Choosing events at a swim meet: How to support your swimmer and coach – about a 3-minute read

Jessica Evans

We hear it all the time, from both swimmers and their parents:

“I don’t want to swim that event because I’m not good at that stroke.”

“He’s so close to an A time in that stroke so I want him entered in that event.”

“Those events are back-to-back and he’ll be too tired if he swims both of them.”

All of these things may be correct, but it’s important to work through them the right way. One of my favorite stories on this subject is about a swimmer who swam with us about 12 years ago. He and his dad decided that his best chance at a TAGS time was the 50 Free. TAGS is the Texas Age Group Swimming championship, which is considered to be the fastest age group swim meet in the country. Only about 5% of the swimmers in Texas earn qualifying times for this meet.

At every meet, this swimmer and his dad only focused on the 50 Free. The parent wouldn’t allow the swimmer to race other events close to the 50 Free so his son could “save up his energy” for the 50 Free. When his son swam the 100 Free, his dad told him to take out the first 50 at full speed to see if he could get the TAGS time from his 50 split time. His dad took him to meets on his own, to swim the 50 Free. And his dad entered him in time trials at meets that offered them, always in the 50 Free.

Over his entire career, this swimmer never got a TAGS time in the 50 Free. His relationship with his coach was pretty strained. The relationship between the coach, athlete, and parent was one that the coach just accepted because the dad would never allow her to help the swimmer to be the best he could be. The swimmer came to practice every day and told the coach, “my dad wants me to focus on the 50 Free.”

The coach was doing her best to navigate her strained relationship with this swimmer and his dad. She started noticing that the swimmer was turning into one heck of a breaststroker at practice. And he was also showing her that he had a great 200 IM. So, one day, she decided to rock the boat and changed his meet entries and added him to every event except the 50 Free.

The result was as you might expect: The dad was furious. The swimmer begged the coach to change his entries because his dad was furious. The dad was telling the swimmer that the coach didn’t have his best interests at heart and that they were going to change teams. The coach didn’t budge and asked the swimmer and the dad to trust her. The month before the meet was a long and miserable one, for coach, swimmer, and parent, and even for the other kids in the group, because they knew what was going on, too.

On the day of the meet, and without talking to the coach, the dad deck entered his son in the 50 Free and told the officials that he would be needing his 50 split in the 100 Free. The dad also told his son not to swim his other events so he wouldn’t get tired. The coach put her foot down, and told the swimmer to race the events she entered him in.

At the meet, the coach did her best to coach this swimmer, but felt the pressure, and so did his teammates. Despite all of the stress caused by this situation, the swimmer not only earned his first TAGS time, but he also earned his second and third TAGS times. The events? The first one was the 50 Breast, the second one was the 100 Breast, and the third one was the 200 IM. The swimmer had never even raced those events before at a meet! The swimmer went on to be a great breaststroker and IM swimmer, and made it to TAGS every year after that, but never in the 50 Free.

As soon as that meet was over, the coach told the dad to find a new swim team, because he had done irrevocable damage to her relationship with the swimmer, and the dad’s constant interference had created a toxic situation for the swimmer’s practice group.

So, the point of this story is to trust the coach. Parents who want to enter their kids in events that they think are their “best events” are not always right, and sometimes parents don’t realize that they are putting pressure on the swimmer and coach by trying to manage their swimmer’s events. And, kids who say that they don’t want to swim a stroke or distance because they don’t like it, don’t think they are good at it, think it’s too close to what they feel is their “best event,” or just don’t want to do it are robbing themselves of a potential opportunity.

Your swimmer’s best stroke at 10 or 12 years old is rarely his best stroke for the rest of his swimming career. It’s not usual at all for a swimmer to grow and mature and then to find a new primary stroke, so that’s why we don’t label swimmers as specializing in a stroke or distance until they are much older, even as late as their late teens or in college. It’s also close to certain that at some point, your swimmer will hit a plateau where best times will be hard to come by for an entire season, or maybe even longer, as they grow and mature. Because hitting a plateau should be an expectation for swimmers, it’s the reason why it's so important to swim a mix of events during your season and to add longer events as you mature. Patience is an important part of being a swimmer; everything takes time and there really are no shortcuts. In the long run, swimming provides a great opportunity to learn about how to manage challenges and the importance of perseverance, not only in the pool, but as a person, too.

It's a good thing to start now, to let the coaches do the coaching. If you have questions about the plan for your swimmer, please ask the coach for answers. And, always remember to keep supporting your swimmer by saying, “I love watching you swim.”