USA Swimming Launches Virtual Meet Simulator as Part of Return to Competition Plan

Photo Courtesy: USA Swimming

As the team at USA Swimming sought to make the most of its unexpected downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic, the data team got to thinking. During an unprecedented stretch of months without meets, it sought something that was accessible, low-cost in times of budgetary strain on clubs, a utility that could look backward to competitions that have happened and help adapt to new challenges clubs face.

The result is the Virtual Meet Simulator that USA Swimming is rolling out in a soft launch Monday. The website tool allows clubs to compare times based on what’s already in USA Swimming’s database in a new, team-centric way. But it also allows a pathway to enter non-sanctioned meets into the database, with the possibility that any two teams in the United States can compare times and compete against each other virtually.

USA Swimming will host a webinar Monday to unveil the widget. The team behind the Virtual Meet Simulator is adding features even after launch, with a goal toward fuller functionality by the end of the week. USA Swimming hopes to work with members clubs to generate feedback and added features as time progresses.

The Virtual Meet Simulator was the product of more than a month of work. The thinking was, according to Director of Analytics Patrick Murphy, “how can we provide access to competition in a pandemic?”

One aspect looks into the past, comparing times and scoring meets from times already in the USA Swimming database. The other looks forward at how teams can schedule competitions. USA Swimming estimates that around 50 percent of clubs are unable to hold sanctioned meets due to public-health and safety conditions surrounding COVID-19. Instead, clubs can hold non-sanctioned meets (essentially in-house, intrasquad meets), upload their times and let USA Swimming’s tool score the meet.

READ: Sanctioned vs. Non-Sanctioned Meets (pdf)

The simulator still forces clubs to follow protocols for the integrity of competition (officials, timing by pads or hand, membership, etc.). But instead of contracting a potentially expensive third-party application, USA Swimming’s simulator can step in. At a time when many clubs are pressed financially, any cost off the ledger (like travel or new software) is welcomed. The tool is compatible with most meet-management software. All times are entered via USA Swimming (the goal is a 72-hour turnaround time) rather than the local swimming clubs. (This was the crux of the announcement about non-sanctioned times in July.)

One important distinction between sanctioned and non-sanctioned is what the times can be used for. Times at non-sanctioned meets, most importantly, do not apply for “USA Swimming meet entry and recognition program purposes.” In the past, the remedy has been not to accept non-sanctioned times. Given the challenges of hosting sanctioned meets, the Virtual Meet Simulator instead moves times from non-sanctioned meets into a separate category to protect the data integrity of sanctioned times.

The Virtual Meet Simulator offers customizability. Opening up a portion of the USA Swimming database to non-sanctioned meets enters the possibility of other non-sanctioned meets being added retroactively – like high school meets, for instance. Customized scoring or historical times are possible iterations.

The simulator is of a piece with recent efforts from USA Swimming. Larry Herr, the Performance and Database Director at USA Swimming, has spent much of the lockdown time augmenting the depth of the database’s historical content. USA Swimming President and CEO Tim Hinchey has emphasized data and technology; the simulator and the rebuild of the organization’s website are evidence.

“This specific project has been a great opportunity and a chance for us to do something unique and be a great motivator,” Herr said. “When we do something that’s going to impact so many different people, that’s a great motivator. It’s been really positive and enhancing that we’ve been able to work across so many different divisions. Most of the time, our role is very small and just number and stats and data. To be able to do projects that go across different division and teams, that’s really awesome.”

While the Virtual Meet Simulator meets the challenges of this particular pandemic moment, Murphy sees the tool’s utility outliving the pandemic. It’s something he’s had in mind for a while, just needing the time to devote to it. The launch indicates that they’ve made the most of that time.

“I think it is pretty cool how it will go beyond this pandemic, and this can be a widget and a service that can be around for a while,” Murphy said. “Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can get all of our widgets to be really user-friendly and popular with our users. This pandemic has given us as an opportunity as an organization to really focus on our membership and try to provide these opportunities.”

12 comments

  1. avatar
    Lg

    Interesting concept. However, I live in a state where weddings and funerals are capped at 10 people. However, gyms are at 50% capacity. And, pools apparently qualify as “gyms”. How is it fair swim meets are happening with no social distancing, while families are not able to host weddings and funerals with more than 10 people? I see people posting pictures of local swim meets on social media, and it disturbs me greatly. As much as this tool sounds great, it is promoting yet more large “gym” events at pools, more spread of covid, and longer delays for our children to be back in school face to face, because large gatherings will naturally spread covid. So, while I applaud USA swimming’s effort with this new technology, I am also sad to see how it will be used for non socially distanced events, causing our children to be delayed in returning to schools and to rid virus spread. 😞

  2. Danny Gassaway

    I’m all about it. However, after watching the presentation, I was questioning one coach doing everything from a cell phone timer in one hand to a stopwatch in the other is simply not accurate.

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