If you’re a beginner swimmer that is new to competing in swim meets, we’ve got the perfect list of helpful swimming terminology and swim meet FAQs.
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A swimming competition between individual athletes or between two or more swim teams, organized by a swimming organization or governing body. Swim competitions can be held in indoor or outdoor pools. Some swim meets also include a portion for a diving competition. The goal of competing is to complete your swimming event as fast as you can.
Open Water Swim Race
A swimming competition between individual athletes, organized by a swimming organization or governing body. Open water races include swimming in natural or man-made bodies of water such as oceans, bays, lakes, reservoirs, rowing basins and rivers; generally understood to be longer than 1 kilometer in distance.
The meet form contains all the information you need to enter a meet, including but not limited to the time and location, events you can swim, entry fees, and deadlines. It may also tell you how the meet will be run, how you will be timed, how awards will be presented, and provide information about the hosting facility. Meet forms can usually be found on the swim meet and/or league website. Note that most swim meets will require a membership to a swim organization, or league. These are very affordable and easy to purchase online.
This is the process of signing up to compete in a swim meet. You’ll register for the competition, select which swimming events you want to compete in, and pay any fees associated. Typically, entries are no longer accepted after an hour before a meet begins.
An event is a portion of a meet competition broken down by distance (50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 1 mile), stroke (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly or I.M.) and oftentimes by age, gender and relay type. An event is the type of swim race you’ll be competing in. You will typically swim 1-5 events in a swim meet. You will never swim every event in a swim met. Most swim meets number their events, and they typically go in a standard order unique to each swim league. You can usually follow this order from the record board that’s next to the pool. Example: men’s 200 yard freestyle or men’s 200 medley relay.
In each event, there can be many swimmers competing. Depending on the size of the pool, only a limited number at swimmers can race at a time. If a pool has 6 lanes, then 6 swimmers will race in the event at a time, which is called a “heat.” If there are 60 swimmers competing in the 100 freestyle event, then there will be 10 heats. Typically, the swimmers with the slowest seed times will will swim in the first heat, ending the with fastest swimmers in the last heat. Some formats use a circle seed, where they mix up swimmers with fast seed times with slower seeded swimmers in each heat. Keep in mind that just because you were faster than the other 5 people that swim next to you, you may not have won the event. Be sure to check the official results sheet to see where you placed.
This is where you find out what you’re swimming, when, and where. Most meets print these out and tape them on the pool walls. Some even sell them at the door for a few extra dollars.
The swimmer’s fastest time prior to this meet. Seeding is the method of placing swimmers in lanes in order of their entry times.
A ranking of swimmers by event and time.
This is your assigned lane in the pool that you will be racing in, during your heat. Typically, the fastest swimmers in each heat get assigned to the middle lanes.
A term used to identify a swimmers team affiliation in lieu of being officially attached to a team within the organization.
You can either compete in an individual event, where you swim a race alone, or you can compete as part of a relay. A relay is typically a combination of 4 swimmers on the same team. Each swimmer takes turns completing parts of the race, typically 1/4 of the total distance. Relays are usually either freestyle, or a medley. A 200 freestyle medley means that swimmer #1 swims 50 yards freestyle, then swimmer #2 immediately swims the second leg, then swimmers #3 and #4 swim legs 3 and 4 consecutively. The fastest swimmer is responsible for the last “leg” of the race, and the entire group’s time is the final result of the race. A medley is similar, but each swimmer is responsible for completing a different stroke of the I.M. Swimmer #1 does backstroke, swimmer #2 does breaststroke, swimmer #3 does butterfly, and swimmer #4 does freestyle.
A portion, normally one-quarter, of an individual event or relay event, of the event.
Short course (SCM, or SCY) pool
The term short course (SCM) is used globally, to identify a pool that is 25 meters (27.34 yd) in length. In the United States, the term “short course” (SCY) is commonly applied to 25 yards (22.86m) in length.
Long course pool
A pool configured for swimming with a 50-meter long race course.
Slang for individual medley, an event in which the swimmer uses all four competitive strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
Event organizers will have a check-in table set up at the meet. When you arrive, go to the table and check in with the staff to confirm that you are present. Some meets have a strict policy that you have to check-in at least 1 hour prior to the start of the meet.
A judge on the deck of the pool. Various judges or officials watch the swimmer’s strokes, turns and finishes or are timers.
The touchpad is the area at the end of each lane in the pool where a swimmer’s time is registered and sent electronically to the timing system and the scoreboard. This touchpad is very sensitive and works best when you push your fingers into it aggressively at the end of your race to ensure your split is recorded.
The recorded time from a watch started and stopped manually by a lane timer.
A split is the exact second that divides one lap from another. Split time is the amount of time that adds up between two splits. A timer can record a split after one lap — the length of the pool; two laps — down and back — or any other distance he chooses. Calculating split times in swimming is a means of calculating an individual swimmer’s or relay team’s pace over a series of laps. Recording splits and calculating times is useful in determining what legs of the race are covered in what amount of time. Example: if your final time for a 100 freestyle is 1:10, your 1st split (first 50 yards) can be :30 seconds, and your 2nd split (second 50 yards) would be :40 seconds.
At most meets ,stroke-and-turn judges observe the swimmers to ensure that the starts, strokes, turns, and finishes are performed according to the rules. A DQ is a disqualification from an event. If you are disqualified in a race, it means that you have broken one or more of the rules designated for that stroke or for that event. The judge will raise their arm, then fill out a DQ slip. You will be notified of your DQ after your race, and you will not be able to place to win a ribbon or medal. Examples include: jumping off the diving block before the horn is blown, wearing illegal equipment like fins, swimming the wrong stroke in a heat, doing a flutter kick in a breaststroke event, or grabbing on to a lane line. Disqualifications can be seen as a sad or horrible thing, but it is not the end of the world! It’s often a great learning experience and is a big motivation to learn how to compete properly.
Scratching an event is declaring that, while you are at the meet and intend to race, you will not be participating in a particular race.
A pool record is the fastest recorded time that a swimmer has ever swam a specific event in that pool.
A meet record is the fastest recorded time that a swimmer has ever swam a specific event in that same annual/repeating swim meet.
Points are awarded to the team for swimmers placing 1-8 in individual meets and 1-2 in relays. A winner is determined at the end of each meet.
The reasons are complicated, but sometimes coaches will enter an athlete in an event as an exhibition swimmer. This means the swimmer cannot earn points or a ribbon, even if he finishes first–he gets to swim, and he gets an official time for the event, but his swim doesn’t count for the purposes of the competition. Most of the time, this simply means the coaches were limited in the number of official swimmers they could enter, or there were no-shows that left empty lanes, etc. It doesn’t mean anything negative about your swimming.
The resting process in training for swimming competition. During the middle of their swimming season a swimmer may work out 10 to 15 thousand meters (8 to 10 miles) each day. As major competition draws near, the swimmer will “taper” off the distances swum each day. A perfectly designed taper will enable the swimmer to compete at their peak capability and is one of the most difficult aspects of swim coaching.
Used by the swimmer before the race to get their muscles loose and ready to race.
Do I need a technical suit (like those in the Olympics) to compete in swimming?
Nope, you don’t! Technical suits are very expensive and used by elite swimmers during championship-level swim meets. An affordable yet high-quality swimsuit can be purchased either online or in a sports retailer store and range from $50-$100.
How do I know what time I will be swimming?
Swim meet events do not typically run by the clock. Swim meets begin at a designated time, and proceed through the event list in consecutive order, regardless of how long it takes. It is up to you to know what events and heats you are competing in, and to be aware of the pace in which the meet is running at. Confused? Ask someone on the pool deck for help in understanding what heat it is.
What if I need/want to cancel an event?
That’s perfectly fine! Although we like to encourage our athletes to push themselves and swim through their nerves, sometimes you just have to cancel or skip an event. You might not get a refund on your meet fee, but the heat will just go on without you in the lane.
Can I change my events?
Yes! Meets typically change the event and heat schedule up to 1-hour in advance of the meet start time. Try your hardest to make all changes at least 1 day in advance of the meet. Once the meet has started, you can not change your events or heats.
I placed in an event, where do I pick up my medal/ribbon?
Most meets have a reward ceremony at the conclusion of the meet. We encourage you to stay at the meet until the end, and cheer for those who cheered you on earlier in the day!
How do I find out how I did in my event?
Shortly after your event ends, meet officials will print out an official document with all of the results. You can usually find these distributed around the pool about 5-10 minutes after your event ends.
Do I need to cool down after I race?
Yes, we highly encourage all swimmers to do a cool down after each heat.
Can I use a ladder to get out of the pool?
Yes. If you are so tired from your heat, most meet officials will allow you to swim over to the wall and use the ladder to get out.
Can I used fins or a pull buoy in a race?
Nope! You cannot use any equipment in a swim race other than a regulated swimsuit, cap, and goggles.
If I’m really tired, can I take a break and sit on the wall for a bit?
It depends on the league and type of swim meet that you’re competing in. We recommend asking meet officials in advance before signing up for the meet.
What happens if I don’t show up to my heat?
You will be a scratch and you will be disqualified. The heat will go on without you, and they will not make an announcement. If you are part of a relay team, and you do not show up, your entire relay team will be disqualified.
How are the the events timed?
Events are typically timed with an electronic touchpad that is connected to the swim meet’s timing system and scoreboard. Swimmers finish their final lap and aggressively press their fingers into the touchpad to record their final times. Almost every meet also has a meet official designated to each lane to record your swim with a handheld stopwatch, just in case the touchpad fails and doesn’t register your time.
What do I pack?
Check out this blog post on what to pack for your first swim meet >
How do I find swim workouts or training plans to prepare for a swim meet?
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