Does This Mean There’s A Problem?

By David

It is probably best to begin with a confession. I’m not a great fan of High School swimming. The comprehensive and varied structure of Sub JO, JO, Sectional, Grand Prix and National Meets put together by US Swimming provides ample opportunities to compete. High School swimming doesn’t add much of value and always gets in the way of preparing swimmers for their US Swimming program. I don’t know how it works in the rest of the country but in Florida there are High School meets in pools too shallow to permit dive starts. We have the spectacle of 100 kilometers a week swimmers starting races by pushing off the wall. That’s not wrong because fast swimmers are too important for standing starts. It’s wrong because there are a lot better things they could be doing than swim in races like novice five year olds.

In football, basketball and baseball, High School sport has merit. The High School structure in these sports is their primary structure; the path from learner to professional proceeds through school and college. That is not the case in swimming. US Swimming is self contained. A swimmer can swim in the Olympic Games without ever having pushed off the wall in some High School meet. I’m not denying that some very good swimmers have served time swimming for their local High School. Rhi Jeffrey, Janet Evans, Natalie Coughlin, Jessica Hardy, Misty Hyman, Joe Hudepohl and James Dusing all held National High School records and went on to swim pretty well in the Olympic Games and World Championships.

There is, however, a not-so-golden lining. I was at a District High School meet last week. Thankfully, the pool was deep enough to allow dive starts. It’s a very nice pool actually. Sadly, the swimming didn’t match the facilities. It was all a bit dismal. The standard of High School swimming in the area seemed to be getting worse. I decided to investigate. Here’s what I found:

At first glance, this may appear to be a maze of meaningless figures. However, the truth is far from it the data shows the winning times for every event in our local District High School Meet in the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. They paint a pretty grim picture. Consider this:

  1. In 20 of the 22 events, the 2007 times are slower than the 2006 winning times.

  1. In 21 of the 22 events, the 2008 times are slower than the 2006 winning times.

  1. In 10 of the 22 events, the 2008 times are slower than the 2007 times.

  1. No event has consistently improved each year. In the last two years only three events have been swum faster than they were in 2006 – the girl’s 200 IM, the girl’s 100 breaststroke and the boy’s 100 freestyle. The boy’s result was swum by a swimmer from our US Swimming team who has never swum a stroke of High School swimming training.

  1. In some events the times in 2008 are almost unbelievably slower than in 2006. In one of the relays the difference is twelve seconds or 5.5%. In the boy’s 100 breaststroke the 2008 winner was eight seconds or 11.7% slower than 2006. The boys 200 IM seventeen seconds or 12.5% slower; the girls 50 freestyle a second and a half or 5.3% slower. And so it goes on.

Whatever High School swimming is supposed to be doing to improve the health and vitality of the sport; in this instance it doesn’t seem to be working. If you were a parent involved in a team of 22 swimmers and 21 of them were slower in 2008 than they were in 2006 wouldn’t it be time to consider what was going wrong. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics 30 of the 32 winning times were faster than at any previous Olympic Games. Now that’s the sign of a healthy sport. In almost the same period our area’s High School swimming just about managed the statistical opposite. One wonders if it means the opposite as well.

The word of the moment in US political circles is “change”. In High School swimming a bit of that appears to be necessary around here. The status quo doesn’t appear to be up to the task.