A Gala Mum’s top 10 survival tips – enjoying weekends by a swimming pool

gala programmes

As I swam through the steam rising from the warm water at Oasis in Covent Garden I remembered we’ve got another gala this weekend. In fact there’s one this Saturday, another the following Sunday and a third to make it three weekends in a row at the start of February. The Super Swimmer (now aged 12) had a gala-light autumn as settling into and surviving secondary school meant competitions took a bit of a backseat.

I’ve lost count of how many galas we’ve been to, it’s like the board game Touring England zig-zagging from home to Enfield, Barnet Copthall, Braintree, Crystal Palace, Southgate, Harlow, Luton, Basildon and back. Now we’ve finessed our double act I’m enjoying galas and the time we spend navigating around together more and more. Here are my tips on surviving – and enjoying –  gala life.

Check the date & team list

This might seem highly obvious. But it’s the obvious ones that catch you out isn’t it. One winter’s morning we left home at 6.45am. We arrived at the pool and the Super Swimmer disappeared off for her warm up. I went for a run around the neighbouring rugby pitch, and came back to shower. Where a very cross Super Swimmer found me, she wasn’t in the team that day but the next. 6.45am the following day we started again and agreed going forward we would both check the schedule.

Leave enough time (so you can bag a parking space)

Competitors get anxious, and you don’t want yours fretting about arriving late and missing the warm up. But more importantly you need to score a parking space. Some venues share parking with other sports – so when a rugby game coincides with a gala you’ll be looking for space on the golf course…


Pack a bag of easy to eat and high energy foods. Through trial and error, our list now includes homemade flapjack (or cereal bars), dried apricots & raisins, honey sandwich, chicken & pasta in a flask.


They need a big water bottle – and just as important to find out where to refill it. I normally take a couple more, one for me and one spare filled up for the times she can’t find the water fountain. We normally pack one of those concentrated squash things too.

Your work / reading

At first I thought I could take work notes to go through,  a manuscript to read or a book to devour. I soon learned it’s nigh on impossible to concentrate; watching swimmers is mesmerizing and distracting. If you need to work remember, your car is your haven so go and sit in there during the warm up at least (this often lasts for an hour), and for all other times just read a newspaper (as unlike with a book it doesn’t really matter if you forget every word, and there are nice pictures to look at).

Phone Charger

Essential for those Spectator Endurance Events that last all day. Though at some pools getting access to a plug to charge up is a sport in itself.

Get Away From the Pool

Your car is also your swimmer’s haven. If you can get them out into it during the lunch break. Away from chlorine, damp kit and noise they can chill out, eat and listen to their own noise with our without their friends. Or take them for a drink at a café off site (the golf club café at Barnet Copthall does a mean hot chocolate).

Their Kit

Swimmers have a lot to think about. So some might leave their goggles / racing costume / towel / top / flipflops poolside. Having once had to return to the site of a gala to retrieve a sweatshirt amongst 3 bin liners of forgotten kit we now have a checklist as nagging is better than return trips. Some dry kit and a spare towel is always welcome in the car, particularly for those 3 sessions morning, afternoon and evening events.

Your Kit

At some galas there’s not enough seating for all of the parent spectators. So far I’ve found seating under most pressure at Barnet. So if you’re going there pack a garden kneeler. You may laugh, but sitting on an inch of plastic covered foam is a heck of a lot nicer than on very wet concrete.

Helping Makes the Time Go By in a Flash – albeit a slightly damp one

One sure fire way to make galas pass faster is if you are working poolside as an official. As a Judge Level 1 in training / newly qualified Time Keeper (hurray!) gala hours whizz by in a blur of concentration. There are also seats reserved for you (no kneelers required) but I’m too nervous to sit down….!

Final piece of advice

Make the most of the fact your child wants and needs you there to support and champion them. Soon they *might* be able to get the train on their own…

My challenge to swim the distance to Pells Pool in Lewes continues

5090 lengths – 140 = 4850 lengths to go


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