USA Swimming is the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States. It is charged with selecting the United States Olympic Swimming team and any other teams, which officially represent the United States. USA Swimming also organizes and operates the sport within the country, in accordance with the Amateur Sports Act. The national headquarters is located at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The National Governing Body
The National Governing Body (NGB) of United States Swimming is an extension of the United States Olympic Committee. While all of the separate swim teams, LSC's, and Zones do not officially make up the NGB, they are all members and are subject to the laws of the NGB.
The NGB is made up of both staff members of USA Swimming and volunteer members of the board. The office of the President is the head of the board and is responsible for the overall direction of USA Swimming. The chief executive is the head of the staff located at the national headquarters in Colorado Springs. The chief executive is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization at the national level.
The NGB is responsible for nearly all aspects of USA Swimming and swimming in the United States in general. Its most important responsibility is to set the rules for the sport in the United States. These rules are guided by the international governing body for aquatic sports (FINA). FINA makes the rules for all international level meets. USA Swimming follows accordingly to make the rules of USA Swimming match the rules of FINA; however, it does not have to. In theory, an NGB could make rules for all national level meets and below, but it would not have jurisdiction over international level meets held within the borders of the United States, and such a meet would have to follow FINA rules.
The Zone is a relatively minor part of the organization. The zone does not make very many policy or procedural decisions that affect the members of USA Swimming. Its primary task is to operate Zone and Sectional meets and facilitate conversation between Local Swimming Committees (LSCs) in the same national region. It is also a way for the LSCs to create a bigger regional voice.
Within USA Swimming, there are 4 Zones: Eastern, Southern, Central and Western.
Zone Meets and Sectional Meets are further explained in the Meets section.
The Local Swimming Committee
The Local Swimming Committee (LSC) is the local level of USA Swimming. Each LSC is a separate entity, with each being an individual member of USA Swimming, although all act on behalf of USA Swimming on the local level. The LSC is the organization responsible for nearly all aspects of the operations of amateur swimming.
The LSC gives USA Swimming sanctions to swimming meets in their area. A sanction from the LSC allows the meet to be run under USA Swimming rules. The LSC is responsible for enforcing these rules at the meet. The LSC does this by training officials for the meet. These officials are typically parents' of swimmers and volunteers. The technical swimming rules for USA Swimming are the same for all LSCs as mandated by USA Swimming. This allows an official in one LSC to officiate in another LSC without having to learn a new set of rules. This is able to be done because while each LSC may have its own set of rules they are not different regarding the actual strokes.
An LSC is typically responsible for an entire state; however, there are several states (e.g. California, Texas, Pennsylvania, among others) that have multiple LSCs within their boundaries. The size of the LSCs is supposed to be roughly the same and allow for easier travel between meets. The result is that while borders tend to follow state borders, this is not a rule. There exist many instances where one or two counties in one state will be in the LSC of another state or more than one state will combine into a single LSC. For example, California, with its large number of swimmers and expansive geography, has 5 LSCs, including the country's largest in terms of number of swimmers, Southern California Swimming which also includes the southern portion of Nevada. One of the smallest LSCs, in terms of geographic area is Potomac Valley Swimming, with swimmers in Washington, D.C. and surrounding counties. There are currently 59 LSCs in the country; mapped here.
The LSCs are divided into Zones as follows:
Western Zone Central Zone Southern Zone Eastern Zone
There are several different types and levels of meets, all but the very top level directed by individual clubs and the Local Swimming Committee. The following is a list of the types of meets, listed from lowest and most common level to highest and least common level.
Dual Meet, Double Dual, Triangular, Quadrangular, etc.
A dual meet is a meet where each individual event is scored based on how individual swimmers on a team swim. It is generally limited to 2 teams, but different variations can have more. In a dual meet, there is almost always a limit to the number of events that a certain person can swim and to the number of swimmers that a certain team can enter. Generally, there is only 1 heat in each event and each team alternates lanes so that each team swims in half the pool, regardless of how fast each swimmer is. While this style of meet is generally uncommon for individual USA Swimming clubs, it is by far the most common of high school (NFHS) swimming, YMCA swimming, college (NCAA) swimming, and summer league swimming. Meets of this variety are almost always a low level meet because entry time standards are almost never applied to enter the meet. It can, however, be rather high level when both teams involved are very fast and have exclusively high level swimmers, as is the case with college swimming.
An invitational meet is a meet with many more teams and swimmers than a dual meet. The term "Invitational" comes from the fact that for a team to attend this type of meet, a team had to be invited to attend from the host team, but now is a general catch-all term for this style of meet (although there are still occasional invitation-only meets.) Meets of this variety generally have hundreds of swimmers, many teams, and many different events. Within the definition of an invitational meet, there are dozens of different styles of scoring and placing but the standard method is described here. All levels of swimming use invitational style meets at least once during their season (usually as a championship meet of all the clubs in a league), but the clubs of USA Swimming use this meet almost exclusively since there are very few leagues in USA Swimming and it acts as one giant league itself. Most meets of this style have no limits as to the number of swimmers that a team can enter, and only limit the number of times a swimmer can swim in order to make the flow of the meet manageable. Meets of this style can be at any level of swimming since all of the higher level meets use this style of meet with just more restrictive rules applied. Meets of this style usually do not have entry time standards, but can have them to either reduce the size of the meet, or raise the competition level.
Each Local Swimming Committee (LSC) is mandated to have a season ending championships twice a year for both Age Group (younger) and Senior (no age requirement) swimmers. Most LSC's split these up into two separate meets. The meet style is an invitational meet open only to club teams within the LSC. Almost universally, entry time standards are applied so that only the top level swimmer of the LSC can attend; only a few of the smaller LSCs do not have a time standard. Each LSC sets their own time standards (due to LSC size differences), so the competition level of the meet is not exactly the same across the country. Normally, this style meet is a prelim/final format. Age groups are 8 and under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15 and over, also known as seniors.
As stated before, there are four zones and 59 LSCs in the country. While the LSC championship is a high level meet, the Zone/Sectional Championships are even higher. These meets are also of the invitational format, but the entry time standards are even higher so that only the fastest swimmers of Zones qualify. Zone and Sectional meets are of the same competition level, but serve different purposes. Zone meets are for age group swimmers and Sectional meets are for Senior swimmers. While the intention is to have one champion for the whole Zone, this is generally not possible because to have a meet of that high of a competition level, there would be very little difference between this level and the next level, so the entry times can only be made so fast. Thus, there are sometimes too many swimmers qualifying for this meet to have only a single meet in a Zone. Currently, the Central States Zone is the only one that has more than one Zone Championship meet (Age Group swimmers), and all four zones have multiple Sectional Championships (Senior swimmers). After Zone meets for age group swimmers some may qualify for Junior Nationals.
National Championship/US Open
The National Championship is exactly what the name implies. There is only 1 National Championship meet at the conclusion of each season across the country. The National Championships are also of the invitational meet format and offer extremely high level competition. Only a very small percentage of people who ever swim will make it to this high a level of competition. This meet is generally used to determine the US National Team for various international level meets each year, but is not used to determine the US Olympic Team. Currently, there are 2 National Championships each year, but the Spring Championships have traditionally been of a significantly lower level of competition than the Summer Championships. This is because the Spring Championships are so close to NCAA Championships and the fact that Spring Championships are rarely used as a selection meet for national teams.
In many other sports, the National Championship of the sport is known as the "US Open" and while swimming did have a very high national level meet by that name each year, it was just a high level meet and not a national championship meet. This specific meet was ended in 2006 and was replaced with a reformulated Spring/Winter National Championship. Since there is no "US Open" meet of the old format, the National Championships (specifically Summer '08) have begun to be called the "US Open" to bring it in line with the nomenclature of other sports.
US Olympic Trials
The Olympic Trials are held once every 4 years. Since this meet offers such a coveted prize (a spot on the US Olympic Team) it never fails to attract the absolute fastest in the sport of swimming in the United States. Because of this, the entry time standards are even faster than the National Championships. However, even though this is a faster meet and would actually offer a truer indication of who is the fastest swimmer in the United States, the winner of each event in this meet is not officially considered a National Champion and this meet is NOT held in place of the National Championships every 4 years (although the Nationals are generally not held when the Olympic Trials occur, or other selection trials). However, for 2008, the winners of the Olympic Trials will indeed officially be a National Champion with the trials meet taking the place of the National Championship meet for 2008. It is unclear if this will continue for future trials. Unlike all other US Swimming meets, United States citizenship is required to attend this meet. The Olympic Trials are also under unique requirements made by the USOC.
Trials meets are also held for the World Championships, Pan American Games and World University Games, typically at a national championship meet.