Chlorine Chronicle (Archive)NMSC Jan/97 Newsletter
The Importance of Swim Meets
(by Don Clinton)
The importance of swim meets to the NMSC program has been and will continue to be a hotly debated topic. In this article I will describe some the issues surrounding swim meets and some of my personal experiences. I believe swim meets are important and my ultimate goal is to encourage everyone, who is able, to attend them in what ever capacity they feel comfortable.
Direct Fitness Value
From a physiological fitness point of view swim meets are a loser. A several hour swim meet has less fitness value per hour than a one hour practice. For participants, if you add up the time and distance you swim at a swim meet (typically 50s and 100s) it will amount to only a fraction of what you do in a practice. The intensity of effort required during races places stress on muscles and joints which may leave them sore for several days following the meet. For officials and spectators the direct fitness value is obviously very low. If this is all there is to swim meets why would anyone ever attend?
Don's Value of Swim Meets
For me, the true value of swim meets comes from the personal satisfaction of achieving goals and the social aspects which can be pleasurable, entertaining, exciting and relaxing - all conditions that serve to support and build relationships which encourage an individuals continued swim program. These conditions apply to participants, officials and spectators equally. For the remainder of this article I will focus on the view of a participant since that is the view I am most familiar with. Given the choice I would rather be in the water than watching.
Some of the more popular goal related reasons for participating in swim meets are identified below (I am sure there are others):
- need for interpersonal competition. The need to beat some one you know, or just the person in the next lane;
- need to attain goal times and personal best times; and,
- evaluation of self improvement.
For me, the need for interpersonal competition is low, I don't derive any pleasure in beating someone else and my improvement has been stalled for many years. I am not competitive with good swimmers in my age category and I would have to do something drastically different to show any self improvement. I satisfy myself with attaining goal times and occasionally (very infrequently) achieving best times. The pleasure for me comes in having trained hard leading up to the meet and achieving an aggressively set entry time.
When I'm not in the water chasing a goal time I enjoy watching others swim, talking with people and feel most comfortable when I'm contributing to some aspect of the delivery of the meet.
Its always exciting to watch someone you know who has worked hard attempt to reach their goals and to see how a stroke is suppose to be done - beauty by any definition and NMSC is blessed with some of the most beautiful masters swimmers in the world.
I enjoy talking to people and finding connections to them (I do have difficulty remembering names though), listening to humorous stories, telling stories and exchanging training information. Others have alternative ways of connecting with people through activities such as games or dancing all night.
My contributions to the delivery of swim meets have been in various capacities over the years and have always been enjoyable - the roles always provide a starting point for talking to other people, an approach to meeting people I would recommend to new swimmers.
I find that the relationships I have developed and the sense of fellowship at swim meets is extremely important to me in sustaining my swimming program.
For me, my spouse and family are an important part of my swimming support structure. I view my swimming as primarily a fitness activity with the swim meets being a performance no different than a musician in a music concert. My training leads up to this performance. Four times a week my family watches me leave for the pool to practice and like most NMSC members the coaches make sure I work hard at practice. Swim meets are an opportunity for my family to witness the results of this hard work. The larger the meet the more important this can be for them. My family attended many of the sessions at the World Master Swimming Championships in 1994 and they still remember them and talk about them. Perhaps some day that experience will be a deciding factor in their ability to sustain their own fitness program.
Of course like any family activity there is a window of opportunity where family members can be involved. Teenagers soon reach a time when they don't want to be seen in public with their family and very young children do not appreciate being in a hot humid pool area for very long. Family involvement may not be appropriate for every one but through my personal experience I would recommend having them involved if you have the opportunity.
To Attend or Not Attend
There is no question in my mind that swim meets are beneficial. However, every one of us has our own personal constraints that will dictate whether we can attend swim meets. For many years I worked considerable overtime each week and had a very young family. Although I recognized the benefits of swim meets I did not have the desire to take weekend time away from my family to attend them and taking week day time in a single income household was further outside what I felt was reasonable. During those years I contented myself with making as many practices as I could, attending the occasional meet and involving my family in our Winterlude meet. In the last two years I've had more control over my time and have been able to attend more meets and have enjoyed every one of them.
If it is reasonable for you to attend I would encourage you to. The benefits to sustaining your long term swimming will be immeasurable. I believe that these benefits can be realized in what ever capacity you choose to attend - participant, official or spectator.