The day before the meet, make sure your child eats well and gets a good night’s sleep. Be sure to pack everything that both you and he will need to be comfortable for the day. Find out from the coach, ask other parents to find out where you will be sitting and whether or not your child will be sitting with you or with his team (if very young). We encourage your child to sit with other swimmers to make friends and increase the enjoyment of the sport.
Find out whether the team provides a tent for your child to sit under. Find out whether there is bleacher seating or if you need to bring chairs. You can pick up an umbrella-type chair for as little as $10 at your local sporting goods store, big box store, or pharmacy. Write your child’s name on it and on everything else you send to the meet!
If your child is sitting with his team on the pool deck, be aware that you will not be able to walk over to him during the meet (parents are not allowed on the pool deck) and possibly may not communicate with him until the meet is over. This means that you need to be sure his swim bag is packed with everything he will need for the day.
THE SWIM BAG
The fundamental difference between most regular backpacks or gym bags and a swim bag (“dry bag”) is that the bottom of a dry bag is waterproof. This is important, as swim decks get very wet and you want to protect the contents of your child’s bag so that he has dry towels and clothes.
If you don’t own a dry bag yet, try to use a sport bag that has the most amount of waterproof protection on its bottom surface. Plastic bags from the grocery come in very handy when packing a swim bag. Place at least two towels in separate plastic bags in your child’s bag, to keep each dry until needed. Any clothes your child may need during the day, such as sweatpants, sweatshirt, or hat should also be protected in a plastic bag until use – things tend to get dropped onto the wet pool deck as your child rummages through his bag!
SNACKS AND WATER
Having enough snacks and drinks on hand is very important. Pack a variety of nutritious, easy to digest snacks for your child in his bag. Crackers, pretzels, energy bars, dry cereal (low or no sugar), and peanut butter sandwiches are all good choices. Pack a cooler with numerous bottles of water, and any other low- or non-sugary drinks your child likes, so he will stay well hydrated.
If you are outside, be sure to sunblock your child and pack sunblock in his bag. There can be lengthy waits between events, so pack items to occupy your child. Many children do bring iPods and other hand-held games. If your child wants to bring these, be sure he understands to tuck them away in his bag when they are not in use and not to lend them out.
Pack electronics in Ziploc-type plastic bags, for easy identification and access, and to help prevent them from getting wet. Pack any other additional items for your child, based on the weather and his personal needs.
Most importantly, review the contents of the bag with your child and make sure he knows where all items – especially his swim cap and goggles – are located inside his bag! You may want to put a file card in his bag that lists all of the items he is bringing to the meet, so he can be sure to collect all of his belongings before leaving! (Place this in a clear, plastic sandwich bag so it will remain legible in a wet environment.)
FOR THE PARENTS
Now it’s time to organize your things for the big day! Swim meets, by nature, are usually hot, sweaty, and packed with other parents.
Plan to wear a brightly colored or easily recognizable shirt or hat, so your child will be able to spot you easily in the crowd. Like your child, you will need to pack a bag with snacks, drinks, and items to occupy your time and keep your comfortable for the weather.
While it’s probably not the best idea to bring your entire wallet, you may need your driver’s license (sometimes required for meet entry), a credit card (for incidentals), and some cash (for Heat Sheet) on hand. A pen and a highlighter will come in handy to mark up your Heat Sheet. In addition, it is a good idea to pack an extra set of your child’s most essential items (bathing suit, cap, and goggles) in your bag.
You may also want to tuck a plastic grocery bag filled with a dry towel, underwear, and clothes for your child to change into after the meet into your bag. Having a few large, yard waste bags can be very helpful in the event of rain – to wrap your bag and your child’s, and even to use as a makeshift poncho, if necessary!
Now you’re ready to head to your first swim meet!
TRAVELING TO THE MEET
Make sure you arrive at the meet a bit early, to allow time to park and walk in with your child. If you are not going to be sitting together during the meet, stake out the spot where you will be sitting (hopefully, you will spot other parents from your team) and save your place with your belongings. Identify a way to locate this area and point this out to your child so he can find you later.
Warm up times are earlier than the start of the meet, so be sure to double-check what time your child is supposed to be on deck for warm ups.
HITTING THE DECK
Walk your child to the pool deck. If you arrive early enough prior to the start of the meet, it may be possible for you to be allowed on deck just long enough to deliver your child to his coach and help him set up his belongings. If a Meet Marshall (volunteer parent, usually from the host team, stationed at entrances/exits to athlete-only areas) prevents you from going on deck with your child, point out the coach to your child and have him go directly to the coach for instructions on where to place his belongings and warming up.
If swimmers are not sitting on the pool deck, and are together as a team or in family groups, there are a few things about which to be mindful. If tents are set up, find out whether these are team tents or personal ones brought by individual families for their own use. Team tents are often just for the swimmers, not family members; or, at least, athletes should have priority for their use. Ask before you plop yourself down. In any event, seating at meets is usually very tight and shade or shelter from the weather is at a premium – so be prepared to take up as little real estate as possible and share!
UNDERSTANDING HEAT SHEETS
Now that both you and your swimmer are settled in, it’s time to get organized. Purchase a Heat Sheet, so that you know when your swimmer will compete. Asking a more experienced swim parent to guide you in following the Heat Sheet can be a big help. The Heat Sheet lists each Event that will occur. Events are very specific, denoting the age and gender of the swimmers, the yards or meters to be completed, and the specific stroke.
Ordinarily, in the same Event for girls and boys, girls swim the Event first. So, a typical heat sheet might read, “Event 1 Girls 11-12 50 Yard Freestyle”. Event 1 is the first event of the swim meet. Most likely, Event 2 will be Boys 11-12 50 Yard Freestyle. Since only 8 or 10 swimmers can compete at one time, and there are usually more than 8 or 10 athletes per Event, the swimmers are grouped into subcategories called Heats. The manner in which the Heats are organized can vary from meet to meet. Swimmers are grouped into Heats according to their previously recorded best time and meet seeding. Sometimes, the Heats run fastest to slowest. Other times, the slower Heats compete first. On occasion, “circle seeding”, is used – this is when faster and slower swimmers are grouped together in the same heat, with the faster swimmers assigned to the center lanes.
Regardless of how the Heats are organized, you will notice that swimmers are assigned lanes according to seeding. The fastest swimmer is in the center, with the next fastest alternating accordingly in descending order to the right and left of center, toward the outer lanes. Take a few minutes and highlight on the Heat Sheet when your child is swimming. In particular, note the numbers of the Event, Heat, and Lane. Hang on to your Heat Sheet, as you will need it throughout each day of the meet.