What Good Announcing Can Do For Your Meet

Sports announcing is something people love to hate. All the major American sports have announcers, and while we love to pick on their mistakes, they add a lot of value to a sporting event.

In swimming, the most famous announcers are two men: Rowdy Gaines and Sam Kendricks. Gaines is the color commentator on all major international competitions, as well as the NCAA championships (for broadcasts). Kendricks is lesser known outside of swimming but legendary within it for memorizing names, pronunciations and his relentless energy.

Gaines gets a lot of crap (undeserved) for the way he talks about Olympic races. He's doing what he's asked to do, which is to make swimming appeal to an audience that is possibly turning into the first swim meet they have ever seen. 

(Confession: I met Rowdy Gaines in person once and if you have the same chance you will be so overwhelmed by what a nice man he is you will struggle to ever say a critical word about him the rest of your life).

All of this is beside the point. Rather than criticizing Gaines, or Kendricks, lets focus on the hundreds, nay thousands, of swim meets that drone on without any announcing to help. Here are several ways good announcing can help your swim meet:

1. CONTEXT! You know what's exciting? Two swimmers trying to break 6:00 min for the first time in the 500. Many of the swimmers and parents and anybody else that may have wandered by a swim meet will not know this? An announcers job is to get you involved from the first stroke- tell the story of what's happening in the water.

I used to find soccer horribly boring. Why? Because I didn't understand anything about the sport. I spent half a season "coaching" soccer at the start of my career, and my enjoyment went up exponentially having context for all of the things I saw happening on the field.

2. Energy- Again, many exciting things happen at a swim meet. People will not instinctually recognize them. They need leadership- someone with a microphone that is energized at the appropriate times.

No one likes to listen to somebody who is raving like a maniac non-stop, but the appropriate energy and love for what is happening in a swimming pool is infectious (and we need more of it)

3. Building fans- The general state of swimming fandom is sorry. Ask young swimmers to name who was in the Olympics even a year later and you will face a struggle.

This is not young swimmers' faults. We need to build fandom in swimming from the ground up. Swimmers and everyone else in attendance in swim meet need to be educated from the grassroots up. We have such an easy sport to understand on some levels (people race each other and someone wins). It's not a huge leap to explain enough of the bigger details to people to make swimming interesting.

The responsibility for good atmosphere at swim meets should not rest on coaches and volunteers alone. Meet organizers should consider adding quality announcing to the benefit of all involved.

Interested in having an energetic, experiences announcer at your next meet


Three Things Mallory Comerford Did Better Than Ledecky

NCAA Swimming is great. One of the reasons it's great is that the short course format magnifies a different skill set from the long course swimming we see in the Olympics. Because of this, some of the world's best swimmers face hard races at the NCAA level.

Mallory Comerford did just that to the best swimmer in the world, Katie Ledecky, when she tied her in the 200 free. The Louisville sophomore went toe to toe with not only Ledecky but one of the hottest swimmers of the meet, Simone Manuel. How did she do it? Let's take a look:

Comerford is barely mentioned by commentator Rowdy Gaines off the top, even though she was fairly well known in college swimming circles. With the focus on Manuel and Ledecky, don't miss what Comerford (third from the top) is doing early on to set herself up to tie Ledecky in this race.

Efficiency underwater

Comerford is very efficient in the underwater portions of her race. She actually has a poor start in relation to the rest of the field, jumping too far up instead of out, resulting in a slow entry into the water and landing too deep.

She makes up for it immediately with a compact and controlled kick. Look at how still her upper body is when she is kicking- this shows great control. By managing the size of her kick, she comes far underwater without spending too much oxygen, this is a 200 free after all and she will need it at the end of the race.

Comerford repeats this process for each wall. Off the first turn she puts her feet on the wall almost simultaneous to Ledecky but breaks out ahead, and the next wall flips behind but pulls even again. 

Because Comerford is able to do such efficient work underwater, she can actually relax more during the swimming portion relative to Ledecky, who in this race had to stress to maintain contact with Manuel and push her lead on Comerford.


Rather than guess at the psychology of who was "swimming their own race" in an NCAA final, let's take a look at something quantifiable. Comerford swam a better paced race than either Ledecky or Manuel.

Here are Comerford's splits:


Compare these to Ledecky's


Ledecky's splits reveal that she went out too fast, as she jumped significantly in time from the 2nd to 3rd 50., Comerford's splits almost appear as if she swam in isolation, trying to hit a strong first 50, and then three splits within about 1.5 seconds of that pace. 

Changing kick speed

Take another look at the above video, with particular attention to Comerford's kick in the first 100 yards. She looks as if she is barely kicking, and if you had never seen her swim before you might guess that she is not a strong kicker.

Then watch the second 100, where she appears to change speeds (even though she is just maintaining speed) by engaging her kick. This is such a smart strategy because kicking in a 200 is like taking out a high interest loan. You will get a big reward immediately but pay it back down the line a lot. Fortunately for Comerford, by waiting to fully engage her kick to the second 100, she only had to pay back her loan in the warmdown pool.

Mallory Comerford may have stunned many with her victory, but probably not her coaches, who no doubt worked on all of the above throughout the season. These are changes that even beginning swimmers can make to the way they approach a 200 freestyle that can make a big difference. 

Do you want to add video technical analysis to your training? Fill out a contact form to discuss plans. 


The 2017 Easterns and The Role of Announcing

In the water, Mathias was pumping his fist and yelling. Clearly he was excited, but the crowd was silent. It was the 2014 Danish Open, and he had just broken a National record, only no announcement. A few seconds later,  the stuttering announcer tripped over a few words alerting the crowd to the swim.

When I announce the the 117th edition of the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships next weekend, this is the kind of moment I will be desperately trying to avoid. I first got a chance to announce the meet seven years ago, for Floswimming 1.0 with Garrett McCaffrey. Now I'm back, older and wiser and reflecting on what it takes to do a great job announcing a swim meet.

First, with all apologies to one man announcing crews who do the impossible, announcing a swim meet is really a two person job. Like any other sports, you need two things: play-by-play, and color.

The play-by-play person is there to make sure everyone watching the meet can follow the action. They will announce who is swimming in what lane, what team they are from, and who got their hand on the wall first. They can also announce awards, spots for finals and generally act as the traffic cop of the meet.

This is an incredibly important job, even at meets where some of the same information is provided via the scoreboard and heat sheets. A running commentary allows people who just tuned in or entered the building to get into the competition right away.

I will not be doing that job- for that I will have my colleague Luke Ryan.

The color is meant to provide context to what is happening. We know someone swam and touched in a certain time- was it a big improvement? Are they on pace during the race for something big? How do certain results affect the team race? The color person creates a narrative for the meet and adds knowledge that is not obvious to the crowd.

For swimming, our most well-known combo is Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines, who have announced the last six Olympics games for NBC sports. Hardcore swimming people love to hate these two- primarily because they know more than the context Gaines provides (most of the audience, however, does not). 

There is room for an argument that Gaines should do more to educate the casual fan, that he could reference which side a freestyler is breathing too a little less and explain more of the tactics to the folks back home. After all, fans of other sports have come to like increasingly insightful commentary in their own sport.

Can I pull it off? Give the meet a watch and find out! I've been preparing detailed notes for weeks so I can do my part with Luke to add to the meet experience for swimmers and fans.