Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
As I enjoyed the beauty of Castaic Lake while watching Open Water Nationals, I reflected on the differences between open water and pool meets. I saw many familiar faces—swimmers, parents, and coaches. The swimmers were dressed as usual with caps, goggles and fast suits, but the atmosphere was decidedly different than at a pool. Don’t get me wrong, both pool and open water meets are wonderful experiences for our kids, but they do have their differences.
Here are five observations about open water meets:
At an open water meet, you’ll only watch your swimmer race one event in a day. The good news is it’s a long one. You’ll get to watch for an hour or two, depending on the length of the race. You won’t be asked to lap count, time or stay for relays, either.
There’s no need for parents to worry about times. Times won’t get your swimmer to the next level. With currents, winds, weather and water temperatures coming into play, you’re not going to hear a lot of “What’s your swimmer’s time?” It’s about racing, not the times. Instead, you’ll ask, “Where did my swimmer place?”
You can’t watch your swimmer’s entire race.
At a pool, you can watch your swimmer dive, swim, turn, swim, etc. until the touch—all without moving. At an open water race, you’ll see your swimmer make their way to the water, swim to the line-up, and start. By this time, binoculars are needed to see which tiny cap in the distance is your child. As they’re swimming, you can hike to a good vantage point and when they’re closer to shore, make out which swimmer is yours by their cap and stroke, until they swim away again.
More time to talk.
In my experience, when the swimmers are out of sight of coaches and parents, it’s more relaxed. The coaches don’t seem to mind talking for a few minutes, you’ll see other parents you know and nobody is racing off to watch their child. When the swimmers get closer to the shore people stop talking and make their way to the edge of the lake to cheer and wave on their swimmers.
A national level pool meet can have a lot of swimmers—more than a thousand. At an open water meet, there can be less than 100 swimmers, even fewer than 50 per event. This creates a close-knit community feeling. Plus, you have a lakeside park to stretch out in. It’s a friendly, open atmosphere without being packed in around a pool deck. There’s plenty of parking spaces to choose from, too.
What differences do you see between open water and pool meets?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.