Advanced Pool Etiquette for Masters Swimmers, Lesson 1: Awareness

Advanced Pool Etiquette for Masters Swimmers, Lesson 1: Awareness

The first in a series of posts on etiquette for organized pool swimming. These lessons are considered “advanced” because they focus on nuances of etiquette specific to organized or coached swim workouts, such as Masters. You should already be familiar with basic pool etiquette for lap swimming, which has been well covered by LoneSwimmer, Rob Aquatics, and Art Hutchinson.

As Donal has written, if there’s a “golden rule” of pool etiquette, it’s probably awareness. Be aware of what is going on around you. Who are you sharing a lane with? What are their relative swim speeds? Where are they? Are they swimming back and forth continuously, or are they doing intervals? What strokes are they doing? Is a faster swimmer approaching from behind? Get out of their way. Is someone standing above your lane, preparing to join you? Make room for them. Are you splitting a lane with someone, and a third person is about to join? Get ready to circle-swim.

Awareness is also vitally important in an organized workout. It’s actually easier to be aware in an organized setting, because everyone is (or should be) doing the same thing. By the same token, swimmers in an organized workout are held to a higher standard of awareness, precisely because it’s easier. An etiquette faux pas – cutting someone off, or colliding with them – is less forgivable in an organized workout than in a lap-swim lane.

What does it mean to be aware in an organized swim workout? Sort of like lap swimming, but moreso.

I know exactly how many people I’m sharing a lane with, and where they are in the physical space of the 25-yard or 50-meter lane. I know what my lanemates’ average swim speed is, relative to me. I can tell whether they’re swimming faster or slower than they usually do, within just a few laps. I also know how I’m swimming – am I having a fast day, and off day, or an average day? I’m always watching the pace clock.

Combining all this information, I’m constantly calculating whether any adjustments in the lane order need to be made. Why? Because if I have to pass someone in the middle of a set, or if someone has to pass me, that interferes with our workout and increases the chance of collision. If the lane order is correct, no one should ever have to pass (or be passed) in the middle of a swim. If someone is consistently creeping up on me, at the next rest I’ll offer to let them go ahead. If I’m consistently creeping up on someone, they’ll usually offer to let me go ahead. If they don’t, they’re not being “aware.”

How do I know if someone is creeping up on me? After a turn, I know exactly where I should pass the swimmer behind me (going in the other direction), assuming that person went 10-seconds apart (or 5 seconds in a crowded situation). Familiarize yourself with markings on the bottom of the pool. If I suspect someone is creeping up on me, I can confirm by watching the pace clock at the end of the swim. If they left 10 apart and finished 7 seconds after me, that means they’re creeping.

A common “error of awareness” in a Masters workout: A swimmer doesn’t see another swimmer approaching from behind and intending to pass. Again – this shouldn’t happen if the lane order is correct, but another situation is when leading swimmers “lap” trailing swimmers.

The wall is the best place to let another swimmer pass. If a swimmer is forced to pass in the middle of a lap, someone screwed up, and it’s not the faster swimmer. The best way to “get passed”? Stay on the same side of the lane as you approach the wall; let the passing swimmer move to the other side and execute their turn; switch sides and push off behind them. If instead, you move to other side of the lane before you approach the wall, you will cut off the passing swimmer and create a potential collision.

How do you know when to pause and let another swimmer pass? Be aware of the other swimmer’s speed – or more precisely, the rate at which they’re gaining on you. If they will pass you within the next length, you should pause at the wall and let them pass.

The goal of all this is to avoid collisions or interfering with other people’s workouts. A lane of “aware” swimmers – even a crowded lane – is like a well-oiled machine. You get all the benefits of training with other people (motivation, camaraderie) and none of the downsides.

If you’re new to organized workouts, “awareness” may take some time to develop. But just keep swimming (preferably not in the “fast lane”) and soon enough, you’ll do all this stuff without even thinking about it.

One Response to “Advanced Pool Etiquette for Masters Swimmers, Lesson 1: Awareness”

  1. Bob Needham


    “The best way to “get passed”? Stay on the same side of the lane as you approach the wall; let the passing swimmer move to the other side and execute their turn; switch sides and push off behind them.”

    It never ceases to amaze me that people don’t understand that. I (used to) pass a slower during lao swim on the left coming into a wall. For some reason they feel the need to cut across so they can flip in the middle of the lane. When they happened to leave enough room to the left I (used to) squeeze between them and the lane line. The only problem is they then pushed off running right into me. When they were stopped (always standing in the middle at the wall) I would stop and explain things to them and ask if they could stand to one side if they are taking a break. This always fell on deaf ears. After that I felt anything was fair game. Of course these days I am in the lane with the noodlers so I no longer have this problem.


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