Guide to Swim Meets

Read on to learn everything you need to know about registering for and attending swim meets.  Also, watch your email for pre-meet, event-specific information from coaches throughout the season.

Quick links:

·       Why swim in a meet?

·       Types of meets

·       Time standards

·       Meet registration

·       What to bring to a meet—swimmers

·       What to bring to a meet—parents

·       The day of the meet

·       Meet sessions

·       The race

·       What disqualifies a swimmer?

·       Meet awards


Why Swim in a Meet?

·       It’s the culmination of the hours of hard work put in at practice

·       Provides proof of improvement

·       Helps swimmers learn to face challenges

·       Helps build a team

·       It’s fun!


Types of Meets

There are several levels and types of meets.

Meets are conducted in school and community pools and can last from one to four days.  Our Club attends “sanctioned” meets that are sponsored by USA Swimming clubs and are run according to the rules established by USA Swimming and Iowa Swimming, Inc.

Typically spectators do not pay an entrance fee at a local meet (although some invitational’s and all zone and above meets will have spectator fees).  There are costs associated with registration:

·       Meet entrance fee, plus a per race fee

·       Parking (at some pools)

·       Transportation

·       Meet programs (optional)

·       Event T-shirts (sold at some meets; optional)


Meet level

Who attends?


Olympic Trials


Swimmers who achieve an Olympic Trial time.

The highest national-level meet. Held every four years.

National /
Jr. National Championship

Swimmers who have achieved a qualifying time standard for one or more events.

One of the highest levels of competitive swimming; swimmers are chosen for national teams from the National meet level

Sectional Championship

Swimmers who have achieved a qualifying time standard for one or more events.

We most often attend when Speedo Sectionals are held at the University of Minnesota.

Grand Prix


Swimmers who have achieved the qualifying time standard.

Grand prix meets are held throughout the year at various locations.

Zone Championships

Swimmers who have achieved a Zonetime. The swimmer is part of an all-star team representing Minnesota.  Swimmers compete individually and on state relays.

USA Swimming divides the country into four Zones – Eastern, Western, Central and Southern – and each of these Zones holds at least one Zone Championship each summer.

State Championships

Swimmers who have achieved a Champ (AA-Minnesota standards) time.

State meets are held once for the Short Course season (March—25 yard pools) and once for the Long Course season (August—50 meter pools). The swimmer competes both on an individual basis and for club points.  The club also organizes relay teams to compete for club points. 

A or A+ Meets

Swimmers who have achieved an A (or A+) time and higher.

A regular season meet.

A/B Meets

Swimmers who have achieved an A/B time.

A regular season meet; relays are held. There also is a Finals meet for swimmers to try and improve their A/B times; there are no relays at the A/B finals meet.

B/C Open Meets

All swimmers (especially beginners); there are no minimum time standards for this meet.

A regular season meets with relays.


Swimmers who have C times.

An end of season meet.  There are no relays in this meet.


All swimmers invited.

A regular season meet; invites include multiple clubs.



All swimmers invited.

Includes swimmers from our team only.


At the Olympic Trials, Nationals, Sectionals, and Grand Prix meets, all swimmers compete against each other.  At the local/state/zone level, swimmers compete by age group and by skill level.

The age groups are divided in the following categories for boys and girls:

·       8 & Under

·       9-10

·       11-12

·       13-14

·       15-16

·       17 and Over (Seniors)


Time Standards

Age group meets are designated A, B, C, with the "time standard" for entry being the differentiating factor.  A swimmer qualifies for meets based on how fast he/she swims.  If you have questions about your swimmer’s qualifying times, ask your coach.  At a swimmer’s first meet, he or she may be registered with No Time (NT); after your swimmer races, his/her best time achieved in each race becomes the qualifying time—or the seed time—for every meet thereafter until he/she achieves a new “best time” in that race.

Qualifying times are by individual race.  For example, a swimmer who has an A time in the 50 Breaststroke but a B time in the 50 Free can swim his/her 50 Breaststroke at an “A” meet, but can only swim the 50 Free at a “B” meet (including an A/B meet or a B/C meet), or an invitational that allows all times to compete.

If your team is the meet host, your swimmers may be allowed to swim beyond their level—that is, a swimmer who has achieved a “B” time may swim that race at an “A” meet hosted by his/her club, with the coach’s permission.  This does not apply to championship meets.

Finally, if your swimmer achieves a time in a short course race, he/she can swim that time as a converted time in a long course race and vice versa (e.g. an “A” time in the 50-yard Free race achieved on the short course can convert to an “A” time in the 50-meter Free to be swam for a long course race).  Registrations on our website will allow swimmers to sign up using the off-season time when applicable.


Meet Registration

Lane Four Aquatics determines the meets to attend near the beginning of each season (short course and long course); these may change slightly throughout the season. 

·       Every meet has a registration deadline; all registrations are handled via the website. 

·       Every meet has an Event Page that provides details including the location and directions, type of meet, eligibility requirements, the cost of the meet, the deadline to register for the meet (as well as the link to sign up), times for warm-ups, times for meet starts, and any awards that swimmers can receive. 

Expectations for meets vary within the Lane Four Aquatics by practice group.  The swimmer’s coach may suggest races for the swimmer; if the coach does not, don’t hesitate to ask your coach the races in which your swimmer should be competing. 

A few days before a meet, check the Meet & Event Sign-up page for:

·       The Club entry sheet— if something is incorrect, contact your coach to see if changes may be made.  If there are relays in a meet, they will be the first and/or last races.  The coaches will set up the relay teams based on the swimmers who are attending, and their times.  These will be on the entry sheet; it is important that you review entries to see if your swimmer is on a relay.  If he/she cannot swim the relay, please notify coaches before the meet.  Swimming relays can be a fun experience for newer swimmers and a way to be a part of a winning effort.

·       Timelines—Confirm warm-up times and race times so you know when your swimmer needs to be at the pool and approximately when he/she will be racing.

·       Psych Sheets—Some meets will have a Psych Sheet, indicating how your swimmer is seeded when compared to everyone else in the race.


What to Bring to a Meet—Swimmers

·       Your team suit, cap, t-shirt and other team apparel

·       It is a good idea to have two pairs of goggles and two caps.  Note:  Team suits are required, except for Technical Racing Suits

·       Extra clothes

·       Since it can be chilly at some pools—especially at outdoor meets during the summer—have sweats, flannel pants, and a swim parka; and have crocs or flip flops for on deck.  Also have two to three towels, since you’ll be in and out of the pool several times.

·       Food

·       Although there often is a concession at the meet that offers food and drinks, it is a good idea to pack some nutritional snacks like granola bars, fruit snacks, yogurt, fruit, cereal, bagels, and non-carbonated drinks.  Don't forget your water bottle.  It is particularly hard to stay hydrated in a pool environment, so bringing water is extremely important for everyone.

·       Activities

·       At some meets there can be a lot of time between events.  Bring things to pass time: i.e. schoolwork, travel games, coloring books, books, magazines, and portable DVD and MP3 players.


What to Bring to a MeetParents

·       Your swimmer!

·       Each family is responsible for their own arrangements and transportation costs; consider carpooling to get swimmers to warm-ups on time.

·       A meet program

·       Programs may be purchased at most meets; for our intra squads, we put the programs online and you can print them before you come.  Highlighters, pens, and Sharpies are helpful.

·       Comfortable clothes

·       Indoor pools are heated; so is the air around the pool.  Dress in layers to stay comfortable.

·       Seating (some meets)

·       Most pools don’t have much spectator room, so get there early and be prepared to exit to hallways or a gym in between your swimmer’s races.  Some pools may let you bring a chair or bench seat…most bleachers are concrete and hard to sit on for three to four hours.  Sometimes, it's good to bring blankets or mats for the swimmers/siblings to sit/lie on.

·       Folding lawn chairs, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and water bottles. (Outdoor meets)


The Day of the Meet

Your swimmer should get a good night’s sleep, eat a nutritious breakfast, and bring healthy snacks to the meet.

Arrive so your swimmer can check in with his/her coach 10 to 15 minutes before warm-up. 

·       Warm-ups typically last 50 minutes before the first race.

·       Teams are generally assigned lanes and times for their warm-up sessions. 

Coaches will arrange a place where the swimmers can sit together as a team; wearing the team’s shirt helps identify our swimmers.  Swimmers should bring their bags with them when they check in with their coach, and will leave it in the swimmer's seating area.  After warm ups is a good time to have your swimmer come to you so you can mark their arms with their race information (event, heat, lane, stroke).  A Sharpie is good for doing this. 

On the way in, spectators can usually purchase a Meet Program (Heat Sheet) for $2-$15.  Meets are pre-seeded, so the program lists the swimmers by event (the stroke/distance), heat (the grouping of swimmers), and lane (the specific lane in which your swimmer is expected to race for that event).  You can keep track of your swimmer's and their friends' performances. 

Please note: Parents are not allowed on deck at meets, so make sure your swimmer knows where you will be sitting.  Usually, there are separate seating areas for spectators (bleachers).  Some venues allow spectators to have folding chairs. 


Meet Sessions

Meets are divided into morning and afternoon sessions.  Typically, 12 & under competes in the morning and 13 & over competes in the afternoon.  11 & 12 girls will often compete in the afternoons during the short course season.


The Race

The coaches will direct swimmers to the blocks prior to their races.  It’s important they be on deck in the team area 20-30 minutes before their race.  If they miss their heat, they won't be allowed to swim in that event.  However, our coaches will help to get them into another heat when possible.

If swimmers violate a rule, they will be disqualified (DQ'd).  Everyone gets DQ’d at times—even experienced swimmers.  For younger swimmers, you should view the DQ as constructive criticism to help them learn to swim legally.  It identifies for the swimmer and his/her coach an area that needs to be worked on and improved.

During the swim, cheer for your swimmer (and their friends) and encourage the swimmer to cheer for teammates!  Good sportsmanship starts with you.  Remember that improvement and personal accomplishments are more important than winning.  When a swimmer swims poorly, continue to focus on the positive things that happened in a race.  It’s okay if a swimmer negatively evaluates a performance; just don’t dwell on it—think about improvement, and focus on fun.

When a swimmer has completed all of his/her events, the swimmer and his/her parents get to go home.  As a parent, praise your swimmer and his/her effort.  But remember, let the coaches’ coach! 


What Disqualifies (DQs) a Swimmer?

False start

·       If the swimmer jumps the start or moves forward once the starter has said, “take your mark” but before the actual start, he/she “false starts” and will be taken out of the race. 

The strokes

·       Freestyle:  Walking on the bottom, pulling on the lane rope, or not completing the distance.

·       Backstroke:  Swimmers have to be on their backs when they touch the wall and push off; they cannot pull/kick the wall once they have passed the vertical onto the breast.

·       Swimmers must finish on their backs, and cannot turn onto the breast before touching the wall with the hand.

·       Breaststroke:  An illegal kick such as flutter (freestyle), dolphin (butterfly) or scissors (sidestroke); not being on the breast; alternating movements of the arms; taking two arm strokes or two leg kicks while the head is under water; touching with only one hand at the turns or finish.

·       Butterfly:  Alternating movements of the arms or legs; pushing the arms forward under instead of over the water surface (underwater recovery); a breaststroke style of kick; and touching with only one hand at the turns or finish instead of touching simultaneously with both hands.


Meet Awards

There are different awards that may be made available at swim meets.  Additionally, some meets give out “best time” straight ribbons each time a swimmer achieves a new best time.  The awards for each meet are listed on the EVENT Page for that meet on our Web site.

·       Place awards

·       Given to the fastest swimmers in an event by the time category in which the swimmer was entered.   Below is what is typical (but not always a given):

·       Straight ribbons are given for C time events, rosette ribbons are given for B time events, and medals are given for A and higher events.

·       The number of place awards given out for individual events at a meet is based on the number of lanes in the pool being used.  (i.e. 6 lanes = 1st-6th places and 8 lanes = 1st-8th places). 

·       Relay awards are given out for 1st through 3rd or 4th place.

·       Time standard achievement certificates

·       Certificates are given out to swimmers who achieve a new B, A, or Championship time standard in an event.

·       Team Trophies

·       Some swim meets give points to the team for every swimmer’s place in each event.  The team or teams with the highest points earn(s) a team trophy.

·       State championship events also give out “high point” awards to the top three male and female swimmers in each age group who score the most individual points.



Once you have attended one or two meets this will all become very routine.  Please do not hesitate to ask another parent for help or information, or look for information on the Club or USA Swimming websites.