You’re Never So Good That You Can’t Help with the Lane Ropes

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

You can tell a lot about swimmers by watching the last ten minutes of practice.

You’ve got the athletes who sneak out a few minutes early, clipping part of the warm-down on account that they really have to go (“My mom is waiting!”).

There are the swimmers who take the last gasps of the workout to work through a specific part of their technique they are struggling with.

And you have the swimmer who is asking coach what they could have done better so that they can be more successful at the next swim practice.

Lastly, and there are almost always swimmers like this—you have the athletes who bolt for the hot tub or locker room as fast as they can (where was that effort during practice?) so they don’t have to help take down the flags, roll up the lane ropes, or put away the yard sale of kick-boards, pull buoys and assorted gear scattered across the pool deck.

I get it: taking down the equipment after a brutal workout is no one’s idea of a good time.

You’ve got homework, you’ve got to check your phone, and so on and so forth.

But the reality of le situation is this…

You’re never so good that you can’t help with the lane ropes.

In fact, it is to your benefit that you swallow your sense of entitlement and pride and take the lead in doing the little things that some swimmers will deem below them once they get to a certain level.

Here’s a case of how one of the best teams on earth embrace this particular philosophy of never being above doing the dirty work.

Putting Away the Lane Ropes: A Lesson in Humility

New Zealand’s national rugby team, better known as the All Blacks, are one of the most dominant sport teams on the planet.

Since 2003, when world rugby rankings were introduced, the All Blacks have been ranked number one longer than everyone else combined. They have a winning percentage of nearly 80% in test match rugby, and have been named World Rugby Team of the Year ten times since the award came into being just over fifteen years ago.

They also perform a Maori challenge or haka prior to each match that is moderately to severely terrifying:

They are, for lack of a better word, awesome.

With the consistent greatness this program has thrown down year after year you would think that little things, like cleaning up the locker room after a game, would be better left to someone else to deal with.

But this isn’t the case.

In fact, cleaning the locker room, or “sweeping the sheds”, is one of the hallmarks of the team.

After each match, win or loss, a couple of the players will grab brooms and sweep away the dirt, the grass, and the bloodied bandages from the floor. These big, hulking superstars will hunch over and summarily sweep away the garbage and mud.

“It’s not expecting somebody else to do your job for you,” said retired All Black Andrew Mehrtens in the book Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life (Amazon). During Mehrtens’ career, he scored enough points to put him second all-time among All Blacks. “It teaches you not to expect things to be handed to you.”

This kind of humility is a bit of rare commodity these days. There’s a misconception that once we become decent, good, or great that cleaning up after ourselves has somehow become below us.

But there is great value in humility, and the All Blacks view it as essential to their success.

Being humble doesn’t make them weak or “less than”—the opposite, actually: it allows them to connect to true character and leadership and gives them a much better chance at being successful both individually and as a team.

Protect the Team

One of my favorite sayings is by NFL coach Pete Carroll, who during his time as head coach of the USC Trojans (winning three national championships along the way), instructed all his players and coaches to his three part philosophy.

The first part was simply: Protect the team.

This line says so much when you embrace it, from not complaining, to showing up on time, to sorting out your bad body language, to yes, helping with the equipment.

When you help put in the backstroke flags and pull out the lane ropes you are saying that you protect the team.

After all, you don’t pass the responsibility onto others.

You don’t expect others to do the details for you.

You are looking after yourself and the team.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

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3 years ago

I know one swimmer who NEVER helped with the lane lines: the coach’s son. …It’s always top down.

Coach John
Reply to  F8BH
3 years ago

sounds like an isolated problem…. not a “it’s always top-down” situation

Reply to  Coach John
3 years ago

I disagree. The coach sets the tone. My son was on a team last year in Orange County, CA (the center of entitlement) and they have a “superstar” girl swimmer. Her coach carries her equipment bags for her daily, gives her her own lane and workouts, and gives her an her buddies a pass from taking out the lane lines. Coddled the swimmer so much that she blew up under pressure. Needless to say, her teammates weren’t thrilled to see the favoritism and the team has since blown up. If the coach had treated everyone equally, all parties would have been better off.

Coach John
Reply to  G1S1
3 years ago

I don’t think that is a systemic issue, that sounds like “one bad egg”

Pabalo Ricarditi
Reply to  Coach John
3 years ago

Attitude Reflects Leadership, SIR.

Reply to  F8BH
2 years ago

I was on a team where I literally did the lane lines by myself because all of the coach’s pets did nothing and then the coach left and they got a taste of reality

Reply to  F8BH
1 year ago

As a coaches son who always helped with lane lines, I can say it looks bad on the coach if their children don’t do their fair share or more of the work.

3 years ago

I once got in trouble with my boss because I made a swimmer help take out the lane ropes and her parents complained about it.

Reply to  completelyconquered
3 years ago

Helping clean up after practice isn’t fun, but it is important to help others. At one job I had I was the ex oficio at the meeting. It wasn’t “my meeting” but I was there to represent the staff and take care of locking up. The others at the meeting almost always stayed and help me clean up and lock up. Current job, I am ex offico at meetings. The committee members throw their agenda on the table, leave half drank cans of soft drinks or coffee cups and other things behind as they rush out the door leaving me to clean up after them. Boy I miss the old group. Staying to help clean up after practice says loads… Read more »

Reply to  SwimMom
3 years ago

Who says it’s cant be fun?

We used to (back in the 90’s) try to finish singing November rain by GNR before getting the 5 ropes out of pool as a kid.

When we wanted to be a little crazy we’d sing basketcase by green day!

tea rex
Reply to  John
3 years ago

Give one end of each lane line to a kid, and have them race it across the pool.

3 years ago

Same goes for doing the dishes at home.

3 years ago

Although I am a big fan of Olivier Poirier-Leroy, I think this article can be easily misinterpreted by coaches who struggle with instilling a genuine sense of “team” in their athletes. They will incorrectly assume that having their athletes clean up garbage, collect the leaves at the bottom of the outside pool, and cover the outside pool in their wet bathing suits in 43 F after a 2-hour practice in the 82 F outside pool as team building activities.
When a coach leads by example, prioritizes respect, and can cultivate a genuine sense of “team” in their athletes, that is an unstoppable team that will happily scrub the pool deck with a toothbrush!

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Teamwork
3 years ago


3 years ago

Talk about tarping next

3 years ago

Can anyone guess who is represented in the Picture swimming backstroke ? ?

3 years ago


3 years ago

Can we stop calling them lane ropes?

Reply to  Swammerererer
3 years ago

You mean stop calling them what they are? That would be a weird thing to do.

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I have not heard the term lane rope in ages. I do remember swimming with lane ropes but that was decades ago. Today they tend to be a series of plastic buoys stung on steel wires designed to entrap the fingers of unwary swimmers. If they reduce turbulence that is an added benefit.

Reply to  TAK
1 year ago

I guess all the literal-minded swimmers these days don’t use the term “starting block.” It’s clearly not a solid rectangular prism, so they must call it a “starting platform.” Same with the “backstroke flags,” since those clearly should be called “backstroke pennants,” since that is literally the shape of those. When they look up at the finish to see their times, these swimmers are clearly looking at the “results display,” because these aren’t “scoreboards” made out of plywood. Coaches and timers use timing devices that are obviously “START and stop watches,” since you can’t stop a watch that hasn’t been started. Does anyone still call those kick-isolation aids “kick boards?”

I’m sorry for the snark. I had a pretty… Read more »

tea rex
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

You mean y’all don’t pull on “lane lines” in backstroke sets? You pull on “lane ropes?”

Sounds weird to me.

running start to touch backstroke flags
Reply to  Swammerererer
3 years ago

They’re lane “ropes” where swimmers don;t make Olympic teams

Swammer from Wakanda
Reply to  Swammerererer
3 years ago

If we were being super accurate they’d be called lane wires.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Swammerererer
3 years ago

I prefer to call them “assistive devices,” especially after the fly leg of an IM set.

Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago


Reply to  Swammerererer
3 years ago

Pretty sure other countries call them what they are, which is ropes in a lane. They also call the line at the bottom of each lane the “lane line” since it’s… you know, a line in a lane. When I say other countries I mean the Australian commentators from London 2012.

Reply to  Person
3 years ago

I believe the “lane rope” is actually to be referred to as “LANE LINE”, and the line at the bottom of the pool is referred to as either “The T” or “the black line” (or whatever color it is). Or you can just call it the “left-side” or “right-side” of the pool. These are the official wordings

Reply to  Swimer
2 years ago

I kind of interchange mine. I will call them either. Usually when talking to my coaches it’s lane lines when it’s to my teammates or swimmers it’s lane ropes. I do t know why just kinda happens

3 years ago

In middl3 and high school at our facility, only lifeguards that worked there were allowed to put away the lane lines. So the members of the team who were lifeguards there would help the on duty lifeguard put away the lane lines. For everything else, we were on assigned roation, so four people would stay to clean up and then the next practice four other people stayed. The team captains always stayed late to help/oversee. If you missed your day, then you would have to swim an extra 500 at the next practice. In college club, it was a free for all. I normally stsyed, but most didn’t.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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