Swim meets or galas can be roughly divided into “Open” and “Graded” meets. An truly open meet has no restriction to entry and the fastest applicants will fill the available spaces until a predetermined number are entered. This would usually allow for a number of fully populated heats (e.g. in a 6 lane pool, 4 heats equals 24 swimmers).
In open, age group meets, the fastest swimmers in each age group are given the appointed slots to race. Your age group is determined by the age you are on 31st of December of that year for district and national meets but is often your age on the last day of competition in club run events. In popular open meets there are often qualifying times for each event.
Graded meets have restrictions on entries, usually only allowing swimmers who are slower than a published time. This provides racing for swimmers who are trying to improve their times.
Galas are given licences by SASA, event licences are categorised as follows:
a) Level 1 – International Meets between two or more Nations, National Meets,
District Championships which include those run by Associate Members e.g. Scottish Schools Finals, Scottish Universities finals etc, Grand Prix, Club Long Course Competitions (not Graded or Time Banded).
b) Level 2 – Other Accredited meets, including non-Championship District Meets, Regional Events, Other Club Meets, Invitational Meets, Inter Club Meets, Club Events and/or League Matches, Meets run by Associate Members (e.g. Scottish Schools Regional events) where conditions for Accreditation are intended to be achieved.
c) Level 3 – Non Accredited Meets, including those run by Associate Members e.g. Scottish School Heats.
On the day
Arrive early, ideally 30mins before the published warm up time. This allows you to get a group of seats around the pool. Big teams will sprawl out so be sure to mark your seats with bags and club t-shirts, I prefer to sit slightly away from the pool and “visit” it when we have a swimmer racing.
The swimmers should have club T-shirts on poolside, trainers or flip-flops, shorts or tracksuit bottoms. Start them stretching when they arrive, not just sitting looking at the pool. When the warm up starts make sure they have a club hat on so you can spot them. At the start of the warm up all lanes are equal, encourage them to warm up in the inside lanes, not at the edge. The outside lanes in races are associated with the slower swimmers, by warming up there you are immediately conceding to other teams and swimmers that you don’t feel worthy of being in “the fast lanes”. It’s a small psychological point but remember, on race day, the mental side of performance is most important and the only thing you can influence.
Warm ups are often split in 2 by age or gender. In each one there is a period of general swimming followed by 5-10mins where the outside lanes are used for starts and sprints.
General swimming allows the athletes to gauge the pool and surroundings. Water temperature, depth changes, wall type (flat/gutter/deck-level), roof patterns for backstroke etc. There is very little to be done regarding technique other than remembering good practice points. Actual physical preparation for racing can be done out with the pool using dynamic stretching and aerobic exercise.
Sprints allow the swimmers to get familiar with block height, wall “slippy-ness” and also the feeling of transitioning to full sprint. Timing sprints is only useful if the swimmer knows what they are looking for !
During the warm up period the organisers must be told of any swimmer who has withdrawn from an event. This allows them to create the start sheet, elevating reserves into vacant slots, a cardinal sin is for your club to have a swimmer listed in a heat and the lane to be empty despite reserves waiting to swim.
Galas work in heats, and swimmers are “marshalled” at collection points around the poolside in advance of their heat. National events even have marshalling times published to prevent overcrowding of areas. The process of ensuring swimmers are at the marshalling area ready to swim (fed, watered, warm, goggles and hat) is onerous and if left to the coaching staff means they cannot observe and learn from the performances in the pool. Team managers (chaperones in days gone by) should run this part of the gala, often likened to herding cats at times, it does bring you close to the action and develops a relationship with the swimmers and other teams.
Team managers also ensure swimmers attend presentations for medals and that they are suitably dressed for the podium.
There is a great temptation to leave the poolside once your child has finished swimming for the day. In an ideal world each swimmer would support the other and those making finals have support from teammates and spectators as they try to make the podium. Travelling as a unit or in larger groups would help this.
Competitive swimming is all about racing at galas, it is the highlight of a week, month, season. >90% of performance comes from the mental attitude to racing on the day and the poolside staff at the gala can directly influence this. If you are down, they get down and everything deteriorates. Be upbeat, excited and positive, it rubs off. Banish negative thought and body language, encourage and support, criticise constructively and praise as much as possible.