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Is It Worth Staying For Finals?

Written By: Pam Swander


January is the time of the year where many 11 & older swimmers, new to the sport, are experiencing Prelim/Final meets for the first time. Often parents are not anticipating their new swimmer qualifying for an alternate or final swim and when they do, those parents wonder if it is worth it to stay. Especially if they are from out of town and have a late night of driving and Monday morning school and work.


Most teams have expectations regarding attending a final session. It is always best to understand and follow your coach’s and team’s expectations. Making a gametime decision to scratch finals can often be emotional for all involved. Therefore, it is best to ask ahead of time what your coach expects and work out a plan together in the event your swimmer qualifies for a final.


Below I offer reasons of why I wholeheartedly recommend returning for the final session especially if you are staying the night in town.

  1. The vibe of an evening final swim is AWESOME! The finals session is unlike the morning session. One major difference is before each event swimmers report to the ready room to check in, and while music is playing, they are escorted to the block and introduced individually. Very cool moment. Another difference is teammates cheer more enthusiastically and the team spirit takes on a life of its own at the final session. Swimmers love to support their team, take advantage of the opportunity to learn from watching finals and to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

  2. The EXPERIENCE cannot be reproduced in practice. The excitement and pressure are intense in the finals environment. Because of this it is difficult to recreate the same atmosphere during practices and participating is the best way for your swimmer to learn how to handle the environment. Swimmers are often faster at night, when their bodies are fully awake, and the swimmer knows what’s at stake. It’s exciting and challenging!

  3. TEAM Championships are won in Finals. Prelim/final meets are usually scored meets and points can only be scored in the final session. Your coach will likely encourage all team members to return to the final sessions because individual and relay positions open that need to be filled with alternates and they can score team points. Swimmers representing their team in a finals race, scoring points for their team, and getting that goal time they’ve worked so hard for is all part of the learning experience and is very rewarding.

  4. Parents are not wrong in wanting to get home timely. When it comes to the last session of the meet, and you are from out of town, having a conversation with the coach is IMPORTANT before deciding to leave. It’s good etiquette if you are planning to scratch from finals, to do so in a timely manner (within 30 minutes of swimming the event) so the alternate can race in your stead. It’s bad form to not scratch and simply miss your event. At some meets, you or the team may be assessed a fine for a no show for a final event.

Common questions about prelims/final meets

Should my swimmer really be ready to go if he’s an alternate?

Absolutely. Crazy things happen. People slip on deck, swimmers get food poisoning between sessions, parents don’t get the message that their child made final. This could all mean there’s an empty lane during finals. When the starter sees an empty lane, he makes a call for that alternate.


Be ready. This is even more important on the meet’s final night. Often swimmers will decide to head home early because they’ve traveled a long distance to the meet, or they have early-morning commitments (work, school).


Can my swimmer win final (top 8) from the consolation final heat (9th -16th)?

Your swimmer is seeded 10th in the consolation final heat, during the finals session, he swims faster than swimmers in the top 8 heat. Does your swimmer finish higher? No. Your swimmer cannot place out of your finals heat. If your swimmer is in the top 8, the worst he can place and score is 8th. If your swimmer is in the consolation final, the highest you can place and score is 9th.


How do I know if my swimmer made finals?

Don’t rely on another swimmer, or Meet Mobile, which can often be wrong. This is up to you and your swimmer to find out. If in doubt, ask your coach. The meet host will post the finalists near the results, and the Clerk of Course will keep a record. It’s up to you to stick around and see how your swimmer placed.


What should we do between prelims and finals?

After the morning session, eat a good meal to help your swimmer refuel (carbs and protein). Drinking water and chocolate milk immediately after a morning session provides many proven benefits and helps with recovery. REST, but if your swimmer likes to nap, limit the nap to no longer than 60 minutes.

Pam Swander is a veteran coach who has coached at every level of the sport from summer league to college. NCAA Division I coaching roles include Clemson University, Indiana University and University of South Carolina. Coach Swander has helped her teams and athletes achieve at the highest levels of the sport - Olympic Trials finalists, World and American world record holders, NCAA, SEC and Big10 Individual Champs and Big10 Championship team titles. Over her college coaching career, she has garnered international experience by accompanying many of her athletes to international meets and championships, including the 2008 Short Course World Championships in Manchester, England where Kate Zubkova won a silver medal while representing Ukraine and IU. At the club level while serving as South Carolina Swim Club’s Head Coach (2016-2018) the club achieved Bronze Medal recognition in the USA Swimming Club Excellence Program and won 2016 LCM and 2017 SCY State Championships. For six years as North Regional Manager and Senior 1 coach at SwimMAC Carolina she oversaw eight Junior National Championship team titles. She achieved club management recognition while serving on SwimMAC’s leadership team helping MAC earn Gold Medal top honors in the USA Swimming Club Excellence Program. She collaborated with MAC coaches to develop and implement SwimMAC’s high-performance initiative. The program produced Olympian Kathleen Baker, and eighteen, 18-Under Olympic Trials qualifiers who went on to have outstanding college careers. As a result, CEO & Head Coach of SwimMAC Carolina, David Marsh received 2012 Developmental Coach of the Year award from USA Swimming for having the most 18-Under Olympic Trials qualifiers in the Nation. In addition to her elite-level coaching experience, Swander has developed community swim lesson curricula, coached High School, served as both the Director of USA Swimming’s Select camp, and the Vice Chair of Hospitality on the U.S. Olympic Trials Committee, and represented Indiana Swimming as a Delegate at the USA Swimming National Convention. Pam is married to Jeff Swander and their two children, Laura and Kevin, became top swimmers at Auburn University and Indiana University, respectively.

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