How We Build Relays

Relays are a lot of fun, especially at Y-Nationals, where we often have more than 100 relays go off the blocks. Building them takes many hours, but it’s a great opportunity for our swimmers to mingle with folks who swim in other workout groups. Sometimes swimmers ask us why they were placed on a certain relay and not on another. Most of the time, these are the things that are considered when building relays:

  • Age groups:
    • SHORT COURSE: Age groups are in 10-year increments (25+, 35+, 45+, etc.) Older swimmers can “swim down” (swim on a younger relay) but younger swimmers cannot swim on an older relay. So if you have been swum down, that probably means we needed to complete a foursome on a younger relay.
    • LONG COURSE: Age groups are in 40-year increments, except for the youngest group, and represent the total age of the four members (100-119, 120-159, 160-179, etc.) So younger and older swimmers are mixed or separated depending upon who’s available to form the fastest relays possible in those age groups.
  • Scheduling: Some swimmers are not present for certain days of the meet or have requested not to swim on a particular relay because it is right before an event for which they want to be rested.
  • Speed: The faster swimmers are usually on the A and B relays, although not always—keep reading.
  • USMS club affiliation: At Y-Nationals, since it’s not a USMS meet, most teams have guest swimmers on their YMCA teams—there are swimmers across the country who want to swim in this meet, but they don’t have a YMCA near them, so they become a guest on another YMCA’s team. This is legal and commonplace. However, relays with members from different USMS clubs cannot place in the USMS Top 10, so sometimes a slower Shark swimmer might be placed on a faster relay if the faster relay is a Shark relay with potential to place in the Top 10.
  • Training partners: Where possible, swimmers who train together are paired together in the spirit of team bonding.
  • Special requests: Some swimmers have requested to swim with spouses or other family members, regardless of speed.
  • Historical and recent performance. The coach might believe that you will be faster or slower than what you put on the relay form. Also, how fast your relay start vs. your flat start, how you swim under pressure, etc., may help determine which relay and which position/stroke you’re assigned.
  • Exposure: At Y-Nationals, we try to give everyone a chance to swim on at least one relay.
  • Mixed relays: Mixed relays present special challenges—especially the mixed medley. Sometimes there are not enough of one sex or the other to make a faster relay, etc. Sometimes a stroke position is difficult to fill. On the mixed free relay, the men are usually swum up front to see who can get the best lead right away, with the women in the second two positions, although not always. For the mixed medley relay, the men are usually placed in the short axis strokes (breast and fly) and the women in the long axis strokes (back and free). There are some exceptions, but normally the difference in speed between the sexes is greater in the short axis strokes, so the relays are faster if men are swimming those strokes. Again, not always.