The Journey To Olympic Trials

USA Swimming released the much anticipated time standards for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Trials last week. With the release, high performing swimmers and those who strive to be one, can start setting specific goals. The times are faster than the last Trials held in 2016. The goal of USA Swimming is to make the meet less crowded than it has been in recent years; bringing the number of participants down to 1200 or so from a high of 1800 swimmers in 2016. Below is a link to the new qualifying times:


2020 USA Olympic Time Trial Time Standards


This post will give some insight into our plans leading up to the Trials Meet in 2020, but it will also provide an overview regarding swimming time standards and championship qualifying times for those who are new to the sport. Grab some coffee...three, two, one, GO!


2020 Vision - Our Path To Omaha


If you have been in the sport for some time, you realize the seasons have a certain rhythm to them. The same is true for the quadrennial period between Olympic Games. We are at the period in that four year time frame when things become a little more serious; kind of like the middle of season for many athletes. In order to give our athletes the best chance to qualify for Trials we will be adding more higher level away meets to our season schedules. My experience has shown that if you want the best out of your high performance swimmers, they need to compete with world class athletes from time to time.


TYR Pro Series


The TYR Pro Series Meet to be held at the University of Tennessee in January of next year will be the first high level, non championship away meet of the quadrennial for our swimmers. That meet is part of a series of events that attracts 400 to 600 elite level swimmers to each meet. The other 2019 dates are:

  • March 6-9

  • April 10-13

  • May 15-18

  • June 12-15

  • November 6-9

It would be impractical to attend them all for many reasons. While the dates have been set, the venues have not. We will look at where the May and June meets will be held and pick an option that is as cost effective as possible for the families. We will post the time standards when they are announced. We will look to attend additional higher level meets in 2020 as well. We will post that information when it is made available as well.

The Big Picture - From Recreational Meets To Olympic Trials

I know that there are many people reading this and saying to themselves, “this is all great, but it doesn’t really pertain to my child”. Well, it does and here’s why.

Swimming is a time based sport. 19.99 beats 20.00. Period. It is one of aspects I love the most about our sport. In order to eventually reach your fullest potential as an athlete, you have to learn how to set realistic goals. While talking about effective goal setting is far beyond the scope of this post, I do want to this opportunity to outline developmentally appropriate time standards for every level of our program. USA Swimming has just set the standards for our elite athletes. I felt it was the right time for us to do the same for all of our swimmers as well. Knowing all of the steps along the road to Olympic Trials will help you gain a better perspective of the journey.

USA Swimming Motivational Age Group Time Standards

Every four years, USA Swimming releases time standards designed to help swimmers, parents and coaches understand where the swimmer is in relation to the best in their gender and age group. They offer a single age group chart and a more popular two year age group chart. Personally, I prefer the single age group chart as it is more age specific, but most of our meets are grouped into two year age brackets so that format has become more widely used.

You may have heard someone saying that his or her performance earned them a “AAA” time and wondered what they meant. Well, it means that the swimmers swam a time that was faster than the AAA time standard for that particular event for their age group. USA Swimming starts defining time by their letter designation for swimmers ages 10 through 18. The charts can be found by clicking the links below:



A quick note...these standards are designed to help swimmers set goals and gain feedback in relation to their current competitive level. They should not be used to label a swimmers as good, bad, high potential or low potential. I have seen thousands of swimmers go from BB to AAAA in my lifetime. Let’s make sure we use them as intended.

As noted above, the times standards begin for 10 year olds.  As a program, we have our efforts focused on preparing our young athletes by teaching proper technique and instilling a love of the sport. We are not so concerned about achieving certain times at this stage. That said, we will have some precocious swimmers who will fall in love with the sport early. If the coach feels it is appropriate to introduce those early adopters to the system, he or she will.

We also use the motivational time standards in our Levels System.  To exit Level Three, for example, a swimmer must have achieved a “B” time standard in an event other than the 50 Freestyle. We do this to help transition the swimmer and their family to time standard thinking as they mature in the sport.

Championship Based Meet Time Standards

Some championship meets base their qualification criteria on the Motivational Time Standards while others have their own specific qualifying times. Below are many of the championship meets we will attend and their current qualifying times.

AAU District Championships

These are held in the summer. There are no qualifying times needed to participate. The top three finishers automatically qualify for the AAU National Junior Olympic Games.

AAU National Junior Olympics

This meet, held in July of each year is a great way to begin a swimmer’s championship meet experience. This meet is a focus meet for our non Junior National and above qualifiers. First, second, and third place finishers in approved AAU District Swimming Championship Meets in individual events under 400M, qualify meet.  What is great about this meet is that in addition to placing top three at Districts, swimmers who meet or beat the U.S. Swimming long course “A” minimum time standard for all 200M, 400M and 1500M events and "BB” time standards for events under 200M are eligible to compete as well. The 8 & under division is open to any participant.


The Florida Age Group 14 & Under Championships is currently held in February and July of each year. It is a great first level championship events. We also use this meet to make cuts for the NCSA National 14 & Under meet (details later). Below are links to the 2018 time standards

NCSA 14 & Under Short Course Nationals

The National Club Swim Coaches Association age group meet is held in Orlando each March. It is the focus of our high performing 14 & under swimmers. This is a unique meet as each single age group has its own time standards. Swimmer who are at the “bottom” of their age group also have an additional heat to swim in at finals. More on that in another post. A link to the qualifying times is below:

Florida Senior Championships

Florida Sr. Champs is the first level of state championship meets designed for 15 and older swimmers. The meet has been used to gain championship level experience as well as a way to qualify for higher level meets. The qualifying times are below:

USA Swimming Sectionals

Sectionals are the first national level championship meet. Many times, two are offered each year; in the spring and summer. The time standards vary, but are usually somewhere between the Florida Sr Champs and NCSA Junior Nationals cut (details below)

NCSA 18 & Under Junior Nationals

NCSA Juniors is one of the fastest 18 & Under meets in the country. We attend the Spring version each year, but I have also taken teams to the summer version in the past if it meets our swimmers’ needs. Below are the most current qualifying times.

USA Swimming Winter Junior Nationals

Winter Juniors is an elite national event for younger swimmers. The time standards to attend this meet is below.

USA Swimming Summer Junior Nationals

The summer version of Juniors is even harder in terms of qualification time standards. This meet is used as a selection meet at times for our national Junior team. Those times can be found below:

USA Swimming Winter Nationals

The next rung of the championship ladder is USA Swimming Winter Nationals. These standards continue to challenge the athlete. Below are the qualifying times:

USA Swimming Phillips 66 Nationals (Summer)

This meet is the highest national level meet in non Olympic years. It is used to select national teams for international competitions. Qualifying for this event is a major accomplishment. Below are the time standards:

USA Swimming Olympic Trials (link at the beginning of this post)

I wanted to say something about this meet to finish up this post. We are mainly an age group program. It is wonderful to have younger swimmers qualify for Trials before they reach college. That said, I have seen scores of cases of swimmers who were Sectional level swimmers in high school eventually make Trials.

I also wanted to point out how many steps there are in this journey. When you put all of this in perspective, you can see why focusing our club’s effort on FLAGS is not giving our swimmers and families a broader view of the sport. Everything we do is designed to be developmentally appropriate and to give those looking to get to the next level that chance.

In another post, I will talk about select meets, junior national and national team events. Thanks for taking the time to read through this material. I feel it is important that we all understand the ig picture. It only can help put everything in context. If you have questions, ask away.

See you at the pool - Rich