The Best of Junior Swimming

By David

The Auckland Swimming Center in New Zealand had their monthly Division Three meet this weekend. That’s the same meet Florida swimming call a Sub-JO Meet. I was interested to see how the American and New Zealand versions compared. My new club had nine swimmers competing; Cormac, Hana, Teigan, Ella, James, Bayleigh, Aimee, Brianna and Kiki.

The meet in Auckland was smaller than the average Florida Sub JO. Population probably accounts for a portion of the difference. However junior participation is important and the New Zealand meet was smaller than I expected. The last Sub JO meet I went to in Florida had 863 entries. I don’t know how many there were today in Auckland but it was a lot less than that number. Next month our club will have to double our entries to do our bit to increase the involvement of the area’s junior swimmers.

The smaller numbers did have one blessing. The meet was done and dusted in a bit over three hours; a vastly more enjoyable experience that the two day, 8.00am to 3.00pm, marathons I’ve been to in Florida. Somewhere between the two extremes there has to be a size that combines the best possible participation with an acceptable time commitment.

In New Zealand there has clearly been an effort to diminish the formality of the occasion. For example the meet did not use the pool’s electronic timing or score board and boys and girls swam in the same races. I thought the standard of stroke and turn judging in New Zealand was more appropriate to this level of competition. On several occasions I noticed Auckland officials overlook minor infringements that would have received the ultimate sanction in the United States. That might be a swimming thing or could simply reflect New Zealand’s more caring society.

Given the effort to diminish the formality of the New Zealand meet, it is odd that they persist with a full marshalling process. That convention has long been discarded by most meets in the United States where Clubs are responsible for getting their swimmers to the start. In this instance I like the American system. It encourages swimmers to take responsibility for getting to the start of their race and prepares them for the procedure used in most Grand Prix, World Cup and Mare Nostrum international meets.

The New Zealand meet was quieter than the American version. That is hardly surprising. New Zealanders are a more reserved people and America is the home of loud sporting cheers. However, I might encourage our guys to be a bit more vocal. I’m not promoting the mass hysteria practiced by some American teams. Thank God, that would never work here. Some vocal team support wouldn’t hurt though. After all, it is a sporting contest not a Sunday morning church service.

In Auckland and in Florida ribbons are presented to those swimmers who placed in each race. At this level of competition I prefer the award procedure that used to be practiced in New Zealand’s Wellington swimming center. Ribbons, there, were awarded to swimmers who swam personal best times. The sticker on the back recorded the swimmer’s event and their new personal best. It was possible to be last in a race and still be rewarded for a PB. It was also possible to be first and miss out. I liked the concept. I think it better rewarded personal effort. Some readers will probably brand this as bleeding heart, “no one should lose” liberalism. I don’t agree. At any level of competition a personal best is a win and should be recognized.

The differences between the meets could not disguise one overwhelming similarity. The enthusiasm, application, nervousness and standard of swimming of your average pre-teen American and New Zealander were common and infectious. New Zealand’s senior swimmers might not be able to match the speed of Phelps, Lochte, Hoff, Piersol, Coughlin and Schmitt but it’s not through any difference at this level. In fact I thought the standard of starts and turns, stroke mechanics and fitness on display in Auckland were probably marginally ahead of what I’d seen in my seven years watching Sub JO swimming in the United States. The inevitable conclusion is that somewhere between the enthusiastic events in Auckland this afternoon and swimming in the Olympic Games the Americans are doing it better.

So, thank you Cormac, Hana, Teigan, Ella, James, Bayleigh, Aimee, Brianna and Kiki for a great afternoon’s entertainment. See you at practice on Monday as we prepare to do just a bit better at next month’s Division Three meet. Who knows one day you may be able to take on the next generation of American stars.