Today is the Most Important Day of Your Taper Meet

Photo Courtesy: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

By Taylor Covington, Swimming World College Intern.

It’s the morning you silence your alarm with a reaction time comparable to that “questionable” relay start. It’s when the taper energy has festered into a consuming sort of restlessness, the kind that is only quieted by the monotonous hum of the fluorescent lights above the pool deck. It’s sitting there with one headphone in, watching the water surface break for its first overly-eager warm-up swimmer, slowly morphing into a white-water frenzy. It’s looking up to the stack of metal bleachers, now alive with the beaming faces of the people you love who are eager to see you perform well – the people you want to make proud.

This is quite the buildup – for such an irrelevant day.

Jun 18, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Michael Phelps (USA) at the finish of his Men's 200M Freestyle morning prelim heat during day two of the Arena Pro Series at Santa Clara at the George F. Haines International Swim Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

The sport of swimming is wrought with the tantalizing, unforgiving mentality that the entire season rests on a few central days during the championship meets. Every lift and every practice is a ceremonial self-sacrifice in service to race day. Every second deliberately builds to that one moment when the starter’s speaker crackles on and the touch-pads submerge. Swimmers are servants to the competition: martyrs to the taper meet.

Yet, this mindset is horribly restrictive and inadequate in characterizing a deeply nuanced sport such as swimming. Such narrow thinking can truly strip swimmers of the fullest experiences of the sport, ultimately leading to discouragement and perverse ideas of victory and goal-setting. Victory isn’t limited to one day (or a set of days). The most important moments are not when all the lights come on and the bleachers are full, when the LZR cuts off circulation in all the right places, and the stars align.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The most important moment of the championship meet is tonight on your bedroom floor, stretching that calf muscle that kept cramping earlier in today’s practice. It’s wincing a little as you press it over a foam roller, nursing it with KT tape before climbing into bed.

No – actually, tomorrow will be the most important day. It’ll be waking up at 5:30 a.m. and changing in the dark so as to not awaken your roommate. It’ll be tugging on a suit that’s still damp from practice 10 hours ago, making sure to grab a drink with the perfect carb ratio before heading out on deck.

Or maybe it’s the moment when you give your lane buddy an eye-roll as your coach unveils today’s aerobic set, only to offer a rosy-palmed high-five two hours after you’ve pushed each other past what you thought possible.

Maybe it’s the day when everything goes wrong: when your bad test grade lends itself to missed intervals and sloppy open turns. The days when the sets are too fast and the practices are too long. Maybe, it’s when your coach tells you he’s disappointed.

Or maybe, it’s the day when you squat a personal best or have to bandage your blisters from the chin-up bar. It could be the day when you hit pace on every single 50 and sprint the last one, even when your coach has to step away. It’s the dual meet where you hit a best time, and the one where you get out-touched.

It’s soaring through the air on your first successful step-over start with three taped toes to mark the journey. It’s teaching it to the freshmen with the wisdom from your mistakes. It’s holding a cold water bottle to your flaming cheeks and nodding with the rhythm of your labored breathing, as your assistant coach screams, “One more!”

It’s knowing when to be a leader, when to be a teammate, and when to be a friend.

It’s that moment when your teammates take that short, irrational hop back from the splash of your flip-turn, only to go back to slapping the tiles of the pool deck. It’s the way they get you home for the last 25 yards of every race.

It’s waking up every day knowing that today is the most important day. Today, you will find a victory somewhere.

It’s the day when you realize swimming is more than just the taper meet.

KNOXVILLE, TN - December 5, 2013 - SwimMAC Carolina teammates celebrate after winning the 4x50 Yard Freestyle Relay during the USA Swimming AT&T Winter National Championships at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, Tennessee

Photo Courtesy: Tia Patron/Tennessee Athletics

Swimming is the culmination of every moment before the lights come on: before you stand barefoot and fast-suit-clad under the artificial glow of the scoreboard. The taper meet is the product of every “most important day” that precedes it – the last in a string of daily victories. Don’t diminish the opportunity each day affords you in deeming it a stepping stone. Know that if somehow at this meet, it doesn’t show up in the neon, pixelated time flashing back at you from across the pool, you won’t walk away empty-handed.

In fact, luckily, tomorrow is the most important day of the season when the cycle starts all over again.

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

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Ellen Russell
4 years ago

Amazing article and very insightful! A training guid for coaches and serious swimmers!

Kevin Lancaster
4 years ago

Bravo, excellent points. It’s a continual process for sure.

Courtney Edwards
4 years ago

Wow! As a former swimmer and parent of three, this is spot on. And clearly you’re as gifted at writing as you are at swimming. Proud My daughter is part of this amazing team. Go Eagles!