Swim meets can be a very daunting event for new families and swimmers. Swim team veterans refer to meets as "organized chaos". In fact, they're well orchestrated (usually), but the logistics are not very well communicated to new families.
Plan to arrive 1 hour before the meet for warm-ups (the coach will provide a specific arrival times prior to each meet). The coaches will provide direction to the swimmers on what to do during warm-ups. It is very important that swimmers count their strokes for backstroke, so they don't crash into the wall. Swimmers want to determine how many strokes from the flags before they hit the wall. Some pools in the league are 25 yards (we have a 25 meters) so it's important to remember to count strokes.
Order of Events
There are 50+ swim events per meet, which are organized by stroke (free, back, breast, fly). Within each stroke, events alternate by gender and age group (ie, 8u boys free, 8u girls free, 9-10 boys free, 9-10 girls free, etc..). There's a lot of waiting around for your event, which means there's plenty of time for cheering on teammates!<
An announcer will call out what events are coming up, so please keep an ear out! They'll say something like, "9-10 boys and girls freestyle, please go to the Clerk of Course ." There will be an assistant coach (or senior swimmer) who will hand out swim cards to each swimmer. Prior to going to the Clerk of Course, swimmers must go to the assistant coach to get their card. Swimmers must keep their card until just prior to their race. Don't lose (or chew) your card!
Clerk of Course
After getting your card, swimmers bring their cap, goggles, and card to the Clerk of Course. Towels are optional. The Clerk of Course is a staging area where officials will organize swimmers by event (and heats for B-Meets) and lane number. The Clerk of Course will ask to see the swimmers card, but swimmers should hang on to the card. Typically at the Clerk of Course, rows of chairs will be setup for the upcoming events. Swimmers will move from one row of chairs to the next as their event nears. Volunteers at the Clerk of Course will help the younger swimmers.
Three events prior to the swimmer's event, a member of the Clerk of Course will bring the swimmer from the Clerk of Course holding area on to the pool deck into the correct lane. The swimmer will be standing (or sitting) in a line behind the next two swimmers. For a 25 meter race, immediately prior to the swimmer's event, a runner (it's a volunteer job) will collect the cards from each swimmer and run them to the other side of the pool, where the timers are located (hence their title). For a 50 meter race, the swimmer will hand his/her card to the timer. The runner or timer should always ask the swimmer's name and age to confirm the the swimmer has the correct card prior to the race.
Start of the Race
Prior to the start of the race, the starter (official with the microphone) will announce the event and heat so the stroke & turn judges know what event it is. Then, the referee (official with the whistle) will blow the whistle letting swimmers know to get ready. For backstroke, swimmers should jump into the pool after the whistle. For every other stoke, swimmers should approach the edge of the pool. Next, the starter will say, "On your marks" which tells the swimmers to get into their starting position (toes over the edge of the pool, hands grabbing the edge of the pool). Once the swimmer hears a loud "beep", then should dive/jump in and swim their race. Swimmers should NOT be looking at the starter, but should be looking out into the water and LISTEN for the beep.
End of the Race
It is swimming custom for swimmers to remain in the pool until all swimmers have completed their race. Then the referee will blow the whistle to signal the swimmers to exit the pool. Swimmers should jump out from the lane their that they're in - not swim to the side of the pool. It is OK for swimmers to ask a timer for their time. If the timers are not too busy, they'll be happy to give it to you.
After that, get a towel and cheer on your friends!