Swim Terms

Swimming 101

The Four Strokes: The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. The combination of all four strokes is called individual medley.

In Freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the crawl, which is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water surface and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick.

Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flut­ter kick while on the back. On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a flip turn and some part of the swimmer must touch the wall. The swimmer must finish on the back.

Breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pressed out from in front of the breast in a heart shaped pattern and recovered under or on the surface of the water. The kick is a simultaneous somewhat circular motion similar to the action of a frog. On turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously at, above or below the water surface.

Butterfly features a simultaneous recovery of the arms over the water combined with an undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together and may not flutter, scissors or use the breaststroke kick. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish.

The individual Medley (aka "I.M.") features all four strokes; The swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after one-fourth of the race to backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle.

Age Group: Division of swimmers according to age. The National Age Group divisions are:  10-under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, and 17-18. Some LSCs have divided the swimmers into more convenient divisions specific to their situations: (i.e. 8-under, 13-Over, 15-Over, Junior, Senior.)

Alternate: In a Prelims/Finals meet (ex. JO’s); after the finalists are decided, the next two fastest swimmers other than the finalists are designated as alternates. The faster of the two being the first alternate and the next being second alternate. If a finalist cannot participate, the alternates are called to take their place.

Anchor: The final swimmer in a relay.

Backstroke: One of the four competitive racing strokes, basically any style of swimming on your back. Backstroke is swum as the first stroke in the Medley Relay and second stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter (LSCs with 10-under divisions offer the 25 yd back).

Beep: The starting sound from an electronic, computerized timing system.

Bonus Heat: The heat held during the finals session of a Prelims/Finals meet that is slower than the swimmers participating in Big Finals. The Bonus Heat may refer to Consolation Finals or an extra heat in addition to Consolation finals.

Breaststroke: One of the four competitive racing strokes. Breaststroke is swum as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter. (LSCs with 10-under divisions offer the 25 yd breast).

B/R/W or BRW: Is an acronym for the Blue, Red, White time standards. BRW meets are meets where any time standard may enter (White is "bottomless", meaning even swimmers with No Time (NT) can enter, as well as any other level, since Blue in this instance has no ceiling.

Bulkhead: A moveable wall, constructed to divide a pool into different courses, such as a 50-meter pool into two 25-yard courses (i.e. Belmont Plaza Pool).

Butterfly: One of the four competitive racing strokes. Butterfly (nicknamed FLY) is swam as the third stroke in the Medley Relay and first stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter (LSCs with 8-under divisions offer the 25 yard fly).

Button (aka "pickle"): The manual Timing System stopping device that records a back-up time in case the touch pad malfunctioned. The button is at the end of a wire, plugged into a deck terminal box. There are usually 3 buttons per lane. It is the timer’s responsibility to push the button as the swimmer finishes the race.

Championship Finals: The top six or eight swimmers (depending on the number of pool lanes) in Prelims/Finals meet who, after the prelims are swum, qualify to return to the Finals. The fastest heat of finals when multiple heats are held.

Check-In: The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck-seeded meet. Sometimes referred to as positive check-in, the swimmer must mark their name on a list posted by the meet host.

Championship Seeding (aka "Circle Seeding"): A method of seeding swimmers when they are participating in a prelims/finals event. The fastest 18 to 24 swimmers are seeded in the last three heats, with the fastest swimmers being in the inside lanes. (i.e. Lane 4 in the final three heats.) See rule book for exact method for seeding depending on the lanes in the pool.

Circle-pattern Swimming: Performed in practice sessions and meet warmups by staying to the right of the black line when swimming in a lane to enable more swimmers to safely swim in each lane.

Clinic: A scheduled meeting for the purpose of instruction (i.e. Official’s clinic, Coach’s clinic.)

Code: A set of rules that have been officially published.

Code of Ethics: A Code of Conduct that both swimmers and coaches are required to sign at certain USA-S/LSC sponsored events. The Code is not strict and involves common sense and proper behavior.

COMPETITION: Participants compete in different age groups and meets depending on their achievement level and how old they are on the first day of the meet. Traditionally recognized age groups are 10 and under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18. Many local meets feature 8 and under, single age groups, or senior events. Team practice groups are usually determined by age and/or ability.

Consolation Finals: After the fastest six or eight swimmers, the next six or eight swimmers (depending on the number of pool lanes) in a Prelims/Finals meet who, after the prelims are swum, qualify to return to the Finals. Consolations are the second fastest heat of finals when multiple heats are held and are conducted before the Championship heat.

Course: Designated distance (length of pool) for swimming competition (i.e. Long Course = 50 meters / Short Course = 25 yards or 25 meters.)

Cut: A time standard necessary to attend a particular meet of event.

Deadline: The date meet entries must be “postmarked” by, to be accepted by the meet host. Making the meet deadline does not guarantee acceptance into a meet since many meets are “full” weeks before the entry deadline.

Deck: The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coaches. No one but an “authorized” USA Swimming member may be on the deck during a swim competition.

Deck Entries: Accepting entries into swimming events on the first day or later day of a meet.

Distance: How far a swimmer swims. Distances for short course are:  25 yards (1 length), 50 yards (2 lengths), 100 yards (4 lengths), 200 yards (8 lengths), 400 yards (16 lengths), 500 yards (20 lengths), 1000 yards (40 lengths), and 1650 yards (66 lengths). Distances for long course are: 50 meters (1 length), 100 meters (2 lengths), 200 meters (4 lengths), 400 meters (8 lengths), 800 meters (16 lengths), and 1500 meters (30 lengths).

Distance Events: Term used to refer to events over 400 meters/500 yards.

DQ-Disqualified: This occurs when a swimmer has committed an infraction of some kind.  A disqualified swimmer is not eligible to receive awards, nor can the time be used as an official time.

Dive: Entering the water head first. Diving is not allowed during warm-ups except at the designated time, in specific lanes that are monitored by the swimmer’s coach.

Drill: A teaching exercise involving a portion of a stroke which is used to improve technique.

Dropped Time: When a swimmer goes faster than the previous performance they have “dropped their time.”

Dryland: The exercises and various coordiation, flexibility and strength programs swimmers do out of the water that aids and enhances swimmers performance.

Entry: An individual, relay team, or club roster’s event list in a swim competition.

Entry Form: A form on which a swimmer enters a competition.  Usually includes swimmer’s name, USA Swim number, team, age, sex, event numbers, and entry times.

Entry Fees: The amount per event a swimmer or relay is charged. This varies depending on the LSC and type of meet.

Entry Limit: Each meet will usually have a limit of total swimmers they can accept, or a time limit they cannot exceed. Once an entry limit has been reached, a meet will be closed and all other entries returned.

Electronic Timing: Timing system operated on DC current (battery). The timing system usually has touch pads in the water with buttons (pickles) for back-up times and a computer-type console that prints out the results of each race. Some systems are hooked up to a scoreboard that displays swimmers.  Some systems may have only buttons (pickles) and no touch pads.

Event: A race or stroke over a given distance. An event equals 1 preliminary with its final, or 1 timed final.

False Start: When a swimmer is moving or leaves the starting block before the start is sounded. One false start will disqualify a swimmer or a relay team, although the starter or referee may disallow the false start due to unusual circumstances.

Fastest to Slowest: A seeding method used on the longer distance events. The fastest seeded swimmers participate in the first heats followed by the next fastest and so on. Many times these events will alternate one girls’ heat and one boys’ heat until all swimmers have competed.

Finals: The championship heat of an event in which the top swimmers from the preliminaries compete.

Final Results: The printed copy of the results of each race of a swim meet.

Flags: Pennants that are suspended over the width of each end of the pool approximately 15 feet from the wall.

Freestyle: One of the four competitive racing strokes. Freestyle (nicknamed Free) is swum as the fourth stroke in the Medley Relay and fourth stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, 200 yards/meter, 400 mtr/500, yd 800 mtr/1000 yds, 1500 mtr/1650 yds (LSCs with 8-under divisions offer the 25 yd free).

Goals: A specific skill or time achievement a swimmer sets and strives for. Can be short term or long term.

Gutter: The area along the edge of the pool in which the water overflows during a race and is circulated through the filtration system.

Heats: A division of an event when there are too many swimmers to compete at the same time. The results are compiled by swimmers time swum, after all heats of the event are completed.

Heat Sheet: The pre-meet printed listings of swimmers’ seed times in the various events at a swim meet. These sheets vary in accuracy, since the swimmers times are entered many weeks before the meet. Heat sheets (or programs) are sold at the meet.

IM: Individual Medley. A swimming event using all four of the competitive strokes on consecutive lengths of the race. The order must be: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle. Equal distances must be swum of each stroke. Distances offered: 100 yards, 200 yards/meters, and 400 yards/meter.

J.O.: Junior Olympics. An age group championship meet conducted by the LSC.

Jump Start: An illegal start done by the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th member of a relay team. The swimmer on the block breaks contact with the block before the swimmer in the water touches the wall.

Kick: The leg movements of a swimmer. A popular word to “yell” to encourage swimmers during a race.

Kick Board: A flotation device used by swimmers during practice. A lightweight object used with great accuracy by coaches.

Lane: The specific area in which a swimmer is assigned to swim (i.e. Lane 1 or Lane 2.) Pools with starting blocks at only one end: As the swimmers stand behind the blocks, lanes are numbered from Right (lane 1) to Left (Lane 6).

Lane Lines: Continuous floating markers attached to a cable stretched from the starting end to the turning end for the purpose of separating each lane and quieting the waves caused by racing swimmers.

Lane Markings: The guide lines on the bottom of the pool and in the center of the lanes running the length of the pool.

Lap: One length of the course. Sometimes may also mean down and back (2 lengths) of the course.

Lap Counter: A set of display numbers used to keep track of laps during a distance race longer than 500 yards. Counting is done from the end opposite the starting end. The numbers on the counter are “odd numbers” only with the final lap being designated by bright orange. (Also, the title given to the person who counts for the swimmer.)

Late Entries: Meet entries from a club or individual that are received by the meet host after the entry deadline. These entries are usually not accepted and are returned to sender.

Leg: The part of a relay event swum by a single team member. A single stroke in the IM.

Length: The extent of the competitive course from end to end. See lap.

Long Course: A pool 50 meters in length.

Long Distance: Term used to refer to events of 800 meters/1000yards, to 1500 meters/1650 yards.

LSC: Local Swimming Committee. The local level administrative division of USA Swimming with supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries designated by USA Swimming. ZAP is part of the Southern California (SCS) LSC. (

Marshall: The official who controls the crowd and swimmer-flow at a swim meet.

Meet: A competition designed to be a learning experience.  By implementing what has been learned in practice, the swimmer races against the clock to determine improvement.

Meet Director: The official in charge of the administration of the meet. The person directing the “dry side” of the meet.

Middle Distance: Term used to refer to events of 200 yards/meters to 400 meters/500 yards.

NAGTS: National Age Group Time Standards.

National Reportable Times (NRT)/Top 10: Time standards set for both short and long courses to give national recognition to the fastest 10 swimmers in each stroke, distance, gender, and age.  Achieving these standards allows a swimmer’s time to be submitted for consideration each year.  They do not guarantee achieving a Top 10 ranking.

Nationals: USA Swimming National Championship meet conducted in March/April and August.

Negative Split: Swimming the second half of the race equal to or faster than the first half.

NGB: National Governing Body. (For swimming it is USA Swimming; see

Non-Conforming Time: A short course time submitted to qualify for a long course meet, or vice versa.

NT: No Time. The abbreviation used on a heat sheet to designate that the swimmer has not swum that event before. Swimmers may NOT enter a championship meet with NT.

Observed Meet: A meet that is not conducted according to USA Swimming rules (high school, YMCA) where a request for observation has been processed and approved in advance. Sufficient USA Swimming officials are present to certify that the athletes’ swims are in compliance with USA Swimming technical rules.

Observed Swim: A swim observed by assigned USA Swimming officials for conformance with USA Swimming technical rules in a meet conducted under other than USA Swimming rules.

Officials: The certified judge on the deck of the pool at a sanctioned competition that enforces USA Swimming rules.  There are stroke and turn judges, administrative officials, starters, timers, and referees.Officials are present at all competitions to enforce the technical rules of swimming so the competition is fair and equitable. Officials attend clinics, pass a written test and work meets before being certified. All parents are encouraged to get involved with some form of officiating.

Officials Decision (Judges Decision): A judgment call made by the official when visual evidence of a winner is not consistent with the timers’ watches.

Olympic Trials: The USA Swimming sanctioned long course swim meet held the year of the Olympic Games to decide what swimmers will represent the USA on our Olympic Team. Qualification times are faster than Senior Nationals.

Open Water Swims: A Freestyle event conducted in a natural body of water, such as a lake, river or ocean.

OT: Official Time. The swimmers event time recorded to one hundredth of a second (.01).

Open Competition: Competition which any qualified club, organization, or individual may enter.

Parka: Large 3/4 length fur lined coats worn by swimmers. Usually are in team colors with logo or team name.

Pace Clock: The electronic clocks or large clocks with highly visible numbers and second hands, positioned at the ends or sides of a swimming pool so the swimmers can check their pace or maintain intervals during practice or warm-ups.

Paddle: Colored plastic devices worn on the swimmers hands during swim practice.

Positive Check In: The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck seeded or pre seeded meet. The swimmer must mark their name on a list posted by the meet host.

Practice: The scheduled workouts swimmers attend with their swim team/club.

Prelims: Short for preliminaries.  Also called Heats or Trails. Those races in which swimmers qualify for the championship, consolation finals or semi-finals.

Prelims-Finals: Type of meet with two sessions. The preliminary heats are usually held in the morning session. The fastest six or eight (Championship Heat) swimmers and the next fastest six or eight swimmers (Consolation Heat) return in the evening to compete in the Finals. A swimmer who has qualified in the Consolation Finals may not place in the Championship Finals even if their finals time would place them so. The converse also applies.

Proof of Time: An official meet result, OVC, or other accepted form. Swimmers/Coaches must supply proof of time with some meet entries, and other meets it is not required unless a swimmer misses a cut of time at the meet.

Psyche Sheet: An entry sheet showing all swimmers entered into each individual event. Sometimes referred to as a “Heat Sheet” or meet program. However, a “heat sheet” would show not only every swimmer in an event, but also what heat and lane they are swimming in.

Pull Buoy: A flotation device used for pulling by swimmers in practice.

Qualifying Times (Q-Time): Published times necessary to enter certain meets, or the times necessary to achieve a specific category of swimmer.

Race: Any single swimming competition (i.e. preliminary, final, timed final.)

Referee: The head official at a swim meet in charge of all of the “Wet Side” administration and decisions.

Registered: Enrolled and paid as a member of USA-S and the LSC.

Relays: A swimming event in which four swimmers compete together as a team to achieve one time. Each swimmer completes an equal distance of the race. There are two types of relays:  1.) Medley relay – One swimmer swims Backstroke, one swimmer swims Breaststroke, one swimmer swims Butterfly, one swimmer swims Freestyle, in that order. 2.) Freestyle relay – Each swimmer swims freestyle.

Rules: The technical rules of swimming are designed to provide fair and equitable conditions of competition and to promote uniformity in the sport. Each swimming stroke has specific rules designed to ensure that no swimmer gets an unfair competitive advantage over another swimmer.

Scratch: To withdraw from an event after having declared an intention to participate. Some meets have scratch deadlines and specific scratch rules, and if not followed, swimmer can be disqualified from remaining events.

Sectionals: Nickname for Speedo Championship Series.  Open “senior level” meets held in the spring and summer.  Each Zone may hold up to four meets. Qualifying times, sites, dates and meet rules are determined locally.

Seed: Assign the swimmers heats and lanes according to their submitted or preliminary times.

Seeding: Deck Seeding – swimmers are called to report to the Clerk of the Course. After scratches are determined, the event is seeded. Pre Seeding – swimmers are arranged in heats according to submitted times, usually a day prior to the meet.

Senior Meet: A meet that is for senior level swimmers and is not divided into age groups. Qualification times are usually necessary and will vary depending on the level of the meet.

Senior Nationals: A USA Swimming National Championship meet for swimmers of any age as long as the qualification times are met.

Session: Portion of meet distinctly separated from other portions by locale, time, type of competition, or age group.

Short Course: A pool 25-yards or 25-meters in length.

Split: A time recorded from the official start to the completion of an intermediate distance within a longer event.  Also the time for one of the four individuals in a relay.  Under certain conditions, splits may also be used as official times, for example, the lead off swim in a relay or the lead off portion of a distance event.

Stations: Separate portions of a dryland or weight circuit.

Start: The beginning of a race. The dive used to begin a race.

Starter: The official in charge of signaling the beginning of a race and insuring that all swimmers have a fair takeoff.

Starting Blocks: The starting platforms located behind each lane.

Stand-up: The command given by the Starter or Referee to release the swimmers from their starting position.

Step-Down: The command given by the Starter or Referee to have the swimmers move off the blocks. Usually this command is a good indication everything is not right for the race to start.

Streamline: The position used by swimmers when starting or pushing off the walls designed to reduce water resistance.

Stroke: There are 4 competitive strokes:  Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle.

Stroke Judge: The official positioned at the side of the pool, walking the length of the course as the swimmers race. If the Stroke Judge sees something illegal, they report to the referee and the swimmer may be disqualified.

Submitted Time: Times used to enter swimmers in meets. These times must have been achieved by the swimmer at previous meets.

Swim-off: In a Prelims/Finals type competition, a race after the scheduled event to break a tie. The only circumstance that warrants a swim-off is to determine which swimmer makes finals or an alternate, otherwise ties stand.

SWIMS: USA Swimming system that keeps track of every time swum by all swimmers. Available through the USA Swimming website (

Taper: The final preparation phase for a swimmer with the slow gradual reduction of work loads and intensities in preparation for the season ending competition meet, like JO’s.

Timed Finals: Competition in which only heats are swum and final placing are determined by those times.

Time Standard: Performance requirements to enter a swimming competition.  National standards are determined by USA Swimming.  Local swim meet standards are determined by the LSC.

Timer: The volunteers sitting behind the starting blocks/finish end of pool, who are responsible for getting watch times on events and activating the backup buttons for the timing system.

Time Trial: An event or series of events where a swimmer may achieve or better a required time standard.

Top 10: A list of times compiled by the LSC or USA-S that recognizes the top 10 swimmers in each age (boys & girls) by each event and distance.

Touch Out: To reach the touchpad and finish first in a close race.

Touch Pad: The removable touch sensitive board at the end of each lane where a swimmer’s finish is registered and sent electronically to the timing system. A swimmer must properly touch the touchpad to register an official time in a race.

Transfer: The act of leaving one club or LSC and going to another. Usually 120 days of unattached competition is required before swimmer can represent another USA-S club.

Unattached: An athlete member who competes, but does not represent a club or team (abbr as UN).

Unofficial Time: The time displayed on a read out board or read over the intercom by the announcer immediately after the race. After the time has been checked, it will become the official time.

USA-S: The governing body of swimming–USA Swimming.

USA Swimming: The national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States.

USA-S ID Number: A 16-part number assigned to a swimmer after they have filled out the proper forms and paid their annual dues. The first 6 parts are numbers of a swimmer’s birth date: Day/Month/Year using zeros as place holders. The next three spaces are the first three letters of the athlete’s legal first name. The next letter is the middle initial, followed by the first four letters of the swimmer’s last name (i.e. USA-S ID# for swimmer DeAnne L. Preyer, born Sep. 10,1968 = 091068DEALPREY.)

Warm-down: The low intensity swimming used by swimmers after a race or main practice set to rid the body of excess lactic acid and gradually reduce heart rate and respiration.

Warm-up: The low intensity swimming used by swimmers prior to a main practice set or race to get the muscles loose and warm.  Warm up gradually increases heart rate, respiration and helps to prevent injury.

Watch: The hand held device used by timers and coaches for timing a swimmers races and taking splits.

Weights: The various barbells, benches, machines, etc. used by swimmers during their dryland program.

Whistle: The sound a starter/referee makes to signal for quiet before they give the command to start the race.

Yardage: The distance a swimmer races or swims in practice. Total yardage can be calculated for each practice session.

Zones: The country is divided up into 4 major zones: Eastern – Southern – Central – Western. At the end of the long course season (in August) the Zone Administration sponsors a championship age group meet.  The Zone meets are the highest level of age group competition available to USA Swimming age group swimmers.

May I stay at the pool and watch my child's swim team practice or swim lesson? For swim team groups, it is in everyone's best interest (swimmers, coaches, and parents) if you remain away from the pool deck until it is time to pick your swimmer up at the end of practice. Due to insurance regulations, parents are not allowed on the pool deck at Miraleste but we do open the Miraleste pool deck on Fridays so parents may observe from the bleachers on Fridays only.

For swim lessons and other non-competitive swim classes, while we understand a parent's desire to see their child learn to swim, it is not encouraged that you remain on deck. Parents may observe sessions from the bleachers at MIS and at South End, from the lounge chairs. We respectfully request that you do not interfere with the lessons being given and remain a bystander. Our highly trained coaches know the best way to instruct your child and parental guidance is not necessary during this time.

What is the ZAP philosophy on competitive swimming?
ZAP emphasizes individual growth and development within a team structure. While winning remains our team objective, the swimmer's individual improvement is the primary focus and sportsman-like behavior is equally important. Respect for officials, congratulations to other competitors, encouragement to teammates, determined effort and mature attitudes are taught and expected. Swimmers are taught to set realistic but challenging goals for swim meets and to relate these goals to training efforts.

What entities regulate the sport of competitive swimming for the team? Southern California Swimming (SCS) and USA Swimming are the governing bodies of competitive swimming in our area and the U.S. respectively. You may find more information on both groups at their respective website: and

What if I don't want my child to swim after the closing date has passed for a meet? BY DECLARING YOUR INTENT TO SWIM IN A MEET, YOU ARE AGREEING TO PAY FOR THE EVENTS THAT YOUR COACH PLACES YOU IN. Your Team Unify account will be billed automatically for meet fees. Entry fees are non-refundable after closing date of declaration. Entry fees are paid for by the team prior to meet. Unfortunately, we are not able to refund due to illness.