Swimming might be the sport most suited to be accommodated around a pandemic.
Swimmers and divers can socially distance when not in the pool, they can be spread out in lanes when competing and meets can be conducted without both teams being in the same place.
It’s an experience many of the area head coaches went through during the girls swim season in the fall and with the boys season quickly approaching - should there be no hold ups - many feel more prepared to excel this winter with only a few minor adjustments.
“I think that we had a really good plan in the fall,” Plainville head coach Chris Zagorski said. “I think working with the school and working with the health district, I really do think that we allowed the girls to compete as safely as we could; we’re going to continue that with the boys. You can always learn a few things, you can always adjust and see how other schools do things. If you see a better way to move forward, obviously we’re going to take that into account.”
When winter sports began practicing on Tuesday coaches were able to start preparing their teams for the new protocols. But no one was particularly worried beyond containing some of the traditional behavior that usually takes place on the deck.
“I felt like our girls season was very productive as far as mental growth and physical growth,” Bristol boys co-op head coach Adrienne Bentley before greeting her team for the first time this season. “Boys are a little bit different. The boys team, they’re very physical around each other. The whole fist-bumping and the ‘we got this’ kind of thing, I think I’m going to have to make them understand that it’s six feet [apart] and as much as you want to go and fist bump or high five or chest bump or all that stuff, we can’t do it. So I think that’s going to be a little bit of a challenge for us this year, but I don’t plan on doing anything differently at all.”
Also the coach of the Bristol Central girls team, the other adjustment Bentley has had to make is that because Bristol’s only boys swimming team is a co-op of Central, Bristol Eastern and St. Paul, swimmers must remain separated by school during practice. Normally swimmers are organized by skill, swimming in a lane with people who can push them.
“I think it’s going to be a benefit to them because I’m going to present it in a way where this is not a competition, this is a way for you to gauge yourself at the beginning of the season,” Bentley said. “If you notice that you’re coming in five seconds behind or 10 seconds behind, try to, first of all, look at your own time and drop it, and then use them to pull from. Try to stay only a half a length behind [as opposed to] a length behind them.”
While schools are not required to have virtual meets, it is almost guaranteed there will be at least one on the schedule. An even more different experience than the already-mutated meets that happen with both teams present, swimmers must find the singular motivation of lowering their times because there may not be an opponent in the neighboring lane.
“Virtual meets are new, they’re unique, they’re a beast of their own,” Southington head coach Evan Tuttle said. “You’re alone in that pool, one team at a time, competing against yourself. We’re fortunate in the fact that in our sport and in particular with our program, we’ve always focused on improving personally as well as collectively as a team, always trying to set best marks. So regardless of whether you have someone swimming next to you that has a different cap on, you always have the clock to beat. That comes from a bit of mental toughness and will power from an athlete to know how to compete and kick it into that gear regardless of who’s swimming next to you.”
While most coaches work with both the girls and boys teams at their schools, Daniel Thurston only coaches the boys team at Berlin and will be making his first venture into coaching in a pandemic this season. Knowing a number of coaches who went through this experience before he could, he made sure to ask for advice about how to proceed with his team.
“People have been [trying hard] to figure out ways to do this safely for a while and I’m trying to be smart enough not to ignore what they’ve done and to pick their brains,” Thurston said. “We’ve been working with guys trying to keep them active, keep them together in spirit through the fall. We’ve had a couple of meetings to do some virtual team bonding and [give out] information on the season.”
As sports continue throughout this pandemic, the overwhelming feeling is everyone is simply happy to be involved. With that feeling of gratefulness and the experience from the girls season in the fall, this season is set up to move smoothly.
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com