Swim League is a fast, team-based series of events which is all bringing competitive swimming across each state in a grassroots and participation friendly format.
Uniting people of all levels and skill sets in a new type of format where it’s not about times but instead has an innovative points and scoring system, coaches have to be strategic and everyone gets to swim, the interesting take is that no competition is the same twice.
It’s designed to be quick events, faster racing and the meets have a bigger atmosphere.
Originally scheduled to begin in May, the coronavirus pandemic forced the organisers, Swimming New South Wales, to postpone the kick off of the series until September.
To get the lowdown into what Swim League is all about and how they’ve adjusted in the face of a global pandemic we spoke to Vinh Tran and Adam Beisler from Swimming NSW.
As it’s a new brand spun off Swimming New South Wales, what is Swim League?
Adam Beisler: “It’s a concept based around team based sports. Swimming is obviously very individual but the fact is Australians love team-based activities.
“When I did a bit more research and I looked at the fact that the college system in the US, you look at how it’s progressed over the years, they’ve had huge success with their competition weekends where it’s all teams, it has atmosphere.
“There’s not a big pathway for swimming. When you look at it, if we get anyone that wants to be an elite swimmer, the only real goal at the end of it is an Olympics and only 0.0001 per cent will actually ever make it to an Olympics.
“So for me it’s about creating a different pathway for swimmers. A lot of youngsters and teenagers, they get into that age where they just want to socialise. They just want to turn up and they just want to hang out with their friends, but still like to swim and keep active without having these black and white cut off times that we have for nationals and all the rest of it.”
Describe the participant base of the upcoming Swim League?
AB: “We’ve split it into junior and senior levels, juniors is 12 years and under and seniors is 13 and above, you could go to 60 or whatever. I think the oldest person we’ve had in the league so far has been in their 40’s.
“It’s something we’re trying to grow from a grassroots level. At the moment, it starts at nine and the hope would be that we’ll even drop that down potentially eight or even seven years in the future as kids improve their swimming skills.”
Vinh, what are your goals of the Swim League?
Vinh Tran: “For me, the goal is to provide a different avenue for swimmers to get competition. At the moment, swimming as a sport can be fairly regimented, you have to produce times and then produce times to get to the next level. Swim League does away with qualifying times, there’s no times for the meets, it’s first past the post and very team focussed.
“The goal is to provide another avenue for people to participate in swimming.”
You were scheduled to begin competition in May. How did adjust your schedule for COVID-19, and how will you work the spectre of the pandemic looming over sporting events?
AB: “Of course, very understandably, it resulted in the full shutdown of all events. Now we’re starting events back up again with some adjustments.
“It caused a cancellation of a number of traditional swimming meets and a lack of training and racing opportunities so what we’re doing is providing more Swim League events to allow swimmers the opportunity to get on the blocks for much needed racing practice in the lead up to the upcoming summer season. Swim League won’t have qualifying times to enter, no times are recorded, no heats or finals. The aim is to have fast, fun racing.”
VT: “It’s the height of importance here we have to take the necessary steps to be COVID safe. We’re adhering to NSW government guidelines, COVID-19 safety plans for each event and venue, we’re working closely with venues and pool operators to ensure social distancing and maximising safety and hygiene. Where required we will limit spectator numbers and maintain contact lists.”
I liken Swim League a little bit to Nitro Athletics as a bit of a similar reference point. Modified rules, fast events, team-based and mixed teams.
VT: “Yes! It’s very similar and we mirror athletics in that we both have a lot of challenges that we face, especially in terms of participation particularly at that casual and social level.
“We’re not abandoning our traditional pathways and competitions because there will always be swimmers that aspire to be at the very heights of our sport but we’re providing another avenue for kids to be able to potentially still participate without the pursuit of the elite pathway.”
Adam, was this concept born internally at Swimming NSW, or is it a combined initiative across other state swimming associations? Where did the genesis come from?
AB: “It’s actually come from me. I was a swimmer for pretty much my whole life and I still swim. I competed right up to an international level until I was about 26. In my early twenties I went into coaching.
“This idea actually came around 2006. I spent a bit of time in the US, spent time at summer camps, spent a bit of time in the college system and talking to other coaches you realise that there is a need for something like this.
“The little spin on it is the fact that we’re taking the time out of each meet. If you look at the amount of time it takes to run a meet or how many people are involved you need something like 50 people, technical officials, time keepers, all the rest of it.
“For me to run my meet, I only need four. That’s it. You need two judges, a starter and an announcer, and that is huge because when you’re looking at the future, and we want to scale it, you cannot have 50 people turning up to every one of these matches.”
As for the technological infrastructure required to manage Swim League, what tools and solutions from Stack Sports has been used to power the administration and registration of the Swim League?
VT: “We’ve utilised Stack’s passport and registration platforms which has been a fresh change for us. The setup was simple and we needed something that was user-friendly.
“For Swimming NSW and Swimming Australia, the current club member registration platform we use is a new, bespoke platform for all our club members and, as expected, we did find a few issues with the transition to a new platform.
“With Stack’s platform it’s been a nice change to have something that’s easy to use, and for people to click through links and have a simple registry process.
“The biggest features and drawcard for us was the ease of use for the ‘Active Kids’ voucher. The way it’s been built into Stack’s platform is one of the biggest draw cards for us, parents can enter their voucher number so they can take 100 dollars off their product or registration costs and it saves legwork from our end.”
One of the issues with state sporting associations there is a lot of volunteer and legwork required, there is always a need to save time and volunteer hours.
VT: “That’s right. Once we were able to set it up, it was almost set and forget and essentially watch the registrations come in.
“We’ve been able to manipulate and use the data in ways we need so we can work out where we need to focus, say if its more marketing or communications.”
Adam, your vision is to boost participation for one, what else have you set your sights on?
AB: “If I wanted to get as big as what I wanted to eventually get to, that would take me decades! Having someone like Swimming NSW on board will take the timeframe down to five years.
“The ultimate goal is to see this go national but we’ve got to have that grassroots support to build numbers and interest.
“The idea of developing this system is because we want it to be pretty much all online accessible. Our future for Swim League is having a solid digital infrastructure.
“We’re trying to do a thing where all our scoring will be live updated through the system, then it automatically updates the scoreboard and then at the same time the swimmers that are in that lane, because with Stack Sports’ tools, you can pretty much say which swimmers are going to be swimming which events and in which lanes, and then that goes and updates their stats. With that swimmer you can click on their stats at the end of the season and get a full rundown of their season’s performance.
“Kids want that sort of stuff, when you’re looking at kids being on their devices so much, they want content and one thing that we’re trying to do with Stack Sports is try and get a program where on our website or app or whatever it might be, that links into Stack Sports, you can click on a swimmer’s profile and it can come up with their statistics of their season – as well as other ladders and tables.
“If we introduced the idea and partnered with the other states in the future, we already have the platform down. They know how the Swim League is structured, they know how the point system works.”
You have mentioned spectators are important, why?
AB: “They’ve got to be involved. It’s not necessarily a difficult sell to swimmers and youngsters but it’s difficult to bring spectators and get them actively involved in supporting each event.
“I’m trying to sell entertainment because at the end of the day, I want them turning up for 45 to 60 minutes, and are actually getting entertainment. For me, it’s about building an enjoyable viewing experience.”