By: Stina Oakes
Time Trials: a “meet” in which the team’s swimmers swim every event in order to get a baseline time for the season…Use this meet as a test run for meet operations – everything from volunteers and food service to automation and officials.
–MCSL Meet Management Handbook
On the morning of Time Trials, I heard a parent explaining to her son what Time Trials were. He was confused and kept asking questions: “It’s a meet, but without another team? We swim everything? What do they need our times for? Why don’t they just use the times from last year? ”
Listening to their conversation, it reminded me that there’s a culture to summer swimming that outsiders and newbies don’t always understand or follow. Swim team has its own language, I realized, and we rarely think about what we say and what we actually mean.
- What we say to non-swimmers: “We have a meet this Saturday morning/Wednesday evening.”
What we really mean: While our swimmers race and have fun, we parents run the meets. Throughout the season I rotate jobs — timing, concessions, or automation — and each job has its perks. Timers get the best view of the pool. Concessions get to see and chat with hungry swimmers and parents. Automation knows the times and places everyone swims for each event.
Automation is my favorite. I get to sit in the shade – my pale skins starts to burn if I even think about the sun – and I’m busy the entire meet reading the scribbled writing on wet time cards and trying to decipher the occasional DQ code. It’s strangely pleasing to take the unorganized cards and turn them into structured, neat score sheets.
- What one parent says to another: “Your swimmer is lining up.”
What we really mean: In between swims, kids are cheering on teammates, hanging out with friends, playing tetherball, racing in the field, and eating. As their races come up, the Clerks of Course, parent volunteers, corral the kids. They have one of the hardest jobs at the meet: imagine trying to locate wandering eight-year-olds who don’t really know what they’re swimming or when and are all wearing the same black suit and yellow swim caps. (I’ve learned to identify my kids by their goggles.) Somehow the Clerks find the kids and get them organized: first the kids sit in lawn chairs in their lane assignments on the side of the pool, then they move to the small lawn chairs behind each lane, then to the big lawn chairs, and, finally, to the starting line.
Think about it: at some meets there are several heats of each stroke for each age group. With six lanes a heat, that can mean twelve to eighteen swimmers for one event. (During winter season the races can be significantly bigger, but there you deal with kids who are used to racing and meets. Many summer teams have kids who only swim for the summer and are new to swimming.) Race times vary, but generally are around the one minute mark. The swimmers make it to the starting line, on time, ready to swim. It’s an impressively well-orchestrated dance.
- What the announcer says: “Next up is heat one of [insert event.]”
What we really mean: I can’t remember the last time I went to a meet and just sat and watched. That doesn’t mean I don’t see my kids swim, usually — I’ll admit I sometimes miss their races. If you’ve been to enough meets, you get to know the schedule. The people around you know your kids and what they swim as well. We keep each other posted on the meet progress. All over the pool you’ll hear someone yell out, “Where are we?” Invariably, someone else will answer with the event.
There’s also the added bonus that at Saturday morning meets the swimmers’ names are announced with each heat. I’ll admit I’ve been startled to hear my kids’ names and stopped what I’m doing, surprised that they’re up. It’s common to see a parent run over to the pool, cheer, and then come back to their job. More often than not, it’s even for the right kid.
- What we say to our swimmers: “It’s halftime. Go cheer with your team.”
What we really mean: A rite of passage is the older kids leading the cheers. We have a pool house with a deck overlooking the pool. When it was built, it was designed with the swim team in mind. Prior to that, the older kids would climb on top of the roof and lead the cheers. Now we don’t have to worry about someone falling while enthusiastically cheering. Because we take our cheering seriously.
This past week while the kids were cheering, another parent looked at me and laughed. He was on this same swim team when he was a kid, and the cheers haven’t changed. They’re still sometimes hilariously inappropriate — my three-year-old now sings to “shake your caboose” and to “jig-o-lo, jig-jig-o-lo” while dancing around maniacally. She’s already part of the swim team life.
- What swimmers say to each other: “[Insert name] is swimming. Let’s go cheer.”
What we really mean: At Time Trials one of the aspects of our team I love the most is at its best: the support the swimmers have for one another. They yell for the kids who are swimming their fastest races as well as the ones who are struggling to get to the other side of the pool; often the cheering is loudest for the ones who aren’t the strongest.
After a good race, you’ll see the kids congratulating each other: “Nice swim!” “You looked great out there!” “Good job!” But what makes me smile the most, are the scenarios with the kids who look defeated when they finish the race. Maybe they didn’t make the time they wanted or their goggles slipped when they dove in. They get out of the water, their shoulders droop, and they look deflated. But then another swimmer, maybe someone they know or maybe not, will come up to them, smile, and tell them, “That was awesome! Good work.” Their shoulders straighten just a bit and, if you look closely, you can see the beginnings of a smile.