Swimming Etiquette

Behaviour Rules For Swimmers


Nikki Dryden

Finally there will be no more excuses, no more reasons to bite your tongue when fellow swimmers neglect the rules of swimming. This is the last word on how to swim in training and meet warm-ups. For too long swimmers have held back their frustration, but after this article, those swimmers who continue to disregard proper swimming etiquette will not be exonerated. Except for severe extenuating circumstances, no one will be pardoned, no matter what their plea or justification for the way he or she swims, for this is the ultimate collection of rules on swimming etiquette.

Although there is room for slight modification on the following rules, workout etiquette is imperative as fatigue sets in and swimmers' fuses are cut short. The most important rule is to be aware of where the other swimmers are in your lane. Regardless of what you may think, you are not the only person in the pool.

Some people like to sprint warm up, which is fine as long as they realize that some people don't need to bust a move on the first 100 of every workout. Lead out the lane, take up the rear, do what you need to do to get going, but keep in mind that each swimmer does it differently. No hard feelings when the Olympic medallist in the group wants to run halfway down the pool and dive in with five metres to go.

Okay, we all know lanes can get crowded and there is the chance that you will catch the person in front of you. But when you come into the wall, be conscious of where your teammates are. You must cut across before you turn. No turning and pushing off at an angle, because then you leave no room for the person behind you. I once scratched the eyeball of someone who turned into me. I did feel badly, but rules are rules.

Never try to pass someone on the outside between the flags and the wall. Be considerate, and because the person being passed knows you are there, she can move over early to give you more room to turn. These rules are especially important when passing backstrokers. They cannot see, so make certain they know where you are.

Main Set and Passing
This can be somewhat of a free-for-all because you should never give way or roll over to a faster swimmer. However, all swimmers must be considerate of this fact. Faster swimmers must realize that slower swimmers are trying just as hard as they are and that their set is just as important. Slower swimmers must understand that it takes a toll on faster swimmers to have to pass you constantly.

Touching feet is a no-no. One touch of the foot on the side you are passing on is helpful, but one touch only! Swimmers who swim on another's feet are annoying at best. Leaching, or drafting as it is called in cycling, is also a big no-no. Swimmers who leach deserve to be yelled at; coaches should interfere on this if they see it happening. Passing should always be done on the outside. If you pass on the inside there is no room for the passee to go. (The only exception to this rule is on turns. See above for details.) By moving over close to the lane line, by obeying turn rules, and by using the space above the black line for passing only you will facilitate workouts for everyone.

This brings us to an important point. The black line divides the lane; no one should swim over this line unless passing. Those swimmers who swim down the middle are the worst swimming etiquette offenders out there. This space is needed for passing and the extra inches of the arms and legs of breaststrokers, flyers, and backstrokers.

Keep those fingernails trimmed! Scratching is not very nice - although in extreme cases of illegal passing moves and male leaches, I have used this technique as a little reminder to swimming etiquette offenders. Rules of leaching apply to girls too and remember, when you beat a guy in workout, he isn't particularly happy about it. Don't make matters worse by leaching off him before you beat him. Also, what happens in the pool should be left there. If you get beaten, or you beat someone else, let it go when the workout ends. Our competitive nature can lead to some fiery moments of caddish behaviour, but leave it in the water.

In most cases you are bigger and faster than girls, so act like it. Guys who leach off girls should be revealed for the slackers they are. If girls want to sprint warm up, let them. But please take it easy on your female teammates when you are passing them. Passing over the top of us is unnecessary. If the girls follow proper passing rules and move to the edge of the lane, there is no need to ignore our existence.

Be gentle with these deadly weapons. It is not fun hitting hands with a paddle wearer, especially when your hands are swollen from a long hard set. But just shake it off, because it is usually a mutual and legal hit. Backstrokers must take special notice to avoid slicing teammates under the lane line. Be careful and cognizant of your teammates.

Leading Out
It is physically hard to lead out the lane. You have to pull your teammates the whole way unless you can get a good whirlpool going between the first and last swimmer in each lane. Share the burden, lead out when you can, and give your teammates a break. Leading out is also very challenging mentally. By sharing the burden of watching the clock and thinking about pace times, sometimes you get the chance to follow and give your mind a rest.

This is a team and/or coach thing. On some teams it is okay; on others it is strictly forbidden. It also depends on your age and competitive level. You will know what you can and cannot do. Age-groupers should never cheat. For older swimmers, there are times when you do what you need to do to stay on the interval; turning around half way or skipping a 50 or 100 may be necessary. Dolphin kick with breaststroke and pulling into the walls on kick are allowed within reason. Leaving early and one arm fly are not acceptable. Pulling on lane lines is a tough one. I have trained with some of the best male backstrokers of all time. Martin Zubero and Royce Sharp lived on the lane lines, coming close to world records in practice. However, this can ruin the lane lines and really mess up your stroke. Therefore it is not advised on anything but kick turns and warm-up and warm-down. But the most important thing to remember about all this is that when you cut corners, you are only cheating yourself out of the opportunity to be a better swimmer.

Meet Warm-Ups
There are regional differences here and it is necessary to know who your competitors are. Americans swim clockwise and hate to do it differently. They are used to training in single lanes. Canadians go both ways and are used to swimming in double circle lanes - up the outsides and down the middle. So during warm-ups, take note of lane direction. Europeans aren't into the "cut before the turn"; they like to push off at an angle after the turn. This makes life especially difficult in crowded warm-ups, but if you acknowledge that that's the way they do it, you can prepare before the turn.

Passing rules are still in effect, however keep your head up because a passer almost always occupies the black line. Keep strokes long when you are four across in a single lane. I gave myself a bloody nose once during a meet warm-up. I was wearing paddles and passing. The on-coming swimmer wasn't looking up and my paddle hit his arm and came back in my face. I stopped the bleeding just in time to race the first event.

Turning rules are also in effect and walls should be kept free at least in the middle of the lane. It is the responsibility of the swimmer on the wall to get out of the way for the incoming swimmer. Now if you know you are going to be faster than the in-coming swimmer, by all means push off before he or she turns. However, if you are kicking or drilling or going to swim slower, do not push off right in front of someone turning.

Diving in is illegal in most meets. The Americans are afraid of getting sued and I have seen a few broken noses from this kind of thing. Europeans are quite laid back about this, so pay particular attention to your lane partners. Whether feet or head first, it is still annoying to be tidal-waved by other swimmers who jump in front of you.

In a perfect world there would be lanes for breaststrokers and kickers only, another few lanes for free only, and another lane for fly and back. In meets with a normal number of athletes, these rules should be implemented. For jam-packed warm-ups, it is pretty much "the strongest person gets the best warm-up." Hitting, crashing, and feet touching will occur. Just shake it off and try to follow the rules.

Meet warm-ups are tough. I have found that the timid don't survive. Get in and go for it. Be considerate, but be on the offensive. Then it doesn't hurt as much when you get hit.

So these are the rules. If you have any to add, let us know, because this needs to be cleared up once and for all. These rules need to be set so there can be no more excuses. Now that everyone knows how to swim, we can all get along better in workouts. It is up to you to swim properly and not irritate your teammates. You know who you are: slackers, leachers, Sammy-save ups, black line hogs, and those swimmers who swim along without regard for their fellow swimmers.

Workouts can be a joy. But when you are tired, the last thing you need is someone who is clueless about proper swimming etiquette. Be aware and be fair, and the crowded lane can be your happy place.