High School Swimming: The Best Way to Determine the Champs

In high school swimming, there are 2 different qualifying procedures that are used by different state associations. Some use the tried-and-true swimming method of qualifying times, which varies between just a straight qualifying system and an automatic/provisional system like the NCAA uses, and some use an advancement based on rankings. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, but I think that for high school swimming, the latter method is the way to go.

In high school sports, I think that every advantage should be given to the competitors: not just the participants, the competitors. The competitor is the one who runs out on the field, takes the court, jumps in the pool, etc. and will beat the person next to him or her. If the person next to him swims the 50 free in 24.14, the competitor will swim a 24.08. If the person next to him goes a 23.18, he’ll go a 23. 12. The placing system benefits those kids.

There are certain variations to how these systems are implemented, but I’ll describe how it works here in Texas. First, there is a District meet. Each team can enter 4 individuals and 1 relay into each event. Top 8 go to district finals. Top 6 advance to one of 8 regional meets, with 4 districts to a region. At the regional meet, 8 swimmers final again. In the finals, the Region Champion automatically qualifies for state, and then the next best 8 times from any region (with a limit on the number of qualifiers per region) go to state. At state, there’s prelims, top 8 go to championship final, next 8 go to consolation final. Basically, all states that use the placing procedure have some variation of this method.

The biggest advantage, to me, is that all of the swimmers have to qualify for state at the same time. Under a time-standards method, some states require swimmers to get the qualifying time at a regional/sectional meet, whereas in other states the swimmers can qualify whenever they want. Under either system, swimmers who know for a fact that they can make the qualifying times don’t have to compete at their district or sectional meet. By compete, I don’t mean that they don’t have to swim, rather they don’t have to worry about putting their all into the race, getting themselves psyched up, etc. They don’t have to taper. They don’t have to get in the pool, and know that it comes down to them and the 2 or 3 people next to them, and see who wants it more. After all, these are not swimming exhibitions, they’re athletic competitions.

Furthermore, it guarantees spots to kids out in the middle of nowhere who might not have the same training opportunities as those in the big cities. In Houston, there’s a pool on every street corner. In the oil fields of West Texas, they might be lucky if there’s a town with a competition pool within 20 miles. In Dallas, the swimmers can afford the latest high-tech suit, but in the rural communities of NE Texas, those suits represent a months worth of groceries. But those kids still line up next to other swimmers in their area, and beat the guy next to them. And that’s what high school athletics are all about-beating the guy next to you.

Of course, the argument can be made for the time standards system, that it makes sure that the best swimmers are the ones go to state. Often times in Texas, swimmers from tough regions get frustrated that their times are faster than kids who go to state via winning a weak region. But those swimmers had their opportunity to get in the pool and beat the swimmer next to them, just like everyone else.

I think the time standards system is great for USA-Swimming, and NCAA Swimming, where there is more choice about where you swim. It would be tough to keep a logical regional system at those levels, because swimmers would simply choose teams from weaker regions to give themselves a better shot at making it.

In almost every high school sport, you’ve gotta beat the team you’re playing on the field. In football, there are tough districts and not so tough districts, just as there is in swimming. In Katy ISD, a district in the suburbs of Houston, there were 2 teams that went to the State finals. In other districts, they might not have a single team get past the second round of the playoffs. But the third team in Katy didn’t get an automatic pass, because they played in a tough district. There’s no rushing yards, or points allowed on defense standard that automatically advances a team to the state level. obviously, the situation isn’t exactly the same, but swimming  should be no different.

So what do you guys think? Do you like the time standards system or the placing system at the High School Level? And what is used in your state?

Salinas High School State Champions 2009 Girls

Salinas High School State Champions 2009 Girls

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12 years ago

In Alaska we only allowed twelve to qualify back in the day. They might do 16 now… the 5 region winners were automatically in, and then the next 7 fastest times from the regional meets were invited. You had to swim it at regions to qualify, and if you were disqualified there, you lost your chance to swim at state. they did it this way because travel was so expensive. Now that I am in Missouri, I definietly prefer the straight up Q time method. I also love that Missouri is not divided into classes.
Twice this year I have used the conference meet the weekend before state to help me choose which events would be best at state… Read more »

12 years ago

In Ohio, we have don’t do time standards at all. First we have sectionals, and the top 32 times among all the sectionals in that particular district make it to districts. Then, each district has between 1 and 4 ‘automatic’ spots based on how many schools are in that district. Then, of everyone who didn’t qualify automatically, the next 11 best times of the state make states. It usually works out that the top 24 times from districts make states, but every once in awhile there will be a slower automatic qualifier who beats out someone with a faster time who didn’t get an automatic spot in their own district.

12 years ago

In Indiana we have a sectional meet. Each team can enter 3 per individual event and one per relay. Prelims are on Thursday and it is pyramid seeded so there are fast people in each heat. The top 12 advance to Saturday’s finals. 7-12 are in the consolation heat. Top 6 are in the final heat and you advance to state by winning the final heat or by getting the state cut. So it is a mix of time standards and placing system. So at state you have people who won their sectional but are not even close to the state cut. Also if the sectional winners+people making the cut doesn’t equal 32 people they will call back the next… Read more »

Reply to  Jordan
12 years ago

Thanks for the reply Jordan. That really does become the best of both worlds, because the kids from the fast sections aren’t punished by being from the fast sections, but the kids from the slow sections aren’t prevented from getting their moment in the sun.

Interesting that Indiana uses only a 2-tiered system. Would you prefer it was a tri-level, like we have in Texas (district, region, state), or do you like it sectionals-state?

Reply to  editor
12 years ago

I really like the two tiered system because sectionals and state are back to back weeks and you really get to carry that energy of sectionals right into state. Possibly with a three tiered system the fire dies by the time you get to state? Either way I think it would be interesting to try a three tier out!

Reply to  Jordan
12 years ago

It’s definitely a different strategy and dynamic when it’s only 2 levels. Down here, there’s as many as 4 weeks between districts and state. This mean’s coaches have to be very careful about how they work swimmers’ tapers- You basically taper them just enough to advance to the next level, without real regard for setting records, winning events, or team scores at the meet.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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