A Swim Coach’s Review of “Pretty Little Liars”

by SwimSwam Contributors 19

September 10th, 2020 Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy: Tyler Montgomery

See Tyler’s other breakdowns:

Pretty Little Liars is a television series about mystery, friendship, and inappropriate relationships between adults and minors. The show follows a group of teenage girls who live in Rosewood, PA, better known as “The Make Out Capital of the World”. The girls attend Rosewood High School, where skipping school to tamper with evidence in a federal investigation is considered an excused absence. Fortunately for swimming fans one of the main characters, Emily Fields, is a swimmer and we get to follow her career through all seven seasons of the series.

The Rosewood High School Sharks are a unique team. They are only able to practice and compete when there is empowering rock music playing in the background. The Sharks are also the only team in America that wears polyester swim caps. And perhaps the most interesting fact about the Sharks is that they only compete in the 200 freestyle relay. Every single discussion anyone associated with the Rosewood High School swim team has in seven seasons of Pretty Little Liars is about who is going to anchor the 200 freestyle relay. Friendships are ended, scholarships are offered, and crimes are committed as a direct result of who anchors the 200 freestyle relay for Rosewood High.

In the show’s first season the Sharks head coach, Coach Fulton, is trying to determine who will serve as the next team captain and has narrowed the field down to two horrible finalists. Emily is the favorite to earn this distinction, but exhibits some very questionable habits at swim meets. At the first meet of the season Emily is anchoring the all-important 200 freestyle relay. When the third swimmer is just 25 yards away Emily still has her headphones and parka on and doesn’t bother to step onto the blocks and put her goggles on until the third swimmer is about 5 yards away. And when she is finally prepared to hit the water Emily doesn’t know how to perform a relay start, which is fairly important considering the Sharks only compete in 200 freestyle relays.

The other awful choice for team captain is Paige McCullers. When Paige learns that Emily will serve as the anchor on the 200 free relay at their first meet she does what any of us would do and attempts to drown Emily. Paige then ends up unable to participate at the meet after injuring her hand. Rather than come and support the team anyways, she strolls in halfway through the meet and sits with spectators. And despite being unable to compete with her team during the meet, Paige is able to hop in and “swim for fun” with Emily after the meet since for some reason Emily has not filed a restraining order against her yet. The utter lack of leadership on the team is apparently too much for Coach Fulton, and the Sharks have a new coach in season two of Pretty Little Liars.

There is not much swimming-related content in season three, except for a brief cameo from Missy Franklin. Emily references that she and Missy talked about the crossover turn in their short time together at the local coffee shop, but since Emily only swims in the 200 freestyle relay that was a complete waste of a conversation. So Franklin’s appearance adds absolutely nothing to the storyline, couldn’t she have at least gotten murdered or made out with someone’s boyfriend?

In season four Emily’s swimming career is in jeopardy after a shoulder injury. Unable to obtain a scholarship her first year out of high school, Emily meets with renowned swim coach Dominic Costello to see if he can help get her career back on track. We know that Costello is an expert in the field of swimming because he invents new swimming terms such as “flip toe” and while watching a video of Emily competing gives her solid advice, such as “you’re pulling too much water”. This advice may seem counterintuitive at first, but Costello is on to something here. Think about it. If Emily could have figured out how to swim just as fast pulling less water, or better yet, not pulling any water at all, it wouldn’t matter that she has a torn rotator cuff. She’d already be at the D1 school of her choice instead sitting in Coach Dominic’s office talking about flip toes. What the coach is trying to say is that it’s all about your kick. Point your toes, kids. If you ask me, Dominic “Flip Toe” Costello belongs in the pantheon of legendary swim coaches with the likes of Bob Bowman and David Marsh. Is it too late to add him to the coaching staff for Tokyo?  And speaking of Tokyo, hats off to Rosewood High School for providing Emily with meet footage that includes multiple underwater camera angles and rivals the Olympic coverage on NBC.

In the final season of the series Emily is all grown up and applies for the head swim coach position at Rosewood High. This once again pits Emily against her former teammate, Paige, who is also interviewing for the role.  Rosewood High decides to pass on giving the job to Paige, a Stanford graduate and near Olympic qualifier, and instead hires Emily, a college dropout who was once arrested during the swim season and overdosed on painkillers at a meet. Sometimes you just have to throw the resumes out and go with your gut.

Once Emily is officially named the head coach at Rosewood High she begins wearing a stopwatch and whistle everywhere she goes. I can vouch for the accuracy of this habit because as a swim coach I too wear my stopwatch and whistle for every occasion: first dates, Bar Mitzvahs, looting a Best Buy, etc.

I am very jealous of the arrangement Emily has with Rosewood High. Somehow being the Sharks head swim coach is a full-time job and Emily has no other duties at the school. I, on the other hand, receive an insulting sum of money for the amount of time I spend coaching in addition to having a full-time job and other commitments. I then take my already insulting stipend and split it 50/50 with my assistant coach (shout out to Coach Bailey, Represent The 5-3). Then halfway through the year I get tired of arguing with the school’s bookkeeper and start buying things for the team myself, so by the end of the season I’m in the red. Coach Fields is making a nice living just deciding who is going to anchor the 200 free relay, meanwhile I’ve had to find a third job to make up for the money I’m losing at my second job. I will admit though, if Emily has figured out how to use Meet Manager she deserves nothing less than a six-figure salary with full benefits just for that.

On a non-swimming note, my mom has always said she can’t get into Star Wars because there are no bathrooms in the movies. She’s on board with light speed space travel and Jedi mind tricks; she just can’t get past the fact that we don’t know where Han Solo pees. I believe this kind of thinking runs in my family because I have a similar problem with Pretty Little Liars and it’s that no one in Rosewood has a dog. I will accept that these teenage girls were able to survive their all-knowing stalker’s daily murder attempts and outsmart law-enforcement for several years, but I have a hard time believing that of the 60 million dog owners in the United States not one lives in Rosewood.

The next time you have 120 hours to kill and $200 to waste on Amazon Prime, check out Pretty Little Liars. Like me, you’ll come for the swimming storyline, but stay for the riveting high school drama. I’m a fan of 200 freestyle relays, but I’m a bigger fan of scathing one-liners. While watching this series I lost count of the number of times I stood up from my couch and shouted “Oh!” after a sick burn from one of the Liars. My neighbors are concerned about me, but if shouting at my television enthralled by a teen drama is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.


Tyler Montgomery had a four-year swimming career, all with the Water Warriors of Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro, TN. He didn’t think about swimming for the next ten years until he was asked to coach the Rockvale Middle School swim team in Rockvale, TN, which he has coached since 2017. He was also named the first-ever swim coach at Rockvale High School, which opened in the fall of 2019. Being a middle and high school swim coach is not nearly as lucrative as it sounds, so Tyler also works in the publishing industry and has a degree in Electronic Media Management from Middle Tennessee State University.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 days ago

Way to give the people what they want. Well done.

8 days ago

i’ve been waiting for this roast for 10 years

Jason Zajonc
Reply to  phoenician
4 days ago

Love it…simply love it. How many times do we all watch swimming and say WTF were they thinking? Hey at least they got the relay in the production…very funny article

8 days ago

These articles are my favorite swimswam feature.