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Age group swimming – why do we prefer these meets?

Age group swimming is a paradox.  Our 2017-2018 season kicked off on Saturday with the first age group swim meet.

We love the start of a new season.  There is a sense of anticipation and excitement on the pool deck, which seems to water down as the swim season progress.  (Parents and swimmers alike are quite exhausted at the end of a swim season.)

Why is age group swimming a paradox?

Age group swimming works on seeded timesI never think about these topics as I have been a swimmer all my life.  Actually, a competitive swimmer, therefore we take the jargon and terminology for granted.

Our swim mom in this article has three swimmers in the family.  Two female swimmers aged seven and eight and a ten-year-old boy.  We know the family from fun galas.  It is quite satisfying to see the swimmers progress to age group swimming.

She actually pointed out to me that age group swimming does not match its name.

Age group swimmers compete based on their seeded swimming times and not their age.  Swimming authorities group the results based on age after the swim meet.

This swim mom is quite correct.  Non-swimmers think that age group swimming means that swimmers at the same age swim in the same heat.  It is not the case.

Swimming is all about times.  Yep, times and not medals (contrary to popular belief).

Let’s explain:

We live on the East Coast of South Africa (tropical climate) and we swim for KZN Aquatics (KZNA).  KZN Aquatics is our region’s aquatics governing body.

Club swim meets versus Age group meets:

Age group swimming:

Club gala trophiesThere are 3 governing institutions involved in swimming

  1. FINA – the world governing body for the 5 aquatic disciplines i.e. Swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming.
  2. Swimming South Africa is South Africa’s (SSA) aquatics governing body.
  3. KZN Aquatics: the provincial affiliate of SSA. Responsible for all aquatic disciplines in the region.

All age group and club swim meets are held and have to meet FINA’s rules and regulations.  There are timekeepers (at least 3 per lane), electronic timekeeping devices, judges, and officials.  It is quite a big list.

The times are captured in a database.  SSA and KZNA use the times in the database to determine a swimmers’ ranking in the region (KZN) and Nationally (South Africa).

We have 4 levels:

  • Level 1:  Beginner and development swimmers. (10 & Under)
  • Level 2:  Intermediate swimmers (10 and Under)
  • Level 3:  Advanced swimmers.  (11 or and Under)
  • SANJ:  South African National Juniors (16 & Under)

The levels have different qualifying times.  Swimmers progress to the next level when they swim qualifying times irrespective of age.  In our case, our 10-year-old daughter is swimming Level 3 qualifying times.

Age group meets take place mostly on Saturday afternoons and only feature a couple of events.  There is a gala calendar and it is the coaches’ responsibility to ensure that the swimmer has enough opportunity to swim qualifying times for the different strokes and events.

Age group meets are also timed finals, therefore not heats and finals as we see with Provincial and Regional championships.  Medal presentations only take place at KZN Junior champs (September), KZNA Premier champs (December) and SSA Regional Swimming Championships.

Level 1 and 2 provincial championships take place in February every year.

Age group swimmingClub galas:

All registered clubs have at least one competitive swim meet a year.  These meets also serve as an opportunity to raise funds for the club (food sales etc.).

Most club galas are timed finals which means there are no heats in the morning and finals (top 10 swimmers) in the afternoons.  Club galas or swim meets award medals to the top 3 places and normally have a Victor and Victrix Ludorum or best female and male swimmer in each age group.  This is where the medals are if you plan to swim for medals!

Club galas or swim meets structure swimmers of the same age together.  For example, 10 & Under, 11-11, 12-12 etc.  Unlike age group swimming where swimmers with the same times swim in the same heat.

Fun galasThis implies that our level 3 swimmer at the age of 10, will swim against younger swimmers with slower times.

However, swimming to us is not about the medals, trophies, accolades anymore.  Monica is homeschooled, and as a result, do not have to perform and be in the limelight all the time in order to maintain a scholarship.

We, therefore, decided this year to focus on age group swimming.

10 Reasons we prefer age group swimming:
  1.  Log book: Our 2016-2017 swimming season log book indicates that Monica is swim faster times at age group swim meets than club galas.
  2. Swim for times: Monica is older now and told swim mom that she has a lot of medals, the room is full so she would rather swim for times because it makes earning a medal special.
  3. The challenge: At age group galas Monica swims against 11-13-year-old swimmers based on her seeded time.  It is a challenge as there is always someone faster to chase.  As a result, she swims better times and love the challenge.
  4. Inspiring younger swimmers: This might sound a bit strange but we love giving younger swimmers a chance to win medals too.  Not, arrogant about it, but part of our Swim to Inspire project.
  5. Goals: This is the first year that Monica set times as goals.  We work as a swim family and a team to make these targets possible.  It is a whole and not a part of the picture that renders results.
  6. Economics – age group galas are cheaper.  We swim just 2 events, and time-wise we save too as these meets take place on Saturday afternoon from noon.  Club swim meets normally take all day Friday to Sunday.
  7. Health: We have to face reality.  Our swimmer is still not out of the woods with asthma and health in general.  She tends to be very pale after 3 days of intense competition, despite iron top-up.  Swimming only 2 events on a Saturday afternoon is working.
  8. Less is more: Swimming less events focusing on the middle distances which she prefers to swim results in better times.
  9. Motivation: Feeling better, more rest combined with diet and defined goals keeps the swimmer motivated and fights off boredom.
  10. Rewards – short, medium and long-term goals with short term rewards as the season progress renders a happier swimmer.  We measure goals gala-to-gala with medium term goals every 3 months and annual goals over the longer term.

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