Stefanie Cope

Staff Writer

Every sport is unique and with every sport comes a unique culture.

There are cultural aspects to each sport and since my sister started swimming a few years ago, I have been noticing them.

The swimming community has some very special aspects to it. My sister swims for the Joplin Stingrays, so I have had the pleasure of going to a few of her meets and watching her, as well as all of the people in attendance.

One aspect that surprised me about swim meets is the sheer number of people who attend. Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and of course the swimmers. Each set of people is unique and interesting. I have always been a people-watcher. Noticing the different kinds of people and their activities.

Swim meets are exceptionally good places to watch people. Especially in “tent city.” Let me explain “tent city.” This was the first and biggest aspect of the swim team culture I noticed. Everyone brings a pop-up canopy tent of some sort. The kind without walls that sets up in just a couple of minutes. Teammates and their families will set up close together forming small groups inside the giant group of tents. When you first come upon “tent city” all that is seen is a sea of tent tops. Some groups will even have large canopies set up in advance so 10 or 15 families can sit underneath. The tents make all the difference in the set-up because a large amount of time is spent outside. Watching a swim meet is a lot of sitting around and waiting. People can wait up to an hour to watch a minute of swimming from whoever they are supporting.

There are also very different aspects to each tent. Each swimmer has their family put their own personal touches to the tents. One of the swim meets I attended, I hung a tapestry from our tent to help block the sun and try to keep it somewhat cooler. Many people stopped at the tent to compliment the tapestry and tell me what a good idea it was. Each tent typically has some kind of personal touch to it.

Another favorite little bit of swim culture of mine is the swimmer’s own decorations. Many of the swimmers will use sharpies to write phrases such as “eat my bubbles” across their backs or to draw pictures. They also write their event numbers down their arms. My sister and my dad have come up with their own special drawing for her. My dad will draw eyes and teeth in the hole spots from the back of her suit forming a type of shark face we affectionately call jaws. Sometimes the shark face will feature bubbles, sometimes it will have a tiny fish inside of its mouth and sometimes they design it to look extra scary. Normally each of the swimmers features some type of unique drawing on themselves.

The swimmers also have special things to do with their towels. When out of the water the towels are typically hanging up inside of the tent somewhere. Each being shown off, adding flair to the tent. The swimmers are also particular with their towels. Many trying to find the most showy and flashy towels possible. My sister loves bright colored towels. I believe the newest additions to the swimming towels were a florescent rainbow zebra print towel and a brightly colored flowered towel. She also has a few batman towels that are favorites at the swim meets.

The ladies also have a special way of wearing their towels when just out of the water. They wrap them around themselves and tuck the towels in under the front straps of the team swimsuits. It seems to be a well kept aspect passed down from each swimmer to another. I would have never thought of using my towel that way until I attended my first swim meet.

There is so much culture for each sporting event. Each event is unique. The parents and participants learning the trade secrets from the older people in the sports. I love being able to watch the people and pick up on the cultural aspects of each and every sport.

(Stefanie Cope is a staff writer for the Columbus Advocate and the Baxter Springs News. She can be emailed at