This weekend I experienced my first IMX meet.  IMX stands for IM Xtreme Challenge, and it is a program set up by USA Swimming: “The IM Xtreme Games promote and reward versatility in age group swimming while advocating greater participation and development across a range of events. The goal is to enable long term success in swimming.” It was something set up after my USA swimming career ended, and I didn’t put much thought into it until I started coaching USA swimmers this year, and our team hosted a meet.

The meet went like this: Saturday night, 13 and up swimmers swam the 400 IM and 500 free. Then on Sunday afternoon they swam a 200 of each stroke and a 200 IM. Younger swimmers swim 200 IM, 200 free, 100s of each stroke and sometimes the 500. The swimmers receive points for all of their swims, and the swimmer with the most points wins. The points are based on event and rank and the idea behind it is to be able to compare the strength of a swim across age groups, LCM and SCY and gender. The points system seems to be a little nuts to me, but maybe that’s just because I can’t seem to get a straight answer on how they’re calculated. I do know that points are awarded out of 1100. Why? Again I don’t know. More info on all that on the USA web site here:

While the points ranking system is cool, and getting awards at the end of the meet for doing well across all events is nice, what I like best about IMX is it provides an opportunity for young swimmers to compete in events they normally wouldn’t choose. While all of my swimmers were having mini panic attacks before the 200 fly (the first event on Sunday), most came up to me and said “hey, that actually wasn’t that bad.” This added confidence swimmers get is just one benefit.

IMX also helps to make swimmers more versatile. As someone who’s always believed in the value of IM training, even for swimmers who really can only swim one or two strokes well, I think this can only be a benefit to young swimmers endurance and training. It also benefits these swimmers future college teams, because versatile swimmers help fill lanes, especially on smaller teams.

Finally, I think IMX makes kids tough, and generally more badass. If you can swim 400 IM, 500 free, 200 IM and 200 each of fly, back and breast in less than 24 hours when you’re 13, you’ll be that much more prepared when it comes time to swim in 4 day or longer prelims and finals meets.

So while IMX may seem daunting to young swimmers, and time consuming to coaches to bring a team to, these meets are a great opportunity to give kids confidence, motivate them to improve all their events, and prepare them for long meets later in life. I am excited to see how these meets impact the future of NCAA and American swimming, as whole generations of young swimmers get to experience and benefit from IMX.

Katie Stefl is a 2009 graduate of Kalamazoo College and multiple time All-American. She’s now an assistant coach at Union College.

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