The five competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke,
breaststroke, butterfly, and individual medley.
Each swim meet offers a variety of events and distances, depending
on the age group and classification. Each swimmer will have a limit
to the number of events he or she may swim each day, depending on
the meet rules.
Freestyle- 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 water surface and an alternating (up and down) flutter
kick. On turns and finishes, some part of the swimmer must touch
the wall. Most swimmers do a flip turn.
Backstroke- Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of
the arms with a flut¬ter 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
Breastroke- The breaststroke, which is the oldest stroke
dating back hundreds of years, 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- Some consider the butterfly to be the most
beautiful of the strokes. It 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
butterfly is the newest stroke and was developed in the early 1950s
as a variation of the breaststroke. It became an Olympic stroke in
1956 in Melbourne.)
Individual Medley(IM)- The individual medley, commonly
referred to as the I.M., features all four strokes. In the IM, the
swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after one fourth of
the race to backstroke, then breaststroke and finally
Medley Relay- In the medley relay, all four strokes are
swum. The first swimmer swims backstroke, the second breaststroke,
the third butterfly, and the final swimmer anchors the relay with
Freestyle Relay- The freestyle relay events consist of four
freestylers, each swimming one quarter of the total distance of the
Starts- In the start, the swimmer is called to the starting
position by the starter who visually checks that all swimmers are
motionless. When all swimmers are set, the starting horn is sounded
to start the race. If the starter feels that one of the swimmers
has moved, left early or gotten an unfair advantage, the guilty
swimmer may be disqualified after the race for a false start. Under
USA Swimming rules, one false start disqualifies the swimme
Competition pools may be short course (25 yards or 25 meters), or
long course (50 meters). The international standard (as used in the
Olympics) is 50 meters. World records are accomplished in 25 and 50
meter pools. USA Swimming maintains records for 25 yard, 25 meter
and 50 meter pools.
USA Swimming is made up of approximately 2,800 teams from all over
the country. Of these clubs, nearly half have 80 swimmers or less,
and a handful of teams have over 500 swimmers. A team may be
comprised of any number of swimmers, parents and coaches.
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.
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.