How One High School Season Unfolded During COVID-19

swimmer

How One High School Season Unfolded During COVID-19

By Daniel Zeng, Swimming World Intern

Many swimmers around the world have found it challenging to acquire pool space during this ongoing global pandemicI feel extremely lucky and grateful to have seen a pool during these times. I know there are surely people and their teams that have not had pool access since March 2020, or for at least quite a while now. Whole countries have canceled their traditional end-of-season championships, and some have canceled entire seasons.

High school swimming has been affected significantly since the season is so short. Covid-19 restrictions have lessened the team aspect, but in some ways has also brought teams closer, with team members knowing they are in it together. 

In a normal season, our high school swim team would have been allowed to contain 30 or more swimmers. That number has been restricted to 24, meaning more people were cut than usual. This has made high school sports, not just swimming, seem more exclusive in their smaller team sizes. 

Here is how my high school swim practices and meets specifically turned out this year.

Practices

Before entering the pool area, we scan our forehead temperature and apply hand sanitizer, following COVID-19 protocols. Next, we walk around the pool to chairs spaced roughly six feet apart. We undress down to our suits and get goggles, caps, and water bottles prepared as normal, along with a plastic bag. Then, we walk to our assigned lane, put our mask in the bag at the end of the lane, and swim to our assigned position, spaced out in the lane. Our pool has six lanes, so we divided it into three sets of two lane pairs for three different groups of people to swim in during the season, for contact tracing purposes.

We swim practice as normal, except swimming down one lane and back in the adjacent one. This means people not at a wall do one more turn, open or flip, per 25. When practice is over, we swim to the wall we got in the pool from, put our masks on, and walk counter-clockwise back to our seats. 

There is still talking among us swimmers while in the pool, but less than usual. We instead talk on the pool deck before we get into the pool, or as we are getting dressed to leave since we will be wearing masks. There is really no time to talk in practice since our workouts have been shortened to only an hour, three days a week. Prior to this odd season, we had practices for either an hour and 45 minutes, or an hour and a half. 

Meets

Meets are where most of the difference was seen this season. First, instead of nine regular meets, this year we only had five, without any championships. College facilities we formerly used will not let outside teams use their pools, so we have to swim our meets at the same pool we practice at. Here, we have a unique situation with another school, in that we have shared the same pool for practices for a while now. Since meets are expected to take two hours total, they steal our hour of practice on Tuesday, and we steal their practice time on Thursday.

During races, loud cheering is advised against but still occurs, and handshakes are eliminated altogether. This does not provide an ideal meet environment that is typically rather energetic. Our coach instead decided to purchase pom-poms, egg shakers, and plastic clappers for us, to mimic the normally loud meet atmosphere.

If we want to take our masks off, it will usually be at our chairs, where we can drink water and sit down. Most of the time, we will be either wearing masks cheering, or walking to the blocks.

Instead of two heat sheets, one for the coach and one on the wall, there are at least three posted on poles around the pool, to limit crowding. Additionally, we are all emailed a pdf of the lineup during warmup.

Events

All six lanes are used, but not always due to the fewer swimmers on the team, and each event is being contested as mixed genders, including some relay teams each meet. Once you finish your race, you swim down to the other end holding a plastic bag with your mask in it, to put on at the other end. 

Relays

The first two legs go behind the blocks when the relays are announced. The first leg goes behind the lane they are racing in, with the second behind the adjacent lane. The last two swimmers stand relatively distanced on the side of the pool wearing masks. There were as many as five teams in a relay in most meets, so the second swimmer was expected to also wait on the side. As the season progressed, most ignored these rules and had whole relay team standing behind the blocks at once.

The first swimmer takes their mask off and dives in as usual. The second swimmer then moves behind the “official” block, takes their mask off, and dives in when the first swimmer finishes. The first swimmer puts their mask on, gets out of the pool, and walks clockwise back to their seat. This process repeats for all legs of the relays, except for the last swimmer, who swims down the pool with their mask and bag.

Timing

In individual events, the person swimming the next event in your lane times you. This way, the timer can immediately swim their event after you finish, minimizing people walking back and forth. For relays, the second person in the relay starts the watch and stops it at the relay’s end. After all races, an official and an outside coach walk to each lane and ask for the time from each stopwatch. We don’t have touchpads at our pool, so whatever time the one stopwatch registers serves as the “official” time. 

Around the country, the pandemic is being handled in a variety of ways. This approach is what has worked at my school.