Competitive Swimming


Competitive Swimming Basics

Like all sports, swimming has rules unique to the sport. The following is a general overview of the basics.


Four Competitive Swimming Strokes
The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. The combination of all four strokes is called individual medley.

In the freestyle, the competitor may swim any stroke he or she wishes. Most swim the front crawl, as it is traditionally the fastest stroke. It is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water surface and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick. The freestyle is swum over 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 metre distances.

In the backstroke, the swimmer must stay on his or her back at all times. The stroke is an alternating motion of the arms. On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a flip turn and the swimmer must touch the wall with some part of the body.

Swimmers must surface within 15 metres after the start and each turn. Backstroke race distances are 100 and 200 metres.

Perhaps one of the most difficult strokes to master, the breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pushed forward from the breast on or under the surface of the water and brought backward in the propulsive stage of the stroke simultaneously. The kick is a simultaneous thrust of the legs called a frog or breaststroke kick. No flutter or dolphin kicking is allowed. At each turn a swimmer must touch with both hands at the same time. Breaststroke races are distances of 100 and 200 metres.

One of the most challenging stroke, the butterfly features the simultaneous overhead stroke of the arms combined with the dolphin kick. The dolphin kick features both legs moving up and down together. No flutter kicking is allowed. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish. The butterfly was born in the early 1950s due to a loophole in the breaststroke rules and became an Olympic event in Melbourne, Australia in 1965. Butterfly races are swum in 100 and 200 metre distances.

Individual Medley
The individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four competitive strokes. In the I.M., a swimmer begins with the butterfly, changes to the backstroke after one-fourth of the race, then the breaststroke for another quarter and finally finishes with the freestyle. The I.M. is swum in 200 and 400 metre distances.

Freestyle Relay – 4 swimmers participate taking turns swimming a particular distance (50m, 100m and sometimes 200m) of front crawl each.

Medley Relay – all four strokes are swum by four different swimmers. No swimmer may swim more than one leg of the relay, which is swum in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle order. The medley relay is 400 metres -or four by 100 metres.

Starts and Turns
Many races are won or lost in starts and turns. In the start, the swimmer is called to the starting position by the starter who visually checks that all swimmers are still. Then, once the starter is satisfied, the race is started by an electronic tone.

Quick turns are essential to a good race. In all events the swimmer must touch the wall, but in the freestyle and backstroke the swimmer may somersault (flip turn) as he or she reaches the wall, touching only with the feet. In breaststroke and butterfly, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands before executing the turn.

Swimming is a sport of personal best times and goals
From Swim Skills precompetitive program thru to nationally/internationally qualified, our swimmers are constantly learning and improving on technique and racing strategies. This is competitive swimming but much as your child might want to compete with other swimmers in his or her group or other clubs, the best competition is always the clock. Beating a previous best time is the goal. There will always be someone faster or someone slower, so the focus should be on self-improvement. Improvements can happen suddenly, but it can also be a gradual climb. Every swimmer progresses at a different pace, which is why our coaches put so much emphasis on personal goals.


Time Standards

As your swimmer progresses, time standards begin to play an important role in setting goals, not only to qualify for specific meets, but to also move up the group ladder. Success depends solely on self-improvement, hard work and achievement of your child’s personal goals. Goals will be discussed and set individually with each swimmer and his/her family.

Swimmers in the beginning stages of their competitive swim career typically compete in local 1 or 2 day swim meets with no qualifying standards. Coaches choose events for each swimmers dependent upon individual skill level and goals. As swimmers improve, opportunities to swim at regional, provincial and national swim meets open up. There are various standards for these meets which are set by Swim Ontario and swim Canada.