Psyched Online

SWIMMING: The Heat Sheet – An Autobiography

by Allan Kopel

Hello. I am a heat sheet and I want to tell you a little bit about myself. Depending on the number of years you have been swimming, you may have differing perspectives on what my purpose in life is. It may not seem glamorous but I am actually very popular at certain times. There are, unfortunately, some misconceptions about me.

My basic role in life is to help people stay organized at swim meets. Swimmers and coaches read me to find out what heats and lanes they are assigned to for their races. This same information lets parents know when their child will be swimming. Officials also use me in order to stay organized as they oversee swim meets. At championship meets with on site announcers and media coverage, I am used to help those people follow the events and do their jobs well. So far it is rather simple.

At most swim meets the heat sheets are printed ahead of time. Coaches receive a copy of me with any other pertinent meet information upon arrival at the meet. Coaches can often be seen highlighting the names of their swimmers so they can observe every swim. Parents and other spectators typically receive a heat sheet when they pay their admission to the meet. The first thing most people use me for is to find out where they are seeded in their races. Seeding is based on the entry time submitted. Let’s take an example of what you may see when you read me.

Assume that in the 100 meter freestyle, there are 48 swimmers entered and you are swimming in an eight lane pool. This means there will be 6 heats (48 entries / 8 lanes = 6 heats). The entries will appear slowest to fastest. Generally, if the meet is a “timed final” format, the top 8 entries will be in the last heat (heat 6 in this case); the next fastest 8 in the next heat, etc. Timed final, in case you do not know, means that swimmers race one time to determine the order of finish and to record their time for the event. The final order of finish is determined solely on the time swum, so you should not assume that the order on the heat sheet has any bearing on the time you will swim or the order you will finish. Within each heat the swimmers are assigned lanes based on their entry time. The fastest entry is in lane 4, then lane 5, lane 3, lane 6, lane 2, lane 7, lane 1, and finally lane 8. Here is where one of the first misconceptions about me sometimes occurs. The heat and lane assignments are based solely on the entry times, and have no bearing on the possible order of finish after the race has been swum. Remember to use me only to know when and where you swim. I am not an indicator of how you will swim or where you will rank among the competitors. Each swimmer has one’s own lane in which to have a super race. When you have fun and race great, your time may improve and the order of finish may be very different from the order of the entries.

Let’s use the same example of 48 swimmers in an 8 lane pool and look at a swim meet with a preliminary and final format. All swimmers are placed into a heat and lane for the preliminary swim, during which each swimmer races for the opportunity to compete in the championship finals. Times from the preliminary heats are official and can count for records and rankings. During the preliminary heats, the last 3 heats are the “seeded heats” and are entered in a “circle seeded” fashion. These “seeded heats” include the fastest entry times: the fastest 24 in an 8 lane pool; the fastest 18 in a 6 lane pool, etc. Follow the pattern ahead and you should be able to see why they are referred to as “circle seeded” heats. The top entered time will be in lane 4 of heat 6 (the final heat of this race). Lane 4 of an 8 lane pool is right in the middle and is considered the fastest lane. The next fastest time goes in lane 4 of heat 5; the next in lane 4 of heat 4 and the next (the 4th fastest entry) in lane 5 of heat 6; then lane 5 of heat 5; lane 5 of heat 4; and lane 3 of heat 6. This pattern keeps going, moving from the center lanes to the outside lanes, until the fastest 24 entries fill out the lanes of the last three heats in the event. Are you ready for a little quiz? What lane and heat will the 8th fastest time be in? the 15th fastest? the 22nd fastest? (seed 8 is in heat 5, lane 3; seed 15 is in heat 4, lane 2; and seed 22 is in heat 6, lane 8). How did you do? Once again, we need to address one of the misconceptions about me. Entries are only for the purpose of having a fair and organized race setting. Remember that racing in a seeded heat can produce a finish with people way ahead and behind others because the times in a circle seeded heat may differ quite a bit. Always race your very best. You always have a chance to achieve a good time, and the actual finish within a heat can be very misleading relative to one’s overall finish in the event.

Remember that we have only taken care of 24 of the 48 entered swimmers so far. The remaining swimmers are entered fastest to slowest, the same as in a “timed final” event. So, heat 3 will have the 25th through 32nd times; heat 2 has the 33rd through 40th, and heat 1 has the 41st through 48th entry times. Remember that the fastest entry in the heat is assigned to lane 4, then lane 5, lane 3, lane 6 and so on.

Whereas in the timed final format swimmers race just one time for their team points and for the awards being presented, in a preliminary and final format, swimmers race first in the preliminary with the fastest persons from those heats earning the right to race in the finals. Finals may include one, two or three sections, often called “A”, “B” and “C”, or Championship, Consolation and Bonus Sections respectively. A whole new set of me (heat sheet) gets printed up for the finals sessions. Actually I am typically referred to as “finals sheets”, but for all intent and purpose I still function as a heat sheet for that session.

In preliminary heats, swimmers may finish in any order, based solely on the time from the preliminary swims. During finals, a swimmer may only rank as high or low as the places within his final heat. For example, if after the preliminaries you qualify for the championship final (top 8 in an 8 lane pool), as long as you finish your race legally in finals, you can not finish any lower than 8th place. Similarly, if you qualify 9th through 18th from the preliminaries and swim in the “B” section of finals, you could possibly set a world record in your “B” section final, and it would count, but the highest you could finish in the meet would be 9th. Notice also that you must complete your race legally in the finals in order to score points for your team and to earn any awards. Getting disqualified in a final session would be like racing fast in the preliminary heats and then choosing not to participate in the finals session. Within the heats of the finals sessions, swimmers are assigned lanes similar to what we’ve seen already. That is, the top qualifier from the preliminaries is in the championship, or “A”, heat in lane 4 (of the 8 lane pool), and the next fastest is in lane 5, then lane 3, lane 6, etc. See, there is a pattern to this. Oh, your preliminary heat swim has no bearing on your finish within the finals. Everyone in finals starts even, with the only difference being the lane you are assigned to. It is not like ice skating where your score from the preliminaries may carry over to the finals.

So are we a little more familiar with who I am and with what you can expect to learn from me? The heat sheet is helpful but should NEVER be thought of as determining how you will swim or where you will finish in the rankings. There are a few more things you may notice when you read me. Some meet hosts use me, along with the chance to run a meet, as an opportunity to raise money. One way to do this is to sell advertising space in the pages in the heat sheet. You can sell ad space to businesses as well as to people wishing to offer support and kind words to their favorite team or swimmer. It takes a lot of work to sell this ad space but it is an important job as this is one way to keep your beautiful swim teams going strong.

Another thing you might see in me are times which pertain to the swimmers at the meet. At a high school meet for example, at the top of each event you might find times like the meet record; the state high school record; the national high school record; and the standard to submit for All-American consideration. Other swim meets have similar times listed which make people aware of standards to shoot for. In an age group championship meet, you might see the time standards like the meet record; the LSC record; the time to qualify for your zone team; and the national meet qualifying times. Oh no, there I go with terms to define. LSC refers to your local swimming committee as determined by United States Swimming. It is a designation based on geographic proximity, but also has implications for administrative and legislative purposes. We’ll deal with that in a later article. Some LSC’s are states, as in Connecticut Swimming, or Georgia Swimming. There are other LSC names like New England, Pacific Northwest or Florida Gold Coast.

One final item you may find in me is a time line. A time line is an approximation of when each event will begin. This is just an estimate. If a time line is posted, the events should not begin earlier than the posted start time. It is important that you confer with your coach to learn if the meet is observing a set time line because you do not want to miss your event.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned something from this. I enjoy being your heat sheet, but I do not want you to ever think that I am anything more than a guide for knowing your heat and lane assignment. Your coach may have some keen observations to share with you, but you should always try your very best and never assume that the order of times in the heat sheet indicates what the order will be after you and the others race.

Remember to ask your coach questions about the heat sheet or anything else you may wish to know. Coaches are eager and able to help you. Also remember that heat sheets are put together by people. Even though these people work hard and want to do things well, they sometimes make mistakes. If, for example, your name is left out of an event or your name is misspelled, point this out to your coach. Your coach can usually make the necessary corrections. If there is a mistake in the heat sheet, please do not let it get you upset. Let your coach take care of the problem, while you go through your warm up and get ready to have a great day of racing. Have fun and race like a champion. I look forward to seeing your name printed on me at your next swim meet.

Allan Kopel has coached at the college and club level having held positiions at University of North Carolina, Florida Atlantic University, Fort Lauderdale Swim Team and Jack Nelson Swim Camp, Albany (OR) Aquatics, Sunkist Swim Team, and the New England Barracudas. He holds two graduate degrees (education & business). Although he loves swimming , Allan promotes all forms of exercise saying – “Just move baby!”