Any spectator, whether “swim knowledgeable” or not, immediately can spot big differences between an age group/scholastic dual meet and the majority of masters meets (think: “anything below state.”) Just a few glaring contrasts include:
–You don’t see a lot of lapping at scholastic meets, even in distance. At a masters meets, however, it’s common in 200s and even seen in 100s.
–Teams, staff, and spectators find the distance events compelling at age group/scholastic meets. They don’t scatter like startled doe prior to these races, unlike at masters meets.
–Age group meets and scholastic meets can be deafening due to cheering. Masters meets are usually so quiet that coherent conversations can be held between people in the stands and on deck. That is, if there are people in the stands.
–Points matter at kids’ meets, with the big win often being decided by that final relay, when the combined energy from cheering and fierce swimming is about to blow off the roof. Conversely, you can leave a masters meet having no clue about scoring, as in, “was it even kept?”
–Need replacement equipment or need more food or fluids at a kids’ meet? No problem, just visit the on-site vendors. Need similar items at a masters meet? Better hope you can do without or borrow!
Then there’s the “hoopla level.” Most of the time, you wouldn’t know an event was occurring during a masters meet, but you can’t miss an age group/scholastic meet.
Case in point? Over the recent MLK weekend, I went to both days of the DU-BYU-Minn triangular meet. On Friday, spectators had a choice of swag (DU excitement towels, pom-poms, pennants.) The school band played the national anthem. There were programs. The buzz-factor on both days made it tough to hear the meet announcer.
And then there’s the swimming! Fast swimming, close races, enviable technique. Even not-so good technique is intriguing to me—you can see right then and there how it’s inefficient and thus something to personally avoid when training.
Furthermore, while you’ll catch an occasional break out effort at a masters meet, most of the time you need to know a swimmer personally to recognize an achievement. Which is a shame, because almost everyone swimming in a masters meet has a compelling story to share about their competitive history, unique training style, how they overcame a major health or personal issue, leading by example to age with moxie, and much, much, more. Yet, age group/scholastic meets are often riddled with obvious awesomeness—PRs, records, swimmers exuding all-guts, and more.
While I’ll still probably always prefer to swim than spectate, watching meets will never get old either. They’re simply too much fun, exciting, and enlightening to pass up. And, they remind me of my age group/scholastic days. Leaving a natatorium with fond memories surfacing is always a nice emotional boost, but it’s particularly uplifting to see how competitive swimming, and all of its benefits, is alive and well, serving another generation of kids.
Next Week: Updates