Introduction to Competitive Swimming


United States Swimming

United States Swimming is the national governing body for the sport of swimming.  Participants of MSA must be members of this organization. Membership is renewed once the swimmers’ current membership lapses.  Membership provides limited, co-benefit accident and liability insurance for swimmers participating in supervised workouts and swim meets.

North Carolina Swimming (NCS)

North Carolina Swimming is the Local Swim Committee (LSC), or administrative division, that handles our geographic area which includes all of North Carolina.  NCS also administers all USA Swimming sanctioned meets that take place within their jurisdiction.

The competitive swimming year is broken into two separate competitive seasons, each with its own set of championship meets.  The first season starts in early September and runs through March.  This season is typically referred to as the Short Course Season because all competitions during this time take place in a 25 yard, or “Short Course”, pool.

The second competitive season runs from early April through early August, and is usually referred to as the Long Course Season due to the fact that meets in this season are held in 50 meter, or “Long Course” pools.  The Long Course format is used for all USA Swimming Senior National Meets, as well as most major international meets such as the World Championships and the Olympics.

Because USA Swimming uses two separate formats (Long Course vs. Short Course) throughout the year, swimmers who swim year-round will have two different sets of best times, just as the club has two different sets of club records. Swimmers, coaches, and parents will often try and “convert” times so that races and times in different formats can be compared, but parents should be aware that Long Course / Short Course conversions are rarely accurate. Instead, it is more helpful to view each season, and the times achieved in the season, separately.


The Four Competitive Strokes

One of the many things that makes swimming such a unique sport is the fact that swimmers compete in a variety of different strokes. Races are swum at various distances (depending on the age group) in each of the following strokes: Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly and Freestyle, as well as in an Individual Medley in which each swimmer competes a specified distance of all four strokes. Medley Relays are also done in which four swimmers each swim one of the four strokes in a single relay race. Although your child may have learned other strokes such as the elementary backstroke or the sidestroke in swimming lessons, these 4 strokes are the only ones which are competed in USA Swimming meets. More information on each of the strokes is included below.

This stroke is easily identifiable as it is the only one done on the back. It is done using an alternating arm motion combined with a flutter kick and good hip, shoulder, and trunk rotation. Backstrokers may flip onto their stomach to change direction at the walls, but it must be done in a continuous motion, with no more than one stroke permitted on the stomach. Race finishes must be done on the back.

Breaststroke is done using a two-arm simultaneous stroke and underwater recovery along with a strong whip kick which is sometimes called the frog kick. Balance in the Breaststroke is attained through a “teeter-totter” motion in the water, which has swimmers alternating putting pressure on the upper and lower body, rotating over the short axis, waist and hips. Usually considered the slowest of the 4 strokes, Breaststroke is also one of the most difficult strokes to do correctly.

Butterfly is done using a two-arm simultaneous stroke with an above water recovery along with a dolphin kick. Using the same “teeter-totter” motion as the Breaststroke, Butterfly swimmers appear to move through the water with an undular, or wave-like motion. Rhythm, timing and strength are the most important factors in a fast butterfly.

In all freestyle events, swimmers may use whatever stroke they would like to get from one end of the pool to the other. Typically, however, swimmers will use the Front Crawl during freestyle events as it is the fastest. Because of this, coaches, swimmers, and parents often use the word “freestyle” instead of “front crawl”.


Techniques: Racing

Seed Time
A swimmer’s best official time for an event. This time will appear next to the swimmer’s name in the heat sheet. It will determine where in the race (Heat and Lane) that swimmer will be placed.

Split Time
Times registered partway through a race. In longer events, coaches will often clock a swimmer’s split time to determine the pace of each lap. Results will sometimes list the split times for an event. Here you can see a list of splits for a 200 yard event.

Split Times



Elapsed Time

Lap Time

9-10 200 Free
















The first number represents the lap count, the next number is the elapsed time from the beginning of the race, the final number is the duration of that particular lap. When you see splits that are very close, that means the swimmer is swimming at a consistent pace throughout the race. Splits that get longer or even shorter towards the end indicate that the swimmer is slowing down or speeding up, respectively.

The time per repeat you can hold consistently during a set, and ideally the time (per 100 yards, for instance) that you can hold during a race.

Negative splitting
The act of completing the second half of a set amount of distance faster than the first half.

Even splitting
The act of completing both the first half and last half of a set amount of distance at equal speeds.

Increasing one’s speed, while decreasing one's time, incrementally during a set distance (She is descending her one-mile race by 100 yards). Also known as "Build-up"

A body position that offers the least amount of resistance. Arms straight up in a point with hands together, legs together with toes pointed, and spine as straight as possible.