23 Thoughts Your Lap Counter Has During the 500

Photo Courtesy: Brian Jenkins-UVM Athletics

23 Thoughts Your Lap Counter Has During the 500

By Cassidy Lavigne, Swimming World College Intern 

At some point in most swimmers’ careers, whether it’s their event or just for training, we are faced with swimming the 500 freestyle. If you haven’t swum it, then you’re in the stands cheering, or maybe, you’ve been trusted with the important should-be-simple-but-actually-isn’t task of counting.

While distance swimmers have their fair share of thoughts during their races, so do those counting for them.

So, if you’ve been one of the many chosen ones to count for your teammate during their distance event, here are 23 thoughts that counters have during a 500:


Photo Courtesy: Cassidy Lavigne

1. I have been given an important task!

The initial reaction you have when your teammate asks to count for you. Maybe you are a pro and do this for them every meet. Maybe you are a pro but still remember that one time you messed up counting, or saw someone mess up counting, or worse, drop the counter in the pool. But you know what you’re doing. You can count.

2. What lane are they in again?

When you see the officials place the lane counters at the far side of the pool and you search for your swimmer behind the blocks getting ready, and then you spot them.

3. Nope, skip lap 1. 

As you flip the counter to lap three. Why do they even have lap 1 if no one ever uses it? Unless you’re just trying to mock your teammate. 1 down, 19 to go.

4. How do I even use the counters with the pole? 

You’ve seem them at certain meets, a long wooden stick at the top of the counter. Maybe you’ve never used one, and instead stare in awe at how much easier it is to count when you’re not sitting. Or maybe you’ve tried it and it wasn’t your thing, or saw too many others mess up with them, so you steer clear.

5. I should’ve brought a towel to sit on.

As you’re sitting on your knees blocking your teammates splash from their turn and trying to be somewhat comfortable.

6. I should’ve just worn my suit. 

See above. You’re soaked. Maybe you’re in a parka, or wrapped in your towel, either way, your sleeve is soaked from dunking your arm in (if you don’t have a pole, see #4.)

7. Could you have any more of a splashy turn?

See #6

8. Did I change it already?

Did you change it after they flipped on your side or the far side? You remain calm but have a slight panic in you..

9. Wait, lane 6 is on lap 13 and they’re pacing with them, so it’s lap 13. 

…So you start cross checking.

10. Is coach telling me to shake the counter now?

Because coaches never look right at you, they just wildly wave their arms.


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

11. No, it’s up and down not side to side.

This is based off of personal preference, some even don’t like any movement from the counters: “Side-to-side is just obnoxious,” my teammate once told me.

12. Okay, they’re at the flags in 3,2,1… and in the water.

Just your typical counter trying to time out when to put the counter in…

13. …last stroke, and pull up.

…and when to move it out of the way for the turn.

14. Did I place it too early/late?

See #11 and #12.

15. What is their pace?

Lap counters cheer and know their teammates records too!

16. They’re slowing down.

I would’ve been tired too.

17. They’re speeding up!

As they close in on the leader and make their move.

18. (At halfway mark) I would’ve been dead by now.

Thoughts from a sprinter-mid-distancer.

19. The timer in lane 4 is cute.

Distractions, distractions.

20. They’re in the lead!

Even though we aren’t the ones doing the racing, there is a lot of pride that comes from counting if your teammate is in first.

21. Just took out 17, and we skip 19, flash red. 

The conversation you have when you skip a number, similar to not using 1, except now it’s more exciting.

22. Go go go!

Paired with vigorous arm shaking in the water and using the last of your voice to cheer for your teammate on their last length.

23. Whewf…made it!

And feeling just as happy for your teammate that they finished their race.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Stefani Wendelschaefer

    Megan Vehrs lol this is too true and I honestly wanna do one for the mile cause girl. Let me tell ya. ?

    • Lori Thompson

      Becky Schoeppner haha that is perfect and all too true!

  2. Sarah Joy Haley

    Gretchen Stockschlaeder me spying on the other lanes to make sure I didn’t mess up ?

    • Euan Finlay

      Jeanne Dennis Nichols number 24 – what’s for dinner, number 25 can I go for a drink yet, number 26 why am I only worried about 24 and 25 when everyone else seems worried about swimming?

  3. Michelle Davidson

    Christel Thellmann Azzola, I think of you during 500’s at Madeline’s meets. I remember counting for you, always being afraid I screwed it up, and crossing my fingers for the VW beetle! ?

    • Michelle Davidson yes!! I think if I tried to do the 500 now I wouldnt make it! Those days were so fun, with Coulters ass! Lol! ?

    • Brynna Sentel

      Charity Adams-McCafferty hahahah I’m sure this is very true!

  4. Caitlin Risstrom

    Tia Brain wait… Americans don’t have to look up too see their lap counters ?

    • Tia Brain

      Caitlin Risstrom well that’s a bit unfair ?

  5. Liz Hughes

    Patricia McCabe this is pretty accurate ???

  6. Felicity Passon

    Lauren Thompson every single one of these when I was counting for you ?❤️

  7. Brian Battensby

    I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the boards. I count in my head and hope someone rings the bell.

    I’ve done a few 5k swims and during one of them, I did stop and shout at my lap counter:

    “I’m sure I’ve done 206, what about you?”

    They replied, “Oh yeah! You’re finished!”

    I could have still been swimming!

    • John Ian Bobbitt

      Brian Battensby co-signed. I trusted a counter ONCE, and only because my girlfriend had an event directly after and was occupied. And that dude had me gasping at the turn that hed missed one. Swim-mom flip-phone replay proved me right later. (Don’t laugh, it was ‘98)

      Aparently those thoughts were of anything but lap counts. But seriously…who can blame em? Theres a LOT of “distractions” walking around a pool deck.?

  8. David Lee Coggins

    Thank you to all my friends who counted laps for me. Your counting, cheering and care was/is appreciated. Distance swimming can be physically painful and agonizing. Laps 19,39,65 were always good to see…if you know what I mean!

  9. Kelly Grinnell

    April McCreadie Schwab….I feel Amanda can relate. Especially about the splashy turns ?

    • Destiny Camp

      Erin Staley yes ? it’s just missing getting annoyed because you won’t stop circle swimming ??‍♀️

  10. Sherri Bogue

    I am always thankful for my lap counters – not easy sometimes for them.

  11. avatar

    I failed miserably counting for my 12 y.o. son in the 1650. I messed up toward the end and he did an extra 50 yards. As if the mile wasn’t long enough. His Coach had me shake the counter about a quarter to the end the rest of the way because he was hitting his split times. I got too in to it and didn’t flip the counter on one of the laps, and unfortunately this was toward the end and I didn’t have enough time to recover :(. To make matters worse this was at the South Texas Championship and wasn’t a typical meet. I felt so bad afterwards…he finished the race and was so confused because the two lanes on each side of him were already done and he knew that he was ahead of them yet they finished before him. The only good thing was he still took 3rd and the difference between 2nd & 3rd was several seconds.

  12. Jennifer Naae Albanese

    Laura Mendez Berry
    Don’t put it in until after 200-300 point for the mile (1650 yards/1500 meters)… it was too depressing to think about how much further I had to go ?

    • Laura Mendez Berry

      Jennifer Naae Albanese omg yaaasssss I remember this !!!! It’s a long way to go ???

    • Kassi Grumski

      Paula Grumski Emily Earley guarantee Emily has had almost all of these thoughts while counting for me

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