By George Block, Technical Vice-President, USA Swimming
After less than a year of serving as Technical Vice-President for USA Swimming, the most common (by far!) complaint that landed in my email inbox was about “Zones.” So at last fall’s USA Swimming convention, I used the early-morning coaches’ caucus for a “town meeting” on Zones. What I heard surprised me.
The standard complaints were brought forward, but I got to hear “the other side” as well. Coaches who used the Zone meet as the high point of their summer season. Coaches who had attended the last 13-18 consecutive Zone meets. Age Group coaches who use Zones as the bridge to senior swimming. All were completely happy with their historic Zone meet.
The more I reflected on it, the more I realized that the coaches who were using the Zone Championships were involved in the design, format and scheduling of the meets, and the meets met their needs – well. The frustration I was hearing was from those for whom the Zone Championship did not meet their team’s needs. They wanted the Zone Championship to fill that void.
That “void” seemed to be 3-dimensional. It was a geographic void. Some areas of the country had a much greater void than others. It was a calendar void – primarily (although not exclusively) late summer. And it was a time standard void. There are a significant number of swimmers who fall somewhere between the Sectional level and the Junior National level that need a “Championship Meet.”
The Zone frustration was felt by those coaches who were trying to fill those voids with the existing Zone Championships. The problem isn’t with the Zone meets. The problem is that we aren’t meeting the needs of a significant number of developing swimmers and their coaches.
The problem was most commonly defined as “the old Junior National group.” Under the current Junior National format, the gap between Nationals and Juniors has been reduced by 50% (from about 4% to about 2%), while the gap between Juniors and Sectionals increased by 50% (from 4% to 6%).
Below is a one-event sample that demonstrates the “gap” I was hearing about. The current Sectional standard from one, successful Section is about 8% slower than Seniors. The “old” Junior meets split that in half and were about 4% slower than Seniors. The new (current) Junior standards are only 2% slower than Seniors, leaving a 6% gap between Juniors and Sectionals.
Women’s 200 free Nationals Juniors 2000 Jrs. Southern Zone/Western Section
|LC Time Standard||2:03.69||2:06.49||2:09.09||2:13.59|
|Time in Seconds||123.69||126.49||129.09||133.59|
|% Age of Nationals||1.00||1.02||1.04||1.08|
Additionally, as many of the Sections have migrated to mid-July to become National qualifiers rather than end-of-season championships, this “calendar gap” compounds the “time standard gap.” This effect becomes most profound in areas where the school year is “late” (i.e. late starting and/or late ending) causing a “geographic gap.”
Shooting from the hip, I think we need a “Zone Junior Championship” (in most Zones), late in the summer (late-July/early August). Since I like to think with facts rather than impressions, I am going to request the actual data on numbers of swimmers that fall into these gaps. In the meantime, if you have ideas or comments, please send them to email@example.com. We will try to publish the most interesting ideas.