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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Differences Between Pool And Open Water Relays

Joachim Hüffmeier, Jens Kanthak, and Guido Hertel studied the motivation of members of pool swimming relays and team processes. In several published articles, they showed that relay members are more motivated in their relays as compared to the individual competition at least when they feel that their performance is indispensable for their relay's performance.

Their research showed that freestyle swimmers at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games swam faster in the relay than in the individual competition when swimming at the relay’s later positions. Using aggregated data of freestyle and medley relays from the final heats of the four most recent Summer Olympic Games, they demonstrated that high specificity of information on the partners’ performance is a precondition for indispensability effects to occur. As expected, motivation gains in the relay as compared to the individual competition were demonstrated for swimmers at relay positions 2–4, but only in freestyle relays where effort and efficiency of preceding swimmers could be reliably assessed by swimmers. In medley relays, where such feedback is more ambiguous, no motivation gains occurred (see here).

So we wondered if the same were true in open water swimming relays. That is, do swimmers swim faster on their relay legs than they would in their individual swims (of the same distance and under similar water/weather conditions)?

We will post these results shortly.

But there are major differences between pool swimming and open water swimming relays:

1. Dependency
Members of the pool relay team can swim the entire relay distance by themselves, if they had to. That is, a butterflyer could swim the backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle legs IF they had to do so. A 100m freestyle swimming could swim the entire 400m distance if he had to. In contrast, members of the open water swimming relay team can not swim the entire relay distance by themselves in many cases (e.g., across Lake Tahoe or the English Channel).

2. Duration
In open water swimming relays, the team is entirely dependent on the successful completion of each leg. That is, there is no "speed" in which they are measured. No time is taken; open water relay members are merely judged if they can swim for 30-60 minutes (or whatever their specific leg duration is). That is, speed does not matter - only duration. So while the pool swimmers have more adrenaline flowing and speed going in a relay, the open water swimmers are swimming for duration (i.e., survival).

3. Cost
Furthermore, the cost of a pool swimming relay per athlete is very low compared to the cost of an open water swimming relay per member. That is, it may cost only 5 euros per relay per athlete to participate in a pool swimming relay. But it may cost many (hundreds or thousands of) euros per athlete to participate in an open water swimming relay somewhere around the world.

4. Dynamics
Because conditions can change quickly in the open water from calm to rough, from cool to cold, swimmers are less focused on speed than simply being part of the rotation.

Photos of the Bering Strait Swim courtesy of Nuala Moore.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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