Outside the Box: Big Meet Points Challenge


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

A few days ago I received an email from Steve Keller, co-head coach at Ozaukee Aquatics. He described a championship meet “points challenge” he helped create that allows his swim team to monitor and acknowledge stellar performances at big meets.

The point challenge recognizes swimmers who drop, say, 20 seconds in the mile but don’t end up taking first place. A swimmer gets one point for every second dropped. So while it may favor distance events, Steve does point out that a second dropped in the 50 free would lead to a huge jump in placement, so it sort of evens out. (He also notes that teams are free to devise and edit this system however they see fit. Again, this is just for fun.) Swimmers get points for time drops, finals qualifications, improvements in place, or heat winners. Before the meet begins, Steve sets an overall point goal for his team. If the team reaches that point goal, they get post-meet frozen yogurt.

Sounds like fun.

Below is what Steve sent to me, his motivations for creating this point system championship meet game, and some of the reasons he did so. Of course, please know that this point system is merely an outline, and if you want to use something similar to this, feel free to devise your own rules. And I’d love to hear from other teams out there who have their own system in place to recognize swimmers who drop tons of time at big meets but don’t break meet records or take first place. You can reach me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.  

And now here’s the Big Meet Point Challenge. Enjoy!

I've been to a few big meets, both as a coach and a swimmer. I've been a part of large teams at those events, asOzaukee swim team (medium) well as gone solo. The struggle I found is this: with the exception of a few teams that can compete for a team championship, the "team" atmosphere gets lost at most National level meets.

A few years back, I sat with my kids at a Junior National Championship in Irvine and developed a sort of “Challenge.” We knew at that time we wouldn't be competing for a team award, so we decided to make our own. It is basically a point system. It can be adapted in any way, this way works for us, although we keep changing things due to different scenarios that come up.

We use the point system to declare the swim of the meet and swimmer of the meet, as well as a team award for achieving our goal.

Here it is.

Time drops
You get points for the amount of time that is improved, we also include the tenths and hundredths. In the case of finals swims, we count the fastest time swam. They get credit for one swim only, their fastest one. Relay lead off splits, and time trials also count. We never subtract points for adding time.

So, swimmers get a point for every second dropped. It does tend to favor the milers, but, for instance, 1.5 seconds dropped in a 50 will lead to a greater increase in place than a 20 second drop in the mile. In 10 meets that we've used this point system, a miler has only won it once. If the team feels that there was some inequity, I guess we would sit down and work out a solution.

Heat Winners
1 pt - Any time you can get our team announced over the speakers is a plus in our books, so winning a heat at an announced meet does that.

A, B, C, or D Final
This usually starts with 3 to 4 points, depending on the number of final heats and works backwards to 1 point.

Improvement in place
Regardless of time, anytime you can improve your place at a National meet is great. This is where a calculator comes in handy.
Improvement of 1-25% - 1 pt
Improvement of 26-50% - 2 pts
Improvement of 51-75% - 3 pts
Improvement of 76-100% - 4pts

Example, if you were seeded 100th in an event and your final place was 75th-99th, you would get 1 pt. If you placed 28th, then you would receive 3 pts. In the case that a swimmer makes finals, we use their final place. Time trials don't count for these points. We also don't subtract points for moving backwards in place.

Individual swims - pts go directly to the athlete and team total.
Relay Swims - pts are divided into fourths for each athlete and total points go to the team.

This challenge allows everyone to get involved, whether a swimmer can final or not. Everyone knows when a swimmer improves either their time or place, and they get really excited when our team gets announced for winning a heat.

The award for reaching our team goal is usually frozen yogurt after the meet, and then we offer a fun prize for the one swim, individual or relay, that scores the most points at the meet, and the swimmer that scores the most points for the team.

Over the years the point total goal increases, and our team has yet to not reach it.

I asked Steve some follow-up questions since this points system is so cool. Here are my questions and Steve’s answers:

1. How did you come up with this?
We were at Juniors in Irvine a few years ago and I sat down with my team to see if we could find a fair way to designate the swim of the meet. We didn't have a large team, and only a couple of our swims had a chance of reaching any sort of final. We came up with this point system, the kids all agreed that this could work. For some added fun, I gave the team a point total to achieve and they would receive a team reward, like frozen yogurt. The swim of the meet, the single swim to get the most points, got an Air Swimmer. Every swimmer knew that their swim, no matter what their rank, could contribute to the overall team points. They started to have fun with it and it has grown with every Sectional and National meet we swim in.

2. What has been the reaction of your swimmers?
I think they really enjoy it. It keeps the team feel at these large meets that seems to get lost when you only have a few swimmers at the meet.

3. You wrote "the purpose is to get all swimmers involved." Is that the goal of using this?
Absolutely, for me, I want the kids to know that every swim matters. We've had a few national champions, and that was really exciting for us, but so was our miler that dropped 20+ seconds and went from 60th place to 12th. They should be proud of the fact that they are at the meet, time is what matters more than what color medal you win.

4. What's been the most fun aspect of doing this?
Tallying the points is and announcing the point total at our team meeting. We missed our team goal by 0.5 points at the NCSA Junior meet last year. I was so proud of the way they came together, cheering to the end of the last relay, we winded up buying the yogurt anyway.

5. Has the "winner" or person with the most points also been the person who wins the most races?
No, We had a miler win by getting 12th place at the NCSA Junior Championships. No one could disagree with the fact that she improved 20+ seconds on her time and moved up from 60th to 12th.

6. Have other teams (and what teams?) followed with this and done something similar?
I have had teams ask me about our point system, which is why I decided to write it down, make it official I guess. I've talked to coaches, they may be using it, or their own version of it.

7. What changes to this system have you made along the way?
The total team points changes based on the number of athletes I have at the meet. The total points, I need to work on, right now I throw out a number, by the end of the meet, they need a good finals to achieve the goal. I have had teams reach our goal by the end of the second day in a three day meet though.

8. Is it hard to keep track of this during a big meet?
Normally there is an event with a lot of down time. I also have a fantastic coach, Laura Becherer, who helps me out with the places and times. It really is a two person job.