Here's why. Today, I hopped into the "fast lane" and quickly realized that I was swimming faster than other people in my lane. This is fine and something that I encounter regularly during recreational swimming hours. It's also something that's easy to manage if people have a shared understanding of "swimmer's etiquette."
|Swimming can flow, if everyone understands etiquette|
In my experience, most swimming conflicts emerge around how someone should pass another person. Typically, if you want to pass someone, you should lightly tap them on the foot. This initiates the pass. It's a signal that you are on a person's tail and that you want to get around them. After you do the "foot tap," the person being tapped should make room for you to pass safely. They can do this in a number of ways. Here are four of the most common (please feel free to comment on others!):
1) They scoot closer to the lane line, giving you room to pass down the middle of the lane.
2) They scoot into the middle of the lane, giving you room to pass closer to the lane line.
3) They keep swimming until they get to the wall and then wait, letting you push off in front of them.
4) They dive down to the bottom of the pool, allowing you to pass over them.
Unfortunately, today I jumped into a lane where other swimmers didn't seem to understand these unspoken rules. Part of me wonders if this is another cultural difference between the US and Canada? I've swum competitively and recreationally in various contexts (e.g. club, high school, NCAA) and most people seem to have a basic sense of what a "foot tap" means while swimming.
But, people swimming at the pool today didn't seem to have this background knowledge. In fact, people were very upset that I was swimming up behind them, tapping their feet, and trying to swim around them. One of the people I was trying to pass would ignore my foot taps. He would swim into the wall, do an open turn, and then push off diagonally, nearly colliding with me. This was really annoying. He did this about 3-4 times until I finally grabbed his calf and pulled him back, swimming by him.
|A young Howard Becker in a jazz club|
And then, there was a woman who got upset that I kept tapping her feet. I would decelerate, tap her feet and wait for her to respond. But, instead of doing one of the above actions, she started kicking her feet aggressively in my face. I almost got kicked in the jaw once and opted to swim "heads up water polo freestyle" until I found an opening where I could safely pass her.
She then complained to the staff, who said that I should be waiting for a safe moment to pass. When I explained what I was doing, the staff would say that I just needed to swim slower. Really? Since when is it the responsibility of the faster person to "swim slower?" Why aren't passing dilemmas the shared responsibility of everyone in the lane?
This is a really frustrating thing about swimming in recreational hours. Lifeguards will quickly tell a swimmer to move over into the "fast lane" if they are going much faster than people in the "slow" or "medium" lanes. But, I've never seen lifeguards come and ask slower swimmers to move into the "medium" or "slow" lanes. Is this because people are worried that they might hurt someone's feelings? Is it because they don't understand "swimmer's etiquette?"
Anyways, this has been a little rant about swimmer's etiquette. I would love it if more pools (especially here at the University of Toronto) would create infographics and other reminders that create a shared "swimmer's etiquette." Not only does this potentially circumvent conflicts in the pool, it is also much safer for everyone.