The Permanent Effects of COVID-19 on Swimming


The Permanent Effects of COVID-19 on Swimming

By Tara Draper – Swimming World College Intern

COVID-19 has had a lasting effect on so many areas of our lives, from school to grocery shopping. Many sports have had to completely stop operating or change the way they operate due to the pandemic. Luckily, swimming is a sport that COVID-19 has had a minimal effect on. Even with this minimal impact, there will still be permanent effects of COVID-19 on swimming and the way it operates. Although some elements will go back to normal, the pandemic has also shown us new ways to operate to provide even greater opportunities for athletes.

Virtual Meets

One of the most significant effects of COVID-19 on the swimming community is removing (for some) in-person competition. For the community’s good, many teams across the globe have chosen to stop competing in the normal way. Some have also had to stop practices, leading to athletes losing significant fitness. Even though many of us have lost the ability to travel for meets, we have gained a new form of competition, allowing athletes to enjoy their sport more safely.

Many teams have started having virtual meets to allow for safe competition. These meets involve teams competing at their home pool and then merging the results with other teams. This means these teams do not risk exposure to the virus by being near others. Colleges specifically tend to have Coronavirus ‘bubbles,’ for lack of a better term, where many of the population don’t leave campus. These virtual meets mean that athletes can still compete but do not come into contact with athletes outside their community ‘bubble.’

Land-Based Training

Another way COVID-19 has affected the swimming community is the increase in reliance on land and solo training. Many athletes have been unable to access a pool to practice and have had to substitute their workouts with land-based workouts. Athletes have been driven toward running mile after mile to keep up some semblance of fitness. Coaches have also taken to sending out videos of yoga or ab workouts to keep their teams in shape from home. Although I have been on my college campus for most of the pandemic, I am sure this shift has led to many family workout sessions. Which I’m sure has increased both family bonding and competitiveness.

Smaller Practice Sizes

Another way COVID has affected at least my college team is the need for reduced practice groups. Our coach has split us up into smaller groups, running the same practice many times over. Although this is a much safer approach, it does diminish team rapport. We no longer know all our teammates, and often our practice buddies are not with us. I can imagine it is also very taxing for coaches, who have to spend more time on deck running the same workout.

The one upside of the smaller groups is the increased attention from coaches. Because there are fewer people in the water, coaches can pay more attention to each athlete, which can lead to large improvements in technique. So even though I am the only breaststroker in my group, I am grateful for the opportunity to get more corrections to improve.

In Conclusion

Personally, I see COVID-19 having permanent effects on how swimming operates once we can return to normal. Virtual meets are a great way to allow teams to compete that never would have been able to. Virtual meets could be a real positive, even though they take out some of the competitive elements of a swim meet. A virtual meet would allow teams from all over the world to be able to compete. This would completely change the nature of international competition, as it is not reserved for top-tier athletes. The reliance on land training allows athletes to build other muscles to be better, all-round athletes. In a COVID-free world, teams will likely include more dry land work, which will continue to benefit athletes for a while to come.

Even though COVID-19 has had many negative effects on the world and swimming as a sport, there will also be many benefits from this pandemic. As a global sport, we will be more of a collaborative community than we were before. If these effects are to be permanent after COVID-19, the swimming community will be better for it.

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


  1. avatar

    From a parent perspective, many more meets (from the collegiate level down to club level) have been live streamed because pools are closed to spectators. This has allowed many more family members and friends the opportunity to see swimmers compete that they may not otherwise have had. I hope this continues.

  2. Swim

    The biggest effect seems to be the turn over in rosters from club to club as swimmers seek more pool time in a neighboring county or even state. So sad.

  3. avatar
    Concerned Swim Fan Concerned

    There will minimally be two Men’s swim teams (Iowa and Michigan State) in just one conference permanently cut as a result of COVID. The Women’s teams at both schools may very well be gone too, depending on how their Title IX litigation goes. This is not that unusual across the country.

    A number of D3 schools aren’t competing in sports this year and their swim teams will be affected by this for quite a few years because it’s not so easy to restart a swim team if you take a year or two off.

    Several YMCA regions have canceled competitive swimming for the year, and some of them may never restart their programs.

    Most high schools have much smaller rosters this year than last because of limitations on how many kids can be in practice and concerns about disease transmission.

    Depending on where you are, many swimming lessons have been shut down for good part of the last year. Even if they aren’t, fewer kids are learning to swim.

    I can’t imagine that summer pool clubs and their swim teams are not tremendously impacted.

    The Olympics also have a very large impact on American swimming as the future summer league, YMCA, USS, high school, college, ISL and Olympic swimmers all start to dream when watching the Olympics on TV. If the Olympics don’t go forward or are diminished, that will impact American swimming for a decade (it’s not a coincidence that the American team has its worst ever Olympic swimming performance 8 years after the Olympic boycott).

    But, at least we have virtual meets. . . . .

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