After a week of fast swimming at the Western Zone (Blue) Sectional Championship, I was still left with a bitter taste in my mouth. The meet was dominated by large clubs, local clubs, and University affiliated programs. I am not envious of their performances (hard work is hard work and should be rewarded), but I am frustrated that the progression of senior swimming in USA Swimming is weighted toward those groups...and it handicaps smaller programs. Please follow my thought process.
We got rid of Regional Championships in lieu of the Sectional Championships. The Region meets drew from a smaller population base, so it was necessary to make the Sectional Championship time standards faster than the old Region time standards. In doing that, we just removed a step in the progression from local senior swimming and national caliber senior swimming. In other words, the local senior swimmer has a much bigger hurdle to jump in order to travel beyond the LSC Senior Championship.
Back in the days of Region Championship meets, a big travel team for me was around 15. For sectionals it around 5.
At the same time we got rid of the Senior Region meets, we got rid of the three site junior format. We replaced Jr's West, Southeast, and Northeast with a single junior meet. Again, this increased the population base and which forced even faster time standards, so close in fact, that they are only fractionally different than the National time standards. We have managed to make hurdle even higher.
Back in the days of the three site Jr Nationals I typically would take 2-4 athletes. Now it is more typical to have 1...if I am fortunate enough to have one at all.
Now, all of this is fine if we primarily want to encourage the early bloomers and most gifted athletes. But as someone who has coached under both progressions, I have to say that kids, of all skill levels, deal better with incremental challenges. Throwing daunting steps in front of them does not promote the sport, but rather alienates those who are not "fast" early on. I firmly believe that one of the reasons that we have more post-grads on the National Team is because our younger up-and-comers are simply less numerous than back in the day. We are smothering the future of USA Senior Swimming with a progression that favors only the older and/or the most gifted.
It is much easier to build a senior group when more kids qualify for the next level of championship. Swimmers are more likely to want to attend a championship if they have teammates who are attending. Swimmers are more likely to attend a meet when they have more qualifying times for that meet. For all of these reasons, I think it is important to have a more gentle progression out of the LSC Senior Championship. Bring back Regions (you can event keep sectionals if you want). Bring back the old Jr Nationals (if it bothers you to have 3 Jr National meets, perhaps these can be the Sectional meets...after all, it is just a name).
A change must come. If we are not careful, we are going to discourage the base and lose them forever.