In addition to his guru-esque knowledge about swimming open meets and galas, Simon Brown is the Leicester Sharks Records Officer, Occasional Time Keeper, Shouty Parent from the Stands and Keen Parent Who Always Arrives Early at Galas to Reserve Seats. You definitely want him on your side.
We caught up with him early on a Saturday morning at swim training.
Leicester Sharks (LS): Simon, thanks so much for agreeing to meet with us, it's a real privilege. So tell us, just what is the difference between a swimming open meet and a gala?
Simon Brown (SB): Galas are a series of competitions involving other swimming clubs, and they usually form part of a league, e.g. the Arena League. Leicester Sharks normally competes against 5 or 7 other teams in each gala during the course of a league, and our team can be promoted or relegated, like in football.
There can also be one-off friendly galas that the club is invited to, such as the 'What's Jaws?' and 'Where's Nemo?' galas.
Some galas that Leicester Sharks attend consist only of relays, e.g. the recent LASA inter club relay gala, which are quite fun to watch but can also result in a few 'flyers' (leaving the blocks too early on the changeover) as the swimmers get overexcited.
Galas are always on a Saturday evening - which wreaks havoc with your social life - and swimmers usually don't know prior to a gala what race they'll be swimming.
This is to ensure swimmers don't get anxious about the event that they've been selected for. So all swimmers need to be prepared to swim any stroke and any distance (to a maximum of 100m).
Galas are team events where children experience the thrill of competing and having fun on poolside. At Leicester Sharks we sometimes send four teams out on a Saturday night to different galas.
Galas often have set age groups, eg: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, or 11 and under, 13 and under, 15 and under etc. This means that the club doesn't have a set 'A' or 'B' team and swimmers can be selected for a number of different teams throughout the year. They shouldn't take it personally if one week they swim for the A team and the next week they're competing in the D team!
LS: That's great information Simon, thank you. Anything else you'd like to add?
S.B: Well the 'serious bit' about galas is that all members of Leicester Sharks are required to attend galas if they are selected. If we can't get enough swimmers to form a team, we have to withdraw from the event which is a letdown for the team, and usually results in the club being fined for not participating.
LS: Ouch! OK, moving on to open meets, what can you tell us Simon?
SB: Open meets are one-off competitions held by swimming clubs where swimmers represent their club, but compete as individuals.
These events can take place in a single day but are often over a whole weekend with a huge range of events that swimmers can participate in, from 50m breaststroke up to 1500 freestyle.
Swimmers compete in these events for the fun of racing, but also to gain Personal Best times (PBs) and qualifying times for higher licensed swim meets (see below).
Open meets are licensed at Levels 1 to 4.
A Level 1 meet (the highest level) is aimed at swimmers close to national qualification and trying to achieve National Qualifying Times (NQTs). It will have minimum qualifying times.
A Level 2 meet is aimed at swimmers who are trying to achieve times for regional events, e.g. the Midlands Championships. They will have minimum qualifying times and upper limit times.
A Level 3 meet usually has upper limit times, so you could be too fast to enter. And if you swim faster than the upper limit time on the day, you can be issued with a speeding ticket! These meets are aimed at county and club swimmers.
A Level 4 meet may also have upper limit times, and is aimed at club swimmers.
LS: So where do swimmers get their official times in order to enter the swim meets, Simon?
SB: A swimmer's official times are taken from the ASA rankings. After any licensed swimming meet, swimmers times are automatically uploaded up to the ASA Rankings database. You can check your child's times and ranking on swimmingresults.org and see their ASA number here. You need to list their ASA number on swim meet entry forms. Often, times from galas are not included on the Rankings.
LS: But some of the younger swimmers who haven't competed before might not have times, is that right? How do they get times to enter swim meets?
SB: You're right. Younger swimmers who haven't swum in swim meets before won't have official times. However, as part of their swimming training, the coaches will ask them to do time trials, which gives the coach a good idea of the times they can achieve. The coach can therefore provide a time for the swimmer.
The serious bit
Swimming open meets are fun but very competitive and officials scrutinise swimmers' technique closely. This can result in disqualifications when you first start for faulty swimming technique or going too early off the block, aka 'taking a flyer'. But don't worry it happens to the best of swimmers.
The good bit
Medals are usually awarded to the top three fastest swimmers from each age category and will be made clear in the entry conditions for the open meet.
There are often heat declared winners (HDW) which means that no final is swum, but the top three swimmers in an age category are selected by their times.
This can be confusing because if your child wins their heat, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll win an award. You need to look at the times achieved by all other swimmers who are the same age as your child to see whether your child will win a medal.
Some open meets have finals for specific events where the fastest swimmers compete for medals.
Don't be disheartened if you don't win medals, open meets are all about improving your times to qualify for further open meets, and showing progression.
LS: Simon, thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to pick your brains. We're sure that the members of Leicester Sharks will find it extremely useful. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
SB: No, I think that's it. But if I've missed anything out, other parents are very welcome to add their comment below!