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Observations from a State Championship Meet

Over the last week I had the opportunity to watch the Victorian Age Swimming Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

I watched swimmers aged 10 years to 18 years compete over 6 days with heats in the morning (9:00am to 1:30pm) and finals at night (6:00pm to 9:30pm).

I have put together my top 10 observations from the Championships and provide it as a learning tool for age group parents and swimmers.

1. Swimmers Must be Race Fit

Those swimmers who had competed in swim meets leading up to the major Championships appeared to be more race fit than those who didn’t race a lot. On talking to coaches, most of them had their swimmers race in 3 or 4 swim meets leading up to the major Championships, however they were careful not to plan racing every weekend.  Race fit swimmers executed their racing skills including starts, turns and finishes better than those who hadn’t raced a lot.

2. Swim Downs Pay Off

For swimmers doing multiple events on the one day or over several days, swimming down after each event was crucial. As the swim down pool was in a different location to the competition pool, the responsibility of swimming down correctly was often left to the swimmer’s themselves.  This meant that swimmers who had been ‘trained’ by their coaches to swim down correctly had a distinct advantage.  Many of the younger swimmers struggled to swim down properly unless their coach was present to guide them.

3. Grazing is the Key

All competitors had to find ways to continue eating and regaining energy throughout some very long days.  With warm-ups beginning 7:30am for heats and 4:30pm for finals, the better swimmers were often at the pool for more than 8 hours a day.  To eat effectively, a majority of swimmers brought food with them to the meet as the food on sale was not appropriate for aiding performance.  There are a huge variety of appropriate foods for swimmers to graze on throughout the day. These are identified in www.NutritionForSwimmers.com for those who are looking for help with identifying the right foods.

4. Keep Warm Between Warm-up and Each Swim

The temperature varied each day with some days at 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) and one day at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).  For a majority of the Championships it was important for swimmers to stay warm.  I was amazed at the number of swimmers who warmed up well and then sat in the stands with a t-shirt on, especially on the cooler days.  The more prepared swimmers would ensure they wore a tracksuit and shoes to keep their feet warm, for as long as possible leading up to and between each swim.  On the hot day, most swimmers adapted well.

5. Stay Hydrated

The importance of remaining hydrated throughout such a long meet can not be underestimated.  Many swimmers were observed continually sipping on water throughout the day, with a majority of them carrying their own water bottles with them down to race and for use immediately following their swims.  Dehydration will affect performance and us the week got hotter, there were definitely some children who did not perform as they could have.

6. Skill Development Pays Dividends

It was quite obvious to observe which swimmers had spent time developing their skills against the majority who showed poor skills on a regular basis.  The wide variety of starting techniques and entries into the water leads me to believe that a lot more focus has to go onto the development of skills in practice.  There is no point continuing to race as you get older, doing the wrong skill.  In general, the skills improved the older the swimmers were (it would be disappointing if they didn’t!) however there were still swimmers in the 16 to 18 year age group who struggled doing effective starts, turns or finishes.

7. More Focus on Technique

This is the big one and an area that coaches must continue to address with their squads.  Learning the correct technique at a young age is crucial if swimmers are to go on and reach their potential.  There were so many swimmers winning races in all age groups under 15 years who had ordinary techniques.  It was obvious that they achieved their results based on hard training and guts and determination in both practice and competitions.  Technique includes the arm pattern, leg kicking action and the timing of these both, together with the correct breathing action and timing.  If there is one area where the standard of the Championships could have improved it was in technique.  This is an area that needs more focus.

8. Good Coaching Makes a Difference

Swimmers with proactive coaches who offered guidance to their swimmers seemed to get better results than those swimmers whose coaches were not in attendance.  It was great to see that a majority of coaches were heavily invested in their athletes and spent a lot of time working with them, encouraging and supporting them.  Some coaches spent a long time talking to their swimmers before races whilst others reminded swimmers of the 2 or 3 things they had been working on.

9. Parent Support is Critical

Parents play a major role in supporting a competitive swimmer and this was definitely the case over the past week.  Parents had to play many different roles including taxi driver, food supplier, emotional supporter and many of them also offered to time keep throughout the meet.  Maintaining a positive outlook regardless of your son or daughter’s performance is critical to providing support to them.  Swim meets can be emotional times for parents as they have invested so much time and energy into supporting their child.  I was delighted to get feedback from a number of parents who had read www.SwimmingForParents.com.  All of them provided examples of how the book had helped them to improve the support they provided to their child at practice and during competitions like this one.

10. Nerve Racking Experience

For many first time swimmers and their parents, a 6 day meet with heats and finals and the stigma of being the most important State level meet of the year meant that there were many nervous people at the Championships.  For many swimmers and parents they experienced situations for the first time.  These included:

– Competing at this level for the first time;

– Competing in a meet with heats and finals and having to come back a second time on the same day and aim to swim even faster;

– Attending sessions that lasted up to 5 hours;

– As a parent, watching your child compete in their first final, and many more.

Overall, the Championships were run very well and their were a large number of Interstate and International swimmers present.

To look at the results of all events and age groups, the link can be found at www.LiveSwimmingResults.com.

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10 Responses to Observations from a State Championship Meet

  1. David Lin December 21, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    Hi Gary, you sum up the last 6 Days of the Age Championships very well and the observations are of very high value with in depth information applicable to all competitive swimmers. Thanks for your sharing Gary and have a wonderful Xmas and a safe holiday season.

    • Gary December 21, 2013 at 9:38 am #

      Thanks David

  2. Shantelle Furguson December 21, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Hi Gary, I always find your topics very re assuring to our journey with our National Swimmer.

    I would love to see a topic on taper, how what, when and results. We are unsure about our preparation and dedication of our support system i.e Coach.

    Wishing you a safe and lovely Christmas


    • Gary December 21, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      Hi Shantelle, Thanks for the feedback. Taper is a very interesting topic and I will look to do a post in the next couple of weeks. Getting a taper right for each individual in a squad can be quite difficult and the right taper one year may differ the next year when their body shape, technique and fitness levels change. Have a great Christmas. Cheers Gary

  3. Deb December 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    Thanks Gary. My 10 year old daughter competed in 1 event for her first state champs this year. She was quite nervous, but with the support of her coaches did what was asked of her and came away happy with her performance. We now look forward to the Sprint champs in February.

    • Gary December 21, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

      Please congratulate your daughter for me. It would have been a great experience for her.

  4. Mackenzie December 22, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Our coach made us train and warm up so often and hard that most of us underperformed with swims slower than our PBs. I wish she read your blog!

    • Gary December 24, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      You raise an interesting issue Mackenzie. Most young swimmers don’t actually warm up or swim down enough. It is a good habit to get into doing both effectively at a young age. So while it may have seemed like a lot, it may be that your coach is preparing swimmers correctly for this meet and for the longer term as well. If you have any concerns, you should speak to your coach about them at the appropriate time.

  5. David Unicomb December 30, 2013 at 11:46 pm #


    Your point on technique is so neglected by my experience with lots of swim schools, at least at district level and below. I frequently see multitudes of kids swimming endless laps of terrible technique with very little correction. There is a great generic correction process but nothing consistently focusing on the individual swimmer. Each lap the technique should be the focus in my opinion, it is tedious doing this for a coach, but that is what it is about. There any also very little demonstration by good swimmers or coaches (or video)of what the technique should be. it is almost all verbal, and a bit of pool deck demonstration. The coaches seem to all know the theory but the delivery and correction is very ordinary almost across the board. It seems to deteriorate as the swimmers get to a reason able level. Beginning coaching seems quite good. To me swimming is one of the most technical sports as the water is an unfamiliar medium and every incorrect movement can create great waste and inefficiency.

    David Unicomb

    7. More Focus on Technique

    • Gary January 1, 2014 at 3:27 am #

      You raise many good points David and I could probably write 3 or 4 articles just on issues you have addressed. Solid development of technique in every swimmer is critical at a young age. Unfortunately coaches will need to remind swimmers over and over again, using different mediums (audio, visual, kinesthetic) to get the message across. The swimmers themselves also need to take responsibility for remembering and practising the corrections to their stroke.

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