How to Evaluate a Swim Race at a Non-Focus Meet
When asking a swimmer how they thought a swim went or how they would rate their performance, coaches often hear some variation of the response “I added time, so it was a failure”. It is important for swimmers and parents to get out of that routine of black and white evaluation, especially as swimmers transition into senior swimming.
It would be great if swimmers could always drop time in 5 second chunks like they do when they first start competing. However, as swimmers get faster and the time gets lower, time drops get smaller. That makes it very important for everyone to have realistic expectations going into a meet based on the time of year and what they have been doing in practice. They must realize that there are many ways to evaluate a race besides having the final time on the scoreboard. Keeping everything in perspective for the long term can help swimmers appreciate the journey and path they are on.
The first thing swimmers should avoid is comparing end of season times from the previous year to mid-season times during their current season. For most senior swimmers we are focused on swimming fast 5 times a year (4 for Middle Schoolers): Music City, High School State Championships, Southern Premier, Summer Sizzler, and Southeastern Championships. Taking your time from October Open, after 7 weeks of practice, and comparing it to the Southern Premier, after 7 months of practice, is not a way to feel good about your swimming. It is important to mark points in time and compare them to the previous year or even 2 years prior.
Swimmers must also consider what they have been working on in practice during these mid-season meets. If time isn’t the evaluator, what can we learn? Plenty. Finishing with 4 underwater kicks off your last wall versus 2 or none the last time, having cleaner breakouts, taking less strokes, setting up the 200 pacing correctly are all things we look at as coaches for marks of improvement. Every swim is a dress rehearsal and a practice for the next time. We want swimmers to be focused on these things in practice every day, and then mark their improvement when they get more focused at meet time. This skill development and acquisition is not going to happen instantly. That is why we have 2 or 3 meets before the focus meet, and why there is 3 months of practice between the focus meets. Things worth doing and changing take time.
The next time your swimmer is down and out after a performance, we as coaches and parents can help reshape and reframe the conversation. A perceived bad swim does not define them as swimmers, but the attitude they have after and the focus on improvement and growth can be much more beneficial.
We want NAC swimmers to be smarter, happier, and faster for having been a part of the team and we think this can help in that pursuit.