Relays… we all love them. They’re often the highlight of the meet. Your child races their heart out for their team-mates while the crowd goes wild. It’s not surprising that everyone wants to be selected. However, especially in large teams this is not always possible. It can help to understand a few key points before you find that coach to give them a piece of your mind…
1. Firstly all relays require a multiple of 4 swimmers. Therefore if you have 6 swimmers in your club of a particular age and gender, two will miss out.
2. Most good coaches select teams based on times. Remember that if the meet is short course they will consider the top 4 short course times, if it is long course they will consider the top 4 long course times. Your child may have different personal bests in each course format and this may affect selections.
3. The generally accepted format for selecting a Freestyle team is that the fastest swimmer will anchor the team and go last, the 2nd fastest with start the race and the remaining swimmers will fill 2nd and 3rd spots.
4. In larger Championship style meets coaches are not usually required to declare their relays until the beginning of the session and can name alternates. In fact they may be able to swim a different combination of swimmers in the pre-lims than they ultimately field in the finals. This is very common in Olympic relays. In this scenario it is important to understand that the coach(es) may change selections right up until the team is declared to officials, based on form at the meet. If your child goes into the meet ranked 2nd fastest in the 100m Freestyle for your club and is pencilled in to contest the 4 x 100m Freestyle relay… but after the prelims of his/her individual 100m event they are the 5th or 6th ranked swimmer from your club, it could be that the coach will choose one of the others to contest the final of the relay. This is a tough pill to swallow but usually only happens at Open level and not commonly at age group meets.
5. At most meets only the A team will score and often the B, C, D, etc… teams will not be eligible for medals, ribbons or points. So why participate? Relays are fun, first and foremost and also it is great practice for the day your child IS selected for the A team.
6. Medley relays… yes let’s open that can of worms… these multi-stroke relays often throw up surprising combinations. Your child may enjoy and be your club’s fastest at Breaststroker for example, however this may not be the best option for the team. It may be that for the group of swimmers available, it is better for your child to swim a different stroke as the combination of times is faster. This can be tough to get your head around. Keep in mind in very young age group team the coach may also have to consider if everyone in the team can swim each stroke legally to ensure the team is not disqualified. Try to take a TEAM approach to relay selections.
7. What about split times? Often due to the exciting team nature of relays, athletes swim “out of their skin” and post super fast splits. Can you use these as new personal bests or records? Yes and no. The first swimmer may use his/her split time as he/she had an official start, the remaining three swimmers cannot as theirs was a “flying start”. Occasionally a coach might choose to place a swimmer vying for qualification or a National cut in position 1 in a relay in order to give them an extra shot at qualification. This does contradict some of the points above but hopefully he/she talks it through with the team and they support the athlete in question.
8. Another important consideration which can complicate a coaches selections is that of workload and the meet running order. It could be that an athlete has an enormous workload at a meet or a particularly hectic session of events. In this case the coach and athlete may make a judgement call that he/she is not suited for relay selection on that occasion. This is a positive for the next swimmer in line but can create tension with other team members. The coach will be carefully weighing the needs and well being of the individual with the needs of the team.
9. Often relays are double points. This in itself can create a dilemma and relays can win meets! It might be that if events are restricted your child may have more relay events than individual ones. Both are of value.
As you can see relay selections are not a perfect science. A good coach will use the data at hand but also take into consideration the special circumstances of the meet rules and regulations, the athletes he/she has available, each swimmers form at the event in question and their health and well-being.