Swim Links

What's the difference between YMCA and USA Swimming?

The Waukee YMCA Rays Swim Team is a dual YMCA/USA swim team. We compete against other YMCA teams in the state of Iowa. There is no additional expense to swim in YMCA meets. USA Swimming is an additional league that we swim in for those swimmers who choose to participate. We compete against other USA teams in and around Iowa. There is an additional expense for athletes to swim in USA meets.

Because of the additional cost and time commitment USA swimming demands, many of our swimmers decide to start out with YMCA swimming. Once they are legal in all four strokes and feel more confident, they add in USA swimming. There is NO difference in coaching or practice schedules between YMCA or USA.

There are many similarities and differences in how meets are run, a few are noted below.

YMCA Swimming USA Swimming

Most meets follow a set order and include the same events each time. Novelty meets are not typical. Swimmers are almost always limited to three individual events with the potential for two coach selected relays.

Host team determines format including events offered, order of events (often with little consideration of rest between events). Each meet is different with limits on how many sessions and events an athlete may be allowed to entered. Relays are only swum during championship season by our team.

A meet invite (if offered) will be posted on Team Unify. Details received from host team will be posted to meet event page. It is your responsibility to read this page carefully and monitor for updates.

The required meet invite will always be posted on Team Unify and is the go-to document, it is your responsibility to read this document carefully and monitor for updates. The meet invite is often available one month prior to meet.

Meets occur on one day, typically Saturdays during winter season and weeknight during summer season. Swimmers typically swim with same aged swimmers. Events are seeded so swimmers compete in heats with athletes who have similar times. Usually swimming heats in order of slowest to fastest times.

Meets typically run over multiple days with several session each day that are usually divided by age groups. Events are seeded so swimmers could compete with different aged athletes but with those who have similar times. Heat order can differ at each meet but often will be seeded fastest to slowest times.

You are responsible for selecting individual events for your swimmer that meet your schedule availability. Usual meet entry limits are three individual and coaches may select up to two relays. Always notify coaches in advance if you will be arriving late or leaving early.

You are responsible for selecting individual events in age appropriate session for your swimmer that meet your schedule availability. Refer to meet invite for rules on entry and session limitations. Always notify coaches in advance if you will be arriving late or leaving early.

No additional charge to swimmers for participation in a meet.

The meet hosts charge multiple fees, each individual event has a fee ($4-$5 per event) and there is often an overall participation fee to swim ($4-5).  Some facilities may also charge a fee for spectators due at the door the day of the meet. 

Athlete entries are submitted one week before the meet. Changes are discouraged but swimmers are not charged any fees if they must drop out of a meet. Coaches should be notified ASAP if your plans change.

Athlete entries are submitted electronically before the meet (sometimes a month ahead) and swimmer accounts are charged based on those entries.  If your plans change you cannot receive a refund.  Meets may fill quickly. You must be prepared to commit far in advance.

Warm-ups are usually 45 to 60 minutes before meet start time and our team usually has multiple lanes. 

Warm-ups are often one to two hours before meet start time in order to get everyone through the process and we may share a lane with other teams. 

Meets are local in Des Moines or within a couple hours and don't usually require overnight travel.

Meets could require overnight travel, even though your swimmer may only swim one day, early morning warm-ups may necessitate an overnight stay.  

Relays are typically swam at every meet. Athletes have the potential for up to two relays and parents should notify coaches if something will prevent their swimmer from participating BEFORE the meet.

We do not swim relays at regular events due to the cost and potential for scratches or no-show. During championship season we will form relays and expect athletes to participate.

Swimmers participate in the same age group for the entire season according to their age on Dec. 1 for winter season and June 1 for summer season.  

Swimmers participate according to their age on the first day of the meet.  So athletes with birth dates mid-season could change age groups and qualification time requirements.  

Swimmers typically sit in a swim team "crash area" and parental supervision is expected. Some meets may offer Clerks Of Course that assist swimmers with getting to events but are not always offered. Parents may assist swimmers but are generally discouraged from going behind the blocks.

Swimmers typically sit in a designated area away from parents and must be capable of getting to their events without parental assistance.  

The same swimming rules are applied at YMCA meets but may be run with fewer officials.

The same swimming rules are applied at USA meets but will likely be well staffed with many officials and rarely will an illegal stroke go unnoticed.



  • In order to swim USA the athlete must registered with USA Swimming which is an additional fee.
  • If there is a USA meet and a YMCA meet the same weekend, your USA swimmer cannot attend the YMCA meet.  When coaches select the YMCA meet schedule they commit to a quantity of swimmers from the team and their estimates will NOT include USA swimmers as they'll be expected to attend the USA meet.
  • Total team YMCA meets (all home meets and select YMCA travel meets) are open to both types of swimmers and are noted as such on the team event page.  
  • Athletes are not required to attend all the USA meets but they are paying opportunity for additional competition and coaches strongly recommend swimmers participate in all USA meets along with the required three YMCA meets each winter season. 


See the team contact list for who to ask!