Ten Things I Find Stupid About Swimming

By Jane

I’ve sort of taking up the position of skeptical retired writer here, and whilst I’m probably perfectly qualified to write about more valuable topics, I quite enjoy bringing the ex-swimmer’s perspective to a blog about swimming commentary.

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of me quitting swimming. In the first few months afterwards, I began to recognise some things about the sport that are pretty strange, and after having recently attended my first swimming competition (this time as a spectator) since March 2006, I’ve thought of a few more things that are a bit… odd.

1. No surprises here. The cheering.

It’s silly. Very rarely did it get me excited about swimming and most of the time, having to partake in such ridiculous behaviour was just demeaning. And no matter how good of a backside you have, no one looks good doing that. Attending a swim meet recently also proved to me that there’s only one thing worse than being part of these cheers, and that’s watching them. Call me a spoilsport or a bad team member if you will: I’d have rather saved my energy for the 400IM.

2. Warm-up protocol.

Coaches world-wide have the idea that they know how you should warm up for a race. Generally, their ideas are pretty solid, but it’s now beyond me why every swimmer in the world should be able to warm up for a race in some what the same way. The best two races I’ve ever competed in were swum on about 700 meters warm up. I, and my coaches, should have learned something from this.

3. The idea that swimmers never reach the age of 18.

I was 22 when I quit, but plenty of people have carried on swimming far past this age. It’s stunning how swimmers are almost always treated like irresponsible fourteen year olds, well into their twenties and sometimes beyond. It’s a special coach who can treat a team like the adults they often are. If they make childish mistakes, they should have to deal with them like all adults who make childish mistakes.

4. Training camp.

I. Hate. Training camp. Yep, that one is still in the present tense. It will take me a few more years to get over the horror that is training camp. Dress it up any way you like, call it “winter training,” “training trip”, “The University of Randomtown’s Annual Trip to West Palm Beach”, it’s still training camp and it still sucks a lot. I have only ever enjoyed one training camp, and that was when my college team went to Miami.

Miami was made bearable by a few interconnected factors, such as the proximity of Miami to my parents’ house, the training being not quite as deathly hard as during previous years, good weather and the fact that my boyfriend happened to be in town. That was also frowned upon, but contrary to popular belief, my coaches didn’t have any authority over where he spent his holidays.

Training camp was the bane of my existence for my entire swimming career. The above link details some of my objections to it, but I’ll leave you with an image of how damn happy my classmates and I were at the end of training camp, senior year.

5. Making national holidays a living hell.

Following on from training camp nightmares, swimming programmes often take a national holiday (Veterans Day, Queen’s Birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, etc) to mean that a miniature training camp should occur. Training will be twice as hard, twice as long and will basically go on all day. Because it’s a national holiday, you’ll be allowed to sleep in until 9am, but practice will take place at 9:30, weights at 12 and another swim workout at 2pm.

Why is this necessary? If it had been up to me, I’d have gone swimming at the usual time (most likely 6am), enjoyed my day off school or work and gone back to the pool at 3:30. As per usual. As opposed to most people, swimmers often dread national holidays. And don’t even get me started on Thanksgiving.

6. Never shaving.

I understand this to a point. It feels great to shave down for a big meet and if you’re a particularly hairy person, the lack of leg hair probably makes a difference when you take it off. I wouldn’t know. But really. Come on. Never shaving your legs is just gross. Upon quitting, I shaved my legs every day for a month, just because I could.

Some coaches and swimmers treat shaving – or not shaving – as a combination of sacrifice, ritual and religious adherence to the groupthink that the team who’s hairy together, wins together. Thinking about shaving your legs for a Christmas party at which you’d love to break out a cute new red cocktail dress? Don’t expect to make your NCAA cut, traitor.

Yuck. Whatever. Give me a razor.

7. Small fins.

Don’t look at me like that. You know the ones. People call them “zoomers.” Those little fins that are barely bigger than your feet:

Some people swear by them, but I can’t stand them. To me, they achieve nothing but negating all feel of the water I have with my feet. Everyone knows about the talent associated with manual feel of the water – the ability to put your hand into the water and just know what to do with it. Feet are the same, and shoving them into zoomers is a sure-fire way to render a functioning pair of legs totally useless. I kicked slower with zoomers.

8. Training for punishment’s sake.

Most swimmers have had this happen. You are given a set with time constraints. If you don’t make certain times for certain intervals, you’re forced to do more and more until you complete the whole set. Obviously, you get tireder and thus reaching the required speeds becomes harder.

This is ridiculous. I don’t know (read: doubt) if any coaches read this, but please, for the love of God, don’t partake in this idiocy. I’ve known swimmers’ entire seasons to be ruined by these sets. Training shouldn’t necessarily be a constant enjoyment, but it should never be a punishment.

9. Long course snobbery.

This isn’t quite the problem in the United States that it is elsewhere, solely due to the high school and NCAA, twenty-five yard system. We get to watch world-beaters take short course swimming very seriously. In various other countries, namely the United Kingdom and Australia, there are people who’d have you believe a short course world record was worth less than a participation ribbon at a long course chocolate fish carnival.

Bite me. There is no good reason why a great swim in a twenty-five meter or yard pool is not as valid as a great swim in a fifty-meter pool. Do not tell me about which prestigious swim meets take place in fifty meter pools; it makes no difference to the legitimacy of good short course performances.

10. The following disqualification rules.

Some race rules baffle me:

  1. Thou shalt not kick on one’s front when completing a backstroke turn. This isn’t an NCAA violation, only a FINA rule. Turning onto your front and kicking into a wall during a backstroke race is a fantastic way to slow down. That it’s against the rules in FINA but not banned in NCAA competition speaks to its pointlessness.
  2. Thou shalt not move on the blocks. We’ve discussed this one before, questioning whether or not it really is a rule. However, I always found that being unsteady on the blocks was a disadvantage. Not only this, but I could never see my competitors, so it didn’t matter to me whether or not they were moving.

Whether you agree with me or not, I’m sure there are other ridiculous swimming rules, norms, traditions and phenomena that its participants don’t understand. I’d love to know where some of these originated, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure they’ll never change.