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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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2017 Swim Season New Year message

2017 swim season – New Year message

2016 in Review:

2017 Swim season is ahead of us.  The time has come to take a moment to look back at 2016. We realize that it is still one of the most challenging swimming years we have had to date as Monica, aged 9, competed in the 10 & under, 12 & under and 14 & under age groups.

In 2017 she will continue to swim these events but at least be closer to her 10th birthday, therefore a bit stronger.

Our swimming seasons start in May of every year with pre-season racing taking place until September.  September to March is the official swimming season.  We are at the moment 3 months away from the flagship event – the 2017 SSA L2 Championships.

Our best swim in 2016 remains the unexpected meet record in the 200 LCM freestyle during Action swim champs.  We admire the ease and control Monica maintained during this swim.  The Seagulls 200 SC IM where Monica swam sub 3 minutes takes second place in our top races for the year.  It is a tough choice but third place goes to the TYR hat-trick in the 200 LCM IM.  Great swimming in a year which is supposed to be an offseason.

Competitive swimming in 2016-2017:

Towards the end of 2016, younger swimmers emerged challenging Monica in her races.  We are delighted to see these swimmers come through the ranks due to three reasons:

  1. It is good for female swimming to see young age group swimmers raising the standard, working hard and smart resulting in faster times.
  2. The competition is good for Monica – we find it interesting to see how much harder she is willing to push herself during competitive races.
  3. Commitment – Monica demonstrated a new level of commitment to swimming and training.  She wants to be fit and strong to meet any challenge that comes her way.  She is willing to do the work.

We are, as a result of this renewed commitment, entering the last 3 months of the 2016-2017 swim season with a stronger, highly motivated, committed and healthier than ever, age group swimmer.

Health and dealing with asthma as a swimmer:
Provincial champs 2016

February 2016 saw Monica achieve 6 x 8 & U Provincial records ad 2 x 10 & Under Provincial meet records, despite a battle with asthma during the event.

February and March of every year is a bumpy ride for our family.  We are working closely with our doctors to keep Monica as healthy as possible.  The heat, humidity and season changes, do, however, present us with a relentless challenge.

We trust that this year will be different due to a couple of reasons.  Monica has 8/10 possible level 3 qualifying times.  She is, therefore, not allowed to swim the Provincial championships in February where she battled with asthma last year.

We hope that she would avoid any asthmatic incidents by not having to compete in February, leaving her stronger and healthier for the SSA champs in March 2017.  It is still a challenge every year but we are learning every step of the way.

Our appreciation:

We would like to end our family’s New Year message with the following quote from a Michael Phelps motivation video.  Our hearts are filled with pride and immense gratefulness for the coaches, friends, family, and fans that believe in Monica’s ability, the work she puts in and her love for the sport with this quote:

To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship to yourself and your family and your friends.  

Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down, because you told them the truth. And that truth is that you did everything that you could. There wasn’t one more thing that you could’ve done. ~ football Coach Gary Gaines.