This Saturday was supposed to be the long course kickoff meet for our age group team here in the Mid-South. It’s a smaller one-day meet, but there is always a lot of excitement as the kids get in the pool and see how much time they’ve taken off from last summer. Last year at this meet, my daughter got her very first ever Championship cuts (here in TN we go to Southeastern Region Champs).

Waking up Saturday morning knowing we weren’t traveling to the meet, I had some mixed emotions. It was nice not to have to get out of bed and rush around (and also, my other daughter had a school commitment so I would have had to figure out how to be in two places at once), but I really felt a sense of disappointment. I love watching the kids swim (especially mine), so I really longed to be on the pool deck this weekend. It has made me appreciate long course season a little more…

To be honest, I have never been a fan of long course swimming. I grew up in Pennsylvania where there aren’t too many indoor long course pools, and the outdoor ones were limited to the short summer season. I spent most of my career swimming short course in indoor pools, so I just never enjoyed the outdoor pools – to me it was heat, sunburn, and gross things (bugs, hairballs) floating in the water . This is honestly the only time I’ve ever been able to appreciate backstroke – because I couldn’t see the floaters coming at me 😂. Long course times never meant much to me either, and there weren’t fancy internet conversion tools to make it easy. I honestly considered the summer season a wash.

One of the only long course pools in Pittsburgh I have a distinct memory of is a pool at a city park called North Park. It is absolutely enormous. I believe it’s one of the largest pools out there, holding 2.5 million gallons of water and measuring 50 meters by 105 meters (I thought it was 50×150, but in an attempt to fact check myself Wikipedia says it’s 105 🤷‍♀️). That means that when we swam meets there, we swam widths, not lengths, which is sort of mind-blowing. That also means that it wasn’t the easiest pool to heat – and therefore I also remember this as one of the coldest pools I have ever had to swim in. Just to top off my dislike, the meet held there was always the first of the season, and let me tell you early morning in mid May is not warm in Pennsylvania for warmups! It was honestly so big it felt like swimming in open water (which if you follow me, you know I am not great with).

Construction of North Park Swimming Pool, 1936. Photo by Wenzel and Carter, displayed on & contributed by the Northland Public Library.

Now that I participate in Masters Swimming and coach USA Swimming, I have a greater appreciation for the long course season. My daughter started her swimming career in Florida, the land of outdoor pools. The long course season is actually longer there than what I ever experienced as an age group swimmer – starting in early April rather than late May. When I see the kinds of times Olympic athletes are posting, it’s absolutely incredible. It’s fun to read off one of their times for my 10 year old and watch her face turn to absolute shock as she registers just how fast swimmers can be.

I know there are a lot of discouraged swimmers, parents, and coaches out there feeling the same way I do – disappointed that we are all going to get a late start (if ever) to this long course season. It may be a wash. It may be something you will have to allow your swimmers time to grieve about. Grief sounds like a serious word, but when we talk about the scale of loss these kids are feeling, I think it’s appropriate.

While we are all of out the water – remind your swimmers (and yourself) of just that: we are ALL out together. Whether the pools open back up as early as May or as late as August, swimmers will all be on a level playing field. Just because your swimmer is out of the water doesn’t mean they can’t set goals, just help them shift those goals to look more long term. Where do they want to be a year from now? Encourage your swimmer to engage with their coach during this downtime to work on dryland strength and mental mindset – things like race visualization and positive self talk. If you’re a Masters Swimmer like me, take this opportunity to learn new ways of exercise and craft a plan to ease back in the water when the time comes.

Remember during this time above all to be flexible. Plans can always be adjusted – and swimmers are great when it comes to “adapt and overcome”. Here’s to a new swim season – whatever and whenever it may be.

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