For swimmers, there is often no greater motivation than the competing swimmer in the neighboring lane.
This season, however, many swimmers will never find that sense of urgency from nearby competitors because their opponents will be swimming from other pools.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the adjustments made to the girls swimming and diving season for the fall was providing the option of virtual swim meets in which each team swims each event in their own pool and then calculate the results after.
While swimmers are always racing the clock trying to post their best times, the desire to inch past the body swimming in the next lane cannot be replicated.
“There’s certainly nothing that can replace a competitor that’s swimming arm-for-arm with you, yard-for-yard with you,” Southington head coach Evan Tuttle said. “But the athletes are trained on a day-to-day basis both in practice and in our meets to push themselves and to push each other. That’s the beauty of a sport like swim and dive, you always have the clock to race against, you always have a time that you can be better than. Whether that meet is in person or virtual, you still have that mark to shoot for.”
Tuttle is confident his swimmers will find enough motivation within themselves and from practicing against their teammates, especially as Southington is competing in a large portion of its season virtually. Other teams, meanwhile, may spend more time sharing the same pool as their opponents, but the pandemics impacts on the swim season are evident.
“So far meets have typically been usual, but unusual in a sense that we don’t have any fans,” Bristol Eastern head coach Alyson Phelan said. “Nobody gets to come see so the kids aren’t getting the same support system from their friends or family that are coming to the meets. It’s still the same energy, the kids are still really supportive of each other, it might even be a little bit more so because they know that they are the cheering section.”
Eastern is yet to participate in a virtual meet, but is scheduled to face Southington virtually next week.
Many teams though are still experiencing in-person meets altered by relegating one team to each side of the pool and using the lanes on that side instead of the teams alternating lanes as they previously would. Regardless of how the meets are organized, swimmers are being told to put extra emphasis on the clock because it is the one thing they can always rely on to tell them how well they’re swimming.
“I have been talking to the girls all season about [how] at this stage, at the age that you are, it’s going to be internal motivation and going against the clock,” Bristol Central head coach Adrienne Bentley said. “I’ve preached that all of my years of coaching, that always going against the clock, you’re not going against the person that’s next to you. It’s great to have that person for motivation, but we’ve been talking all season about the fact that you now have to pull from inside to be motivated. I think they stepped up pretty well, we had 21 season-best times on the virtual meet.”
While the energy at meets is definitely quieter because of the lack of people in attendance, coaches are primarily saying their teams accepted the differences in this year’s season without many problems. Central participated in its first virtual meet of the season last week and received its first taste of how different this season can be, but Bentley said the team did its best to keep everyone motivated.
“We do things a little bit differently, when we have somebody in the water, we’re standing, there’s no sitting, we’re cheering them on,” she said. “I’ve been talking to them all season about [how] you guys have to be the motivation for each other because we don’t have people in the stands and they stepped up very well against Southington.”
The way swimming is organized offered the potential to be the least altered sport of the fall season, giving swimmers the fewest adjustments to make once they were able to start their season. For coaches that means this season does not need to be remembered differently than others.
“It’s going to be different because everything we had to deal with in the beginning made it different,” Berlin head coach Andrea Gallo said. “In terms of the competition and the success that girls have, you can’t compare one season to next anyways because things change from year to year.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org