have a great race, even if they’re the last one to finish to the wall.
  • Adding time. Unfortunately, your child will not have his or her best race every single race. They will, at some times, swim slower than their seed times. This isn’t the end of the world. Avoid dwelling on this; the coaches will let your swimmer know how he or she should feel about their race.

Some swimmers bring iPods to the meet, while others choose not to. Before the meet, weigh the pros and cons of bringing them; pump up music helps some people get ready to swim fast and pass time between events, but water and electronics do not like each other. Also, they have been known to disappear if not watched carefully, or can be the distraction that causes a swimmer to miss a race.

Remember that club meets are in no way comparable to the Olympics. They are important, and swimmers should try their best at every event, but also make sure to keep it fun. No matter how fast or slow their times are, it is the experience on deck that will make your child look forward to meets.