Thursday, January 01, 1987

Computerized Swimming (rant)

Computerized Swimming

By Mark Rauterkus, 1987

Computers are showing up everywhere. In corporations, where you bank and shop, at schools, and

now, at the pool. And they’re changing our world. Fast.


Fast. That stands for the quickness and ease of use that computers will be able to gobble up administrative jobs that in the past took hours to complete.


Fast. Like the shooting rapids in the high water, the evolution of computers in swimming is making waves that will sweep the nation in one or two seasons.


Who wants to be washed away and upstream without a paddle?


Will an allegiance to stubborn ways and bygone days cripple your program?


Fast. At the finish, the swimmers will be moving faster, and the computer's impact upon the programs will make a difference upon the quality of the participation experience, not to mention heightened the opportunity for greater improvements.


What can and can’t they do?


How will these miracle machines affect the coaches’, parents’, and

swimmers' pool-side duties?


How many of your present day-to-day activities will become ”computerized"?


Will you be able to keep up with all the changes?


What will it all mean to you, the age-group coach?


Will you be able to afford all the hardware, software, and training time?


Will volunteers and the swimmers be able to work the programs, or will coaches be tied to keyboard and taken off the pool deck?


Or worse yet, will parents and computer programmers be pushing onto the deck interfering with the coaching?


Will they crash?




A handful of people have been the programing pioneers in swimming’s use of computers. To their credit and persistence, these people have already adapted computers to fit their own needs. And, they are doing some substantial ticks with the floppy disks. But no one has really been able to bring the computer along to a point where it is able to float in the swimming marketplace. Most of these homegrown programs sink when they are taken out of their creator’s hands and placed in different situations. These computer hackers have working programs, but most of them are very specific to the tasks on the hands of an age-group coach.

For instance, some great meet management programs are in existence, but pity the coach who tries to get a different order of events for next year’s invitational. Many times out of frustration, A-B Meets have been run using two or more computers.

The computing pioneers in swimming have learned to use them to their advantage, mainly by writing their own programs from scratch. But for most of us, computers still seem mysterious and confusing. And a little intimidating.

But now, since some standard programs exist, putting the computer to work around the pool is a million times easier than just a couple years ago. And, with the Syndicate in full operation, computer operations for the coaches become a breeze.

The computer movement in swimming is going to run into many roadblocks. But we hope are coaches and the Syndicate can give the spark needed to start their acceptance.


Coaches are the root of the swimming community. They are talented motivators of motion. But coaches are not know for superior skills when it comes to paper-pushing. People-pushing, yes, but shuffling paper and administrative tasks are another matter altogether. Coaches affiliate with people-work and normally avoid paperwork.

It is not my intention to scorn and belittle swim coaches. I am a proud age-group coach and also one of the worst offenders in letting paperwork just slide by. The administration of a swim team deserves considerable attention, but this always takes a back seat to the attention paid directly to the swimmers themselves.

I realized my avoidance of paper-work by saying, “Hey, there are only so many hours in the day, and I am not effective doing two things at the same time." I've done all-night budgets, made line-up while on the bus headed to dual meets, and even have Men forced to guess at seed times on a meet entries when our team's best time book became months out of date. So, I’m an offender too. This has frustrated me to no end. So much so, that I've quit coaching on a full-time basis. I promised myself that I'm not going to return to coaching again and get into the time-trap among the administrative chores and coaching contact time while squandering my own life. That is, not until I've found a better way.

I wonder if the coaching time-trap is a universal problem in the profession. Do others reading this newsletter relate to these problems? There must be a better way!

Forgive the editorialization, but it is important for the sake of widespread acceptance. A universal appeal to modernize, and computerize, especially at the age-group and grassroots level is needed. We all have to move ahead on these issues together.

For instance, one team in you league or organization cannot move ahead and computerize effectively without cooperation from the other league-members. Sure, there are some internal matters where a team who has a personal computer can generate the team newsletter with a word-processor and the like. But the big payoff will come when all the teams are networked together.

We cannot wait for the day when meet entries and final results, as we know them today, are extinct. The suffering related to meet entries, meet results and many of the meet director’s biggest headaches can be eliminated with a computerization process, but it has to be UNIVERSAL.

All the teams have to save their times on a compatible computer system so meet entries can be generated easily with a few keystrokes. Then the association best times, final results and championship entries need to be saved to disk and accessible to all.

If we are going to find a better way to manage our duties as coaches, then we need to use the computers effectively and universally.

At first, our reluctance to sit at our desks is going to stall the coach from ever making the commitment to learn the basics, initiating the team's system and developing the data base to get the names and times readable for the computer. But after the coaches learn that the computer is going to make the paperwork easier in the long run, then the modivation has to be there to get started.

But on the other hand, we have a strong warning to issue. There have been many risk takers who have been a bit short on swim meet helpers and have turned to the computer out of haste. We are going to need an open mind, and a well-rounded knowledge base with plenty of professional guidance to gain in productivity.

Each age group club across America should not have to re-invent the wheel. If this were the case, then it would be n a huge waste of time, and we still would not have productivity and connectivity.

I have been there and paid the price of meet entries, best time updates, vague team records, uninspired swimmers who do not know how to or why they need to keep their own records. I was unable to do it all myself. Support people on the commitees which have worked in the programs that I've coached have done so much. I understand that these are tireless jobs, thankless, and only get the recognition they deserve when something is wrong. Wait till a swimmer is seeded with the wrong time, either too fast, or too slow. The margin of error is minimal. If something can be done to clean up the following mess, then more power to it. We have to support what is working to help us work better.

USA Swimming and ASCA are not in the position of recommending a product except for sponsorship and publicity reasons. They are not going to go to the point of recommending a certain product over the others, as it would offend the outside vendors' opportunities. The innovation in the sport is going to have to come from within an independent leadership within swimming, and outside of the political sphere.

We understand it will be quite difficult for nonprofit, community based, volunteer organizations to foot the bill for the computerization of their teams. This includes a steep price tag. The average teams should count on spending upwards of $5000 throughout the next couple of years. Computers, storage, modems, networks, software, education, phone-lines, phone bills, printers, supplies, air conditioning, digitizers, all cost money. But, it will all be worth it!

How much would you, as an age-group coach, be willing to pay to never have to manually do a meet entry again?

How valuable is an updated best time list for the team, the league, or the nation?

How much harder will your team practice when their goals are handed to them at the start of practice?

The questions of value are never ending.

What is going to happen when the meet entries arrive and only one person can deal with all the meet administration paperwork with one computer instead of an army of typist, double-chukers, etc. Now the others can be out soliciting advertisements, running raffles, shooting video tapes and planning post meet parties that we all can attend!

What are the costs of today’s inefficiency in time to you, your program and your swimmers?