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.