How Awards Work

“Timmy won the 50 Fly…how come he didn’t get a ribbon?”  This and other similar questions beg a larger question:  HOW DO AWARDS WORK?

Let’s say Timmy (we always seem to use “little Timmy” as the example!) swims the above-mentioned 50 Fly.  Naturally he is not the only entrant.  In some of our larger meets, there may be ten or more heats of up to eight swimmers each!  Every event is seeded (organized by previously achieved times), from fastest to slowest.  Included in “slowest” heats are those swimmers who have never achieved a time within the construct of the rules governing our sport.  So, it’s simply a matter of the swimmer who completes the race with the fastest time gets the blue ribbon…right?

Not exactly.

In Southern California we have time standards, which are measures of comparing swimmer performance.  These standards give the swimmers themselves some obvious goals to achieve, while also allowing meet organizers a way to control the duration and overall ability level of competitions.  Everyone with a recorded time has achieved a minimum of a white time standard.  As skills, experience, and conditioning improve, it follows that times will get faster, and standards progress to red, then blue.  (Actually, way beyond that, up to and including Olympic Trials standards.  But that’s another topic for another day…)

In order to foster encouragement, especially in less experienced swimmers, tangible rewards (in the form of colored ribbons) are provided at all our BRW (Blue, Red, and White) meets.  These are awarded to the fastest 6, 8, or 10 swimmers (depending on the number of lanes in the actual competition pool).

If it were this simple, theoretically the same 6, 8, or 10 swimmers would win all the ribbons.  To avoid this, ribbons are awarded in each of the three time standard designations.  That is, swimmers entering with white (or no) times are measured against others similarly entered; red swimmers against other reds; blues against other blues.  So, all in all, 12,16, or 20 ribbons will be awarded, to those swimmers placing in each separate designation.  If Timmy enters with a white time but achieves a red time upon completing his race, he will still be eligible for a ribbon in the white category.  However, he will be compared with other red swimmers in that event at the next meet.

Just because Timmy won his heat (a single race where everyone begins at the exact same time) doesn’t necessarily mean he won his event (almost always multiple heats of the same length and stroke).  Likewise, just because he finishes last in his heat doesn’t mean he won’t win a ribbon—even the blue ribbon.  It depends upon how his time stacks up to the times posted by other swimmers within his particular time standard designation.

Hopefully this clears things up a little, not only for parents but for swimmers.  We recognize that, at the younger ages, awards (even those as simple as a colored ribbon) are tremendously important—even motivating—to kids.  Interestingly as they grow older, the allure wears off.  Satisfaction in working hard and pride in showing improvement relegate those ribbons to an infrequently opened desk drawer.  But no child—or parent—wants to feel “cheated” out of recognition when recognition has been earned.