Frequently during aquatic programming sessions the question is asked, “Should our competition pool be designed for yards or meters? Which is more appropriate?”
Competitive swimming has two seasons: short course and long course. In the United States, short course largely takes place over a 25 yard pool distance. Internationally, this distance is 25 meters (82 feet compared to 75 feet for a 25 yard pool). The long course season occurs the rest of the year, in late spring and summer months, and takes place over a 50 meter course length.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Metric Study recommended that the United States implement a transition to convert to the metric system over a decade. However, due to a lack of Congressional mandate, the effort fell apart in the 1980s. But during this time there were many short course pools designed to a 25 meter length instead of the traditional 25 yards due to anticipated changes that have yet to materialize.
Today, nearly all of high school competitions are held in a 25 yard race course. There are some schools and facilities with 25 meter pools and no option for a different course length. There are accepted conversions that can be applied to convert times into yards, mainly for purposes of qualifying for higher level meets, such as state championships.
Since the NCAA swimming season takes place during the short course season as well, a similar overwhelming majority of competitions take place in a 25 yard course. If agreed upon in advance, coaches sometimes will hold dual meets either in short course meters or even long course meters. This is a little more common during Olympic years and at one point, NCAA Championships were held during these years in a 25 meter pool, but they have gone away from this approach since 2004.
The United States hasn’t moved any closer to converting to metric in the last 30-40 years. And while the topic was a key initial policy position for one of the 2016 presidential candidates, we aren’t likely to see a grassroots movement to go to metric in the near future.