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Coach's Corner - Having (or Giving) a Good Time

posted February 11, 2008 @ 6:47 PM  |  Meets, Open Water, and Other Events | Technique, Tips, and Drills category

~By Dave Samuelsohn

Announcement: "Come on people; I know it's late but we can't start the 500 until we have sixteen timers. If you can time, please help us out now."

You're thinking, "I dunno how to use a stopwatch." But your ride is in heat six. So you're thinking "Oh God, kill me now." At least if you knew how to time....

I have been asked to offer a Primer on Timing for all of us - and for all of the friends and family who we bring with us for no apparent reason, to swim meets, the planners of which, unfortunately, have not planned well enough to have arranged for timers in advance. I hate when that happens. So, here goes:

1. Check out the watch:

Most stopwatches used in meets today have two buttons. If you ever get one with more buttons than that - trade with someone. Usually, stopwatches are right handed with the button on the right used to start and stop the watch. The button on the left is used to reset.

2. Use your forefinger, not your thumb:

You'll hear that we're supposed to use our forefinger rather than our thumb because there's some pulse or something in the thumb that's not in the forefinger. If that sounds reasonable to you, great, use your forefinger. If you want a better reason, try it both ways. You'll find your reflexes are better with your forefinger which is good since it has no pulse and must otherwise be dead. At least it's good for something. Practice using your forefinger. I hold a stopwatch in such a way that the middle finger operates the reset button on the left. (This is good too because at least that finger gets to do something.) Practice this too. Good, now you're ready!

3. Check your swimmer:

Okay, you've volunteered because your ride is in heat six and you didn't particularly like the shoes you're wearing anyway. When the swimmer arrives, he'll usually have a little card with his name on it, or you could have a computer list on a clipboard. You should ask, "Are you Bart?" If she says no, she may be in the wrong lane.

4. "Timers"

Just before the race you'll be (should be) reminded to clear the watch. This is your middle finger's big chance.... Good! Good job! See, you can do this.

5 Hold the watch up and relax:

Now the race is about to begin. Hold the watch up, with your forefinger on the right hand side button. And relax. Your reaction to the start is faster if you relax.

6. Watch for the flash, don't listen for it:

Since light travels faster than sound, you'll want to watch for the flash - either from the strobe provided to accompany an electronic start usually positioned to one side of the starter (that's the dude in white) - or from the side of the cylinder of the gun (the flash won't come from the muzzle because it's not a real gun - you know - blanks. The muzzle is just for show) Seriously though, you should be able to start the watch by sighting the flash - before you hear the sound. Practice this too.

7. Keep your head in the game:

Now, pay attention to the race. If it's a short race, you're going to have be ready. And if it's a long race, you're going to have to know when it's over. And it it's a very long race, you may never get to go home.

8. Sight straight down on the finish:

As the finish approaches, you're going to want to lean over the edge of the poolside and sight downward through the plane of the finish line or end of the pool. Now do your best to stop the watch the instant the plane is broken or the wall is touched. (Usually the preferred body part is the hand, but in some backstroke events the body part to first touch the wall may be quite exciting. You won't want to miss this, so remember to lean all the way over.) If the swimmer asks, you can tell him his time. If he doesn't, believe me, he doesn't want to know.

9. Don't Drink:

Last thing: write the time down on the little card and wait for the starter to tell you it's okay to clear your watches. Don't reset until you get the okay, because there may be some deal where they don't know what they're doing and the referee will want to see all the little cards. He's the boss and if you mess this up, you won't get one of those warm, flat cokes in those sticky cups they always bring around.

10. Volunteer. Please.

Okay, now you know how to time; its’ really pretty easy. So instead of sitting around and probably nodding off over the excitement, please volunteer to time. You'll enjoy it more.

Oh, and mention my name; I’ll get you a really good seat.


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