Tips to Remain Entertained as a Swimming Fan

Feature by Carrie Moore

IRVINE, California, August 2. AS devout swimmers and loyal fans, we know the greatness of our sport — swimming builds character, teaches valuable lessons, and is a fun form of exercise. With the increase of live coverage and media attention, swim clubs' attendance has flourished and stands are filling up at swim meets across the country. However, swim meets are not known for their brevity — something that turns spectators off from the sport. To keep that from happening, I have a few helpful hints to keep fans involved during a swim meet.

Counting Strokes
One of the most basic ways to find something to do during a longer event is counting strokes. I don't count strokes to figure out their distance per stroke, like coaches and swimmers do; frankly, that's just too much math for me — I count just for fun.
I pick one swimmer from each heat (generally, the top-seeded swimmer) and based on their entry time, try predict how many strokes it takes them to finish the event. Seeing the difference between stroke numbers from a swimmer in the first heat and a swimmer in the ninth heat is always interesting.

During the finals of the same event, I pick a swimmer who I kept track of in the preliminary session and once again, count the strokes. Most of the time the strokes in the final event are lower than in the preliminary event.

This exercise helps make longer events, like the 1500 freestyle, seem much shorter.

Read the Heat Sheets
If there's one thing I religiously do at swim meets, besides picking out prime seating, is reading my heat sheet. Why, you may ask? Because, you can find out a lot about a swimmer from a heat sheet: where they're from, their age, and their qualifying time. However, the reason I read my heat sheet is for the cool and unique names of competing swimmers.

I first started this back in 2005 and since then have given away hundreds of imaginary cool points to a slew of unique names. Some of my all-time favorites are Gemma Spofforth, Tobias Work and Leisel Jones. But the title of "Coolest Name" goes to Spindrift Beck, who swims for Texas.

Reading the heat sheet just makes for an interesting meet and familiarizes you with other swimmers, who may be future world-class performers.

Meet New People
When time allows for it, I like to get up from my seat, walk around the stands, and meet fellow fans. Most of the people I've met in the stands have been friendly and eager to talk about the previous heat and their favorite team or swimmer. It's always refreshing to have a conversation about your favorite sport without having to explain what just happened.

I've also met a lot of interesting and influential people by getting out of my seat and socializing. I've met swimmers and their families, photographers, media members, magazine writers, and I've even made best friends with people in the stands.

But before jumping out of your seat and finding the nearest person to greet, you should always remain cautious and respectful. The nearest person to you may be a swimmer who is preparing for their upcoming race, and you wouldn't want to disrupt them from their preparation. Or that close group of people could be a family of a swimmer who is currently racing; interrupting them could cause them to miss an important moment of the race. I suggest surveying the crowd first before getting up. I tend to look for people who are already talking to neighbors or are looking around the area for something to do.

I think if I had never gotten out of my seat and socialized, I never would have continued to support the sport. And, I definitely wouldn't have a couple of my best friends if I just remained in my seat.

People Watch
One of my favorite things to do (and not just at swim meets) is people watching. I like seeing peoples' reactions to times, wins and disputes. Emotions are always high for competitors during finals, but even more so for their families. I enjoy scoping out swimmers' families and watching their reactions while their swimmer is racing. Their raging emotions pull you in; when their child wins or loses, you almost mirror their emotion.

Apart from watching people in the crowd, I also like to watch swimmers on the deck. I like to watch how they interact with their coaches, other swimmers, and their fans. I've come to respect swimmers based on their interactions with fellow competitors and fans.

One moment that sticks out in my mind is from 2007 Nationals in Indianapolis. Dara Torres was making her comeback in the swimming world, and her first race back was the 100-meter freestyle. I remember the groups of swimmers, professional, national, and age group alike, collecting near the starting blocks, watching her race. It was inspiring to see how everyone had so much respect for one swimmer. If I hadn't been paying attention to the race and crowd, I would have missed that inspiring, timeless moment.

Because of the friendly atmosphere in the sport of swimming, this is probably one of the main reasons I've remained a loyal fan.

So with Nationals a day away, put some of these tips into use! Meet new people, keep an eye on the crowd, read the heat sheets, and if all else fails, count strokes! Hopefully newer fans will find a respect for the sport and continue to support it, just like I have.