The Time Has Come For The US To Join The Rest Of The World And Race Meters

by SwimSwam 143

March 02nd, 2020 Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Steve Crocker, a swim coach and engineer who designs aquatics facilities for Water Technology, Inc., and Danylo Proskura, the associate head coach at the Golden West Swim Club in California.

There are two different seasons and two different types of pools used for the sport of swimming. Long course pools are 50 meters in length and short course pools are half as long — either 25 meters or in some cases, 25 yards. The US is the only place in the world that trains and competes in 25-yard distances and we do this for all high school and college swimming championships.

The US is unique in that we have large high school and college swimming organizations hosting championships in every state and every college division each year. We also have USA Swimming with hundreds of USA Swimming clubs around the county. In most of the world, there is only club swimming which is probably a major factor to explain the success of American swimmers on the international stage.

The Olympic Swimming Competition is held in a long course pool. Surprisingly, many people who watch the Olympics are unaware that the pool they race in is over twice as long as their local 25-yard pool. Generally, the world swims a long course season from about January through August and a short course season from about September through December. FINA hosts world championships in both short course and long course seasons.

In the US, the short season is dominated by training and competitions in 25-yard courses. A 25-yard course is about 10% shorter than a 25-meter course which is barely noticeable. Times are roughly 10% faster in yards. In 25-yard meets there is the 500 free — not the 400 and the 1,650 — not 1500.

College Swimming consists primarily of NCAA, NAIA, and Junior College institutions — over 900 schools have swimming teams and championships in 25-yard courses. American college swimming is the international arena for athletes all over the world to train and compete during the college year. They have access to great facilities and are coached by many of the world’s top coaches. Many can use swimming to get a free or low-cost education.

The NCAA Division 1 swimming championships is considered to be one of the fastest international swimming meets in the world. It’s the culmination of a 7-month season and is made more intense by the team aspect. Interestingly, the rest of the world barely notices as the times (in yards) are completely foreign to the rest of the world.

It can be argued that such emphasis on 25-yard swimming does and injustice to college swimmers — American and international. One issue is that training and racing have been conducted over distances that are 10% short. Because pool floor markings, backstroke flags locations, etc. are unique in 25-yard pools, athletes spend time developing technique to those specific requirements which have to be unlearned during their long course seasons. International athletes are significantly penalized by the completion of a 7-month season without times which could be used to qualify for their national teams/international competitions.

A true “Olympic Pool” has dimensions of 50-meters x 25- meters. Interesting among 50-meter college facilities in the US is that the vast majority are only 25 yards wide (allowing 25-yard training and/or competition in either direction). These pools are less desirable than Olympic pools for hosting international events.

Competing frequently in the correct course is what is most important. In 1992, the author set a world record in the short course 50-meter freestyle with 100% of the training sessions being conducted in a 25-yard pool. Racing meters is more worthy of getting a proper experience for events like 200 and 400 stroke and IM, and 1500. But training meters is crucial in getting proper skills. There is an argument about how to train 200 LCM Free in yards, whether you should train 200 SCY or 500 SCY. But none of that is close in racing strategy and/or times.

There are record books and so much history based upon 25-yard swimming “you can’t just throw that away”. Yes, you can — we do it frequently in the sport of swimming when we make rule changes or allow new technology such as wedge blocks, bodysuits, etc. While you can’t convert records from 25 yards to 25-meters, converting an individual’s times from 25-yard to 25-meter is simple and accurate.

I argue that the advantages of switching short course swimming in the US to 25-meters far exceed the reasons for sticking with the status quo. In the NCAA Division 1 meets in 2019 there would have likely been 5 or 6 world records set. Instead, there were zero. At the end of 2019, the International Swimming League brought in a SCM Championship to the US. That made it possible for American athletes to set the world record and national records as well. Unlike the NCAA track and field championship, the world pays no attention to NCAA swimming. American and international athletes deserve to finish their college seasons with times that really count. Times that can qualify them for national teams, Olympic Trials, etc. Standardization of rules just makes sense. Why should swimmers practice different turns, etc. because the pool markings are odd for their championship meet. Why swim 10% shorter distances? Does this seem like a smart thing to do if you want to be successful against the world’s best?

It’s going to be an uphill battle to convince the governing bodies that it’s time to make a change.

Collegiate track and field used to compete in yards and have successfully transitioned to meters. We can too. If not now, then when?

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Ok! But who pays for the new pools? I’d rather college swimming survive.


Pools don’t last forever and will require replacement. Populations, even in countries with low growth like the US, don’t stay static and require new infrastructure.

Training is adaptive and lots of programs train in a course different than the one they race. Not ideally of course but it’s not a hardship.

So who will pay to build pools needed for racing now? Well they’re already built. As far as college swimming goes it simply requires ante-think on what it means to host an event.

A small price to pay to join the rest of the world and drop a pointless course of little to no consequence.


-a small price to pay? Hardoooooo

you’re talking about tens of millions of dollars in facility renovations or tens of thousands in transportation + rental fees to LCM facilities (add on the loss of revenue from hosting events) in a sport that doesn’t necessarily generate a lot (or in some cases any positive) cash flow Y2Y.

Get real bub


I don’t know who pays but I have a hunch who will GET paid.

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Steve Crocker, a swim coach and engineer who designs aquatics facilities for Water Technology, Inc….


ding ding ding!




I was thinking if Steve Crocker was so passionate about this, he’d be willing to do it for free for everyone


It’s the dreaded “pool industrial complex”.


The same people pay for new pools whether they’re yards or meters. College swimming can absolutely thrive in a SCM format. It can become internationally relevant, like track and field, if we ween ourselves from our navel-gazing tendencies. Where is the outcry over leaving behind 6 lane, 3 foot deep pools? Not that long ago, they were the college standard.

We need to wake up to the fact that yards is only a niche, a weird but familiar and completely outdated format. Eventually, it will be widely understood as a toy version of the sport and we will wonder why we held onto it for so long.

Retired Swim Dad

Who is going to pay to lengthen every pool in the USA to 25m? It’s great to suggest something that will never ever happen. Very pragmatic. While we’re at it, why don’t we change every mile marker to km, every scale to kg, every container to liters etc etc I’m sure none of that will cost much money.

Bo Swims

Most 50m pools either have bulkheads or can be adapted with one.



Brad Flood

I would guess the ratio of long course pools to short course yard pools in the US is about 1:500, at best (not just talking of the college level, which is likey 1:250), so a “simple solution” becomes not so simple when you look at the numbers.

Working Swim Mom

How many D1/2/3 programs have 50m pools? Not that many, actually. For high school, virtually none unless it’s a community pool. School districts don’t usually have the money to spend on that size facility.


championship meets are usually held in pools with bulkheads. You could have qualifying times in meters and yards, and then hold championship meets in meters. Over time, new pools with 25 m compliance will be built and then this won’t be an issue.


You don’t need to lengthen every pool to 25 meters, that’s silly. You can train in a yards pool and swim in a meters pool. Many swimmers do that right now. It’s not a big deal.


Except the whole point of the article is somehow that you need to train and compete in meters. They argue that a disservice is being done by training in a 10% shorter pool. Maybe that makes our turns better, though, or underwaters. This would not seem to be a problem.

D2 American

Wrong I trained in a 25m pool and swam yards in college for a d2 school. It was terrible and ineffective if your gonna race fast SCM u need to train SCM


I started swimming in a summer league when I was 7 years old. I practiced in a 25 meter pool but swam in meets in yards, meters, salt water and fresh water pools. It was fine with me and my fellow little swimmers. We just swam to the other end as fast as we could and swam back. No adjustment was necessary and it made no difference to us. If a seven year old can adjust, how the heck would a college swimmer have a problem with a pool that is 7 feet shorter or longer? It’s not difficult at all…..


We can gradually phase them out when they need to be rebuilt. You can train effectively in 25 yard pools for 50 meter long course meets. Summer season for USA Swimming is already 50 meters. It would be easy to start at the college level then down into high schools


The US was well on it’s way to changing to the metric system in the late 70’s until Reagan put the kibosh on it. Imagine the money ultimately saved if the US went through with it.

Mike Z

well painting new metric lines on a track is cheaper than building a new dedicated 25m by 50m pool