Swim Meet Primer
Attending Swim Meets lie at the heart of our sport. Sometimes it's a hometown meet and sometimes we travel to far away places to try our skills in the water. But for all meets, we need to keep in mind that our primary goal is to have an enjoyable time.
For those new to the sport, the number of, and many types of meets can be a challenge to understand. Here is a guide to help you better understand the heart of the sport of competitive swimming.
Basically, there are 2 main types of meets in competitive swimming, Open Meets and Qualifying Meets. There are 2 additional minor types of meets that you might also encounter from time to time. Lets look at the different types of meets now.
OPEN MEETS - Open meets are, as the name implies, open to any registered swimmer. They are usually open to all age groups as well, although some may be run as "split-session" meets where the younger swimmers may swim at one time and the older swimmers at a different time.
Often they will be billed as the "Your City Open" or "Your Club Invitational". The vast majority of meets that you will attend will be classified as open meets. Most of these meets will be sanctioned by the Local Swimming Committee (LSC). The United States is divided into 59 LSC's which act as the local governing body for USA Swimming. Once a meet is scheduled and sanctioned, the host club will make available a meet "contract". This document will contain all of the specific information about that meet, including, but not necessarily limited to, the entry deadline, the event list, the cost structure, prizes and award structure, and of course location and host information. Local hotel lists are often published in contracts for the sake of traveling swimmers.
Swimmers attending an Open meet are usually free to try any race offered for their age group. Not all meets offer all races for all ages, but you will usually find an adequate selection for your needs. Swimmers do not need to have swam that particular event before, in this case the swimmer is entered with a NT (no-time) entry. Races are usually seeded by entry times and not necessarily by age group. Thus you may find your 12 year old swimmer racing against a 14 year old as well as other 11 & 12 year old swimmers. Note however that when it comes time for prizes (usually ribbons or trophies) racers are only competing against other swimmers in their actual age group.
QUALIFYING MEETS - Qualifying meets are meets that have some type of qualification standard associated with entry to the meet. Usually these meets are only open to swimmers who have achieved a qualifying time at some open meet according to the meets published time standards. There are 2 primary types of qualifying meets, Age Group meets and Senior meets.
Age Group Qualifying meets - These meets are run like open meets in that swimmers only compete directly with other swimmers in their respective age groups. Meets are free to define what constitutes an age group and different meets use different groupings, for example, the State Championship meet uses 2 year combined age groups (9-10, 11-12, 13-14, etc), while the Age Group Sectional Meet uses 1 year divisions. The key feature is that each age group will have its own time standards to meet in order to qualify for that meet.
USAS publishes a list of AB qualifying times, called the National Age Group Motivational Times, which is updated periodically. The current list of times is good until Sept 2012 and will be updated this fall. The lowest standard in this chart is the B time. BB times are faster times followed by A times, AA times, AAA times and culminates wilth the fastest standard as AAAA times. Each age group has its own set of time standards.
Each meet sponsor is free to set their own qualifying times for its meet. The most basic qualifying meet is the State Championship Meet, usually held each season. Here in Montana we use the USAS AB times table. Swimmers are required to achieve at least 1 BB time or better in any event to qualify for "State". They may then enter any event in which they have achieved a B time or better in.
"Age Group Sectionals"
USASwimming groups some number of LSC together into a group called a Section. We here in Montana are a part of the Northwest Section, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Each year each Section hosts an Age Group Meet. The NW Section hosts a qualifying meet called the NW Section Age Group Championship, commonly called Age Group Sectionals.
At Age Group Sectionals swimmers only compete with other swimmers of the same age as themselves. Ages are grouped in 1 year divisions, thus 11 year olds only compete with 11 year olds, 14 year olds with other 14 year old and so on.. Each age group has its own set of standards. Most qualifying times for AG Sectionals fall between the AA and AAA times on the USAS AB chart, however the actual time standards are decided upon by the Section Committee and are adjusted each year.
USASwimming then combines groups of Sections into Zones. There are 4 Zones in the US. Montana belongs to the Western Zone which encompasses all 13 states west of and inclusive of Montana south to New Mexico, including Alaska and Hawaii.
Each summer a Long Course Age Group meet is held for each Zone. The location of the Zone meet, called the Western Zone Age Group Championship, moves from year to year and this year is being held in Grand Junction, Colo. Qualifying times for Zones generally fall in the AAA to AAAA times on the AB scale, but are not directly based on that table. The Zone committee sets its own qualifying standards each year.
Senior Qualifying Meets - The next step beyond Age Group meets are Senior Meets. These meets also have their own qualifying standards but are different in that at a Senior meet there is only ONE qualifying standard for each event. Any swimmer regardless of age must achieve this time to qualify for the meet.
The Northwest Section hosts a Senior Meet each season, one Short Course meet in the spring and one Long Course meet in the summer. In Olympic years the spring meet also adopts the Long Course format. This meet is called the Northwest Section Senior Championship and has been long term sponsored by Speedo. Schedules for these meets can be found ont he USAS website under the Speedo Championship Series, but is often referred to as Senior Sectioals. Once a swimmer 15 years or older qualifies for Senior Sectionals, they are no longer eligible to enter the Age Group Sectional Meet.
Each Zone hosts a Senior Zone meet each summer in addition to its age group meet. Again it is 1 qualifying time for each event for all ages. Senior Zones is also a Long Course meet.
Swimmers who achieve Senior times will often find that they now start to become eligible for College and University swim teams and scholarships.
Once or twice each year there is a Junior National Meet. The qualifying time for JunNats is more stringent than Sectionals and Zones and is viewed as the next step to the National scene. There is usually both a Long and Short Course Junior National meet each year. Each year Montana sends a handful of swimmers to Junior Nationals. A few back FAST sent 2 swimmers to Junior Nationals.
The next step up the ladder is Long and Short Course Nationals. Typically only a few swimmers from Montana will qualify for Nationals. This is a very elite upper level meet.
US Olympic Team
In the summer before each quadrennial Summer Olympic Games, there will be an Olympic Team Trial. This year the Olympic Trials will run from late June to early July and will determine which swimmers qualify to represent the United States at the Olympic Games. 4 years ago and again this summer 1 ex-FAST swimmer will compete for a spot on this years' Olympic team. Scan through our Team Records pages and see if you can guess the identity of this swimmer.
OTHER TYPES OF MEETS
TIME TRIALS - Time Trials are not normailly classified as "meets" per se, but times achieved at Time Trials are usually recorded as official USAS times. Think of a Time Trial as a race against the clock, whereas a normal meet is a race against other swimmers and the clock. Time Trials are usually put on and often limited to swimmersfrom a particular team. The usual purpose of a Time Trial is to offer a chance for swimmers to achieve a qualifying time for a particular meet. So they will often be scheduled and held shortly before the State Championship or a Sectional or Zone meet.
INTERSCHOLASTIC MEETS - One type of meet you may encounter from time to time is some sort of interscholastic meet. These are school sponsored swim meets and can be found at the Middle School, High School, or Collegiate levels. Often these meets are not sanctioned by USASwimming and times achieved in these meets are often not recorded in the swimmers official USAS database.. Occasionally these meets may be sanctioned so that times can be counted for USAS credit. Montana High School State Championship is an example of this, the meet is "observed" by USAS officials and the times are recorded by the LSC times database administrator.
FAST Special Definitions/ Meet Terminology
TEAM MEETS - Each season our coach selects certain meets to designate as Team Meets. For these meets we encourage as many swimmers as possible to attend the meet. At these meets we will often have theme shirts and team motels set aside. Team meets are intended to encourage team spirit. Montana State Championships (LC and SC) are always designated as a Team Meet. All FAST swimmers are encouraged to qualify and attend these meets.
OUT-OF-STATE MEETS - are meets held outside of Montana. Often a coach may make special transportation and hotel arrangements for athletes attending these meets. Costs for these meets are generally split amongst the swimmers attending the meet.
CLINICS and CAMPS - These are usually 1 day events that strive to work on particular skills for swimmers who want additional training. Some of these camps may feature well known swim personalities, olympic athletes, or nationally known coaches.