By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Let’s say you (or your swimmer) is considering switching teams. You’re in this off-season, of sorts, and you’re just desperately in need of a change-of-scene. You talk to other swimmers. You talk to other parents. You talk to coaches. And you begin to formulate rough sketches of other teams, their atmospheres, their cultures.
But still, you are worried and wary.
I’d like to provide a disclaimer to this article: It’s virtually impossible to “get to know” a team before you or your swimmer actually switch teams. You can do all the research, talk to all the other parents and swimmers and coaches, but you’ll never know “what it’s like” on another team until you switch.
That said, if you ARE considering switching teams, through my own personal experience, there are observations and questions one can perceive. Especially at swim meets. Swim meets are smorgasbords of behavior observations. You can observe how coaches interact with swimmers. How swimmers interact with each other. How they cheer. How the parents communicate with their swimmers and with each other. I believe swim meets are the best places to see swim teams at their truest forms. Whenever I was at the Big Ten Championships, both as a swimmer and as a spectator, half the fun was watching other teams and getting quick glances at their own internal cultures.
I’ve compiled 10 questions you should ask yourself if you’re considering switching teams. Just answering a few of these questions will help you better understand another team.
1. How does the coach interact with the slowest swimmers?
Look: Every fast swimmer gets attention. It happens naturally. I’d never judge a coach based on how they interact with the fastest of swimmers. Instead, I’d observe how he or she interacts with the slowest swimmer. Do they care? Do they give that swimmer the same amount of attention? Does the slowest swimmer look engaged? What’s that interaction on the pool deck like?
2. Does the team warm-up together, or are swimmers on their own?
There’s no right or wrong here; it’s just an interesting observation. Team warm-ups usually mean the coach wants a more team-like approach to meets. When swimmers are “let loose” on their own for warm-up, coaches display trust in their swimmers’ ability to warm-up themselves. Two different approaches that are microcosms for coaching styles.
3. Do swimmers cheer for each other sitting, or standing?
Almost every swim team cheers for teammates. But the difference here: are they sitting or standing? Sorry, teams-that-sit, but “cheering and sitting” isn’t really cheering. Those teams who stand for each other, pile at the end of the lane or on the side of the pool, those teams are the teams I’d want to swim for.
4. Are swimmers smiling / talking with each other before warm-up?
Body language can tell you a lot. Watch how the swimmers walk and interact with each other before warming-up, or when they arrive to the pool. Do they look relaxed? Are they being yelled at? Do they keep to themselves?
5. If warming up together, do the swimmers all leave the wall in standard intervals (or is it chaos)?
In other words, does the warm-up look organized? Are the swimmers all on the same page?
6. Do the parents sit together?
This might be unfair to ask, but I believe parents should probably sit together at swim meets. If they don’t, why not? Do some parents feel unwelcome or do they not enjoy sitting with the rest of the team? Something to consider.
7. What’s the organized cheer situation?
Yes, I judge teams based on the originality of their cheers. Case in point: Before one relay at YMCA Nationals, me and my teammates used a real bowling pin as our cheer device. Why? I don’t know. It was weird, but so were we. Teams that use those cliche, recycled cheers? That might tell you something.
8. Do swimmers share transportation to the meet?
Again, a small observation like warming up together or separately. But this would tell you a little about the culture.
9. Do the swimmers cheer their divers?
This is, obviously, more for high school or college swimmers. But there are some teams who just don’t cheer on their own. I question those teams.
10. Is there a trend with performances?
Do swimmers come from behind? Do they charge out to the lead? Are they mostly swimming faster than their seed times? Were their seed times way too slow? You can tell a lot about a team’s entire season simply by watching one event’s preliminaries: The warm-ups, the performances, then the pool deck coach interactions after the race. Notice the trends, not just with the fast swimmers, but all swimmers. Notice if they throw their goggles at the end of races, if they warm-down a lot or not at all, if they get scorned by a coach after a poor performance.
So much of a team’s culture is right there in front of all of us, on display at swim meets. Sure, you have to read between the lanes a little bit, but with a little keen observation, one can get an adequate estimate about a team’s culture, coaching style, and ambiance. If you’re considering change, try to observe the team you’re considering switching to in a swim meet format.
You may be surprised with some of the answers…. answers that may lead to more questions.