Glossary of Common Swimming Terms


Adapted Swimming. Swimming for persons with a disability.

Age Group. A 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, for example: 8 & under, 13 & over, 15 & over, Junior, or Senior.

Alternate (n.). Applies to a prelims/finals meet. After the finalist are decided, the next two fastest swimmers are designated as alternates. The faster is named first alternate, while the other is named second alternate. If finalists cannot compete, the alternates are called to take their place, often on a moment's notice.

Anchor. The final swimmer in a relay.

Blocks. Starting blocks, the platforms located behind each lane. Some pools have blocks at the deeper end of the pool, while some pools have blocks at both ends. Blocks have a variety of designs, and can be permanent or removable.

Bonus Consolation Heat. A heat held during the finals session of a prelims/finals meet that is slower than the swimmers participating in finals. The bonus heat may refer to consolation finals or to a heat held in addition to consolation finals.

Cap. A latex or lycra swim cap used during a race or workout to protect a swimmer's hair from the effects of chlorine in the water; it also helps to cut down water resistance created by the swimmer's hair.

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

Check-In. The procedure required before a swimmer competes in some meets. Sometimes referred to as positive check-in, the swimmers must let their coaches know they are at the pool or check in at the designated area themselves.

Circle Seeding. A method of seeding swimmers when they are participating in a prelims/finals event. The fastest 18 swimmers are seeded in the last three heats, with the fastest swimmers being in the inside lanes. See a rule book, coach, or club official for the exact method for circle seeding.

Consolation Finals. In a prelims/finals meet, the second fastest group of 6 or 8 swimmers (depending on the number of lanes) after swimming prelims. These swimmers qualify to return to the finals session. Consolations are the second fastest heat of finals and is contested before the championship heat.

Deck Entries. Event entries that are made on the first day of a meet (or later).

Deck Seeding. When swimmers are assigned their heats and lanes in a staging area at the pool.

Disqualified. A swimmer whose performance is not counted because of a rules infraction. A disqualification is shown by an official raising one arm with open hand above his or her head.

Drag Suit. A second, loose-fitting swim suit worn by swimmers in a workout and warm-up to add a certain amount of weight and resistance to the flow of the water around the swimmer. The concept is similar to a batter swinging two or three bats while on deck in a baseball game.

Dual Meet. Type of meet where two teams or clubs compete against each other.

Dropped Time. Said to happen when a swimmer goes faster than his or her previous best performance in an event.

Dryland. The exercises and various strength programs swimmers participate in out of the water.

Entry. An individual's, relay team's, or club roster's list of events in which he, she, or they want to compete in a swim meet.

Entry Fees. The amount per event that a swimmer or relay is charged; entry fees vary among meets.

Electronic Timing. An electronic-timing system that utilizes touchpads, back-up buttons, consoles, and computers to determine and report swimmers' times. Some systems are hooked up to a scoreboard that displays swimmers' times.

Event. A race or series of races of one stroke over a specified distance (e.g., 100-yard breaststroke).

Exchange. The exchange between the swimmer in the water and the next swimmer on the relay team. A perfect exchange will simultaneously have the finishing swimmer's hand on the touch pad and the starting swimmer's feet just touching the starting block with the rest of the starting swimmer's body extended over the water.

False Start. Occurs when a swimmer leaves the starting block or is moving on the block before the starter officially starts the race. In USA Swimming, one false start will result in an automatic disqualification from the race.

FINA. Federation Internationale de Natation de Amateur, the international governing body of competitive swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming.

Finals. The championship final of an event in which the fastest eight swimmers from the morning preliminaries compete.

Fins. Large, rubber, fin-type devices that fit on a swimmer's feet; they are used in swim practice, but not competition.

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

Format. The order of events and type of swim meet being conducted.

Goggles. Eyewear worn by swimmers in the pool to protect the swimmers' eyes from the effects of chorine in the water.

Gravity Wave. Wave action caused by the swimmers' bodies moving through the water. Gravity waves move down and forward from the swimmer, bounce off the bottom of the pool, and return to the surface in the form of turbulence.

Gun Lap. The part of a freestyle distance race (400 meters or longer) when the lead swimmer has two lengths plus five yards to go. The starter fires a gunshot over the lane of the lead swimmer when swimmer is at the backstroke flags.

Gutter. The area at the edges of the pool in which water overflows during a race and is recirculated into the pool. Deep gutters catch surface waves and don't allow them to wash back into the pool and affect the race.

Heat. A single race of an event when there are too many swimmers entered into the event to compete at the same time. Results are compiled based on finish times after all heats of the event are completed.

Heat Award. An award given to the winner of a single heat of an event at an age-group swim meet.

Heat Sheet. The listings of swimmers' seed times in their entered events at a swim meet and sold at the admissions table. They are used to check the accuracy of entries and to check seedings and seed times prior to the meet.

High Point. An award given to the swimmer scoring the most points in a given age group at a swim meet. Not all meets offer high-point awards.

IM. Slang for individual medley, an event in which the swimmer uses all four competitive strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

Interval. A specific elapsed time for swimming a designated distance or for resting; used during swim practice.

JOs. See "Junior Olympics."

Jump. An illegal (false) start done by the second, third, or fourth member of a relay team. When the swimmer on the block breaks contact with the block before the swimmer in the water touches the wall.

Juniors. A USA Swimming national championship meet for swimmers 18 years old or younger. National meets are conducted in both short-course yards (in April) and long-course meters (in August).

Junior Olympics. Junior Olympics; an age-group championship meet conducted by a USA Swimming local swim committee (for Hamilton Aquatics, New Jersey Swimming).

Kick Board. A flat flotation device used by swimmers during practices during kick or breathing drills.

Lane Lines. The dividers used to delineate the individual lanes. These are made of individual finned disks strung on a cable and rotate when hit by a wave. The rotating disks dissipate surface-tension waves in a competitive pool.

Lap Counter. The large numbered cards (or the person turning the cards) used during freestyle events 500 yards or longer. Counting is done from the end opposite the starting end. The numbers on the cards are odd numbers only, with the final lap being designated by a bright orange, double squares on the card.

Leg. The part of a relay event swum by a single member of a relay team. Also, a single stroke of an individual medley.

Local Swim Committee. The local-level administrative division of USA Swimming (USS) with supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries designated USA Swimming.

Long Course. A pool configured for swimming as a 50-meter racing course. World records may be set in long-course and [25-meter] short-course competitions. The main USA Swimming long-course season is held during the summer months. The Olympic Games and all major international competitions are conducted in long-course pools.

LSC. See "Local Swim Committee."

Mark. The command to a swimmer to take his or her starting position.

Meet. A series of events held in one swimmers program.

Meet Director. The official ultimately in charge of the administration of the meet.

Meters. A metric measurement of the length of a swimming pool. One meter equals 39.4 inches. A short-course meters pool is 25 meters (also see "Long-Course").

Mile. Slang term referring to the 1500-meter or 1650-yard freestyle event, both of which are slightly short of a mile.

Nationals. The highest level YMCA swim meet; held in April (for short-course) and August (for long-course). Also a USA Swimming senior- or junior-level meet (see "Seniors" or "Juniors").

Natatorium. A building constructed for the purpose of housing a swimming pool and related equipment.

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

National Reportable Time. A time fast enough to be considered for national recognition. It must conform to published standards by YMCA Swimming or USA Swimming.

Negative Split. A race strategy in the distance freestyle events in which a swimmer covers the second half of the race faster than he or she covers the first half.

Official. One of a number of certified, adult volunteers who govern and work the many facets of a swim competition.

Official Time. A swimmer's event time, recorded to one-hundredth (.01) of a second.

Official Verification Card. A form for certifying a national qualifying time achieved by a swimmer. It is issued only by a verification official at the area in which the meet was held.

Olympic Trials. The USA Swimming-sanctioned long-course swim meet held the year of the Olympic Games to decide which swimmers will comprise the United States Olympic Swim Team.

Open. Competition in which any qualified club, organization, or individual may enter. Could apply to a meet or individual events.

Open-Water Swimming. Swimming in an open body of water (such as a lake, ocean, or bay, as opposed to a swimming pool).

OVC. See "Official Verification Card."

Pace Clock. A clock with large, highly visible numbers and second hand positioned at the ends or sides of a swimming pool. Used by coaches and swimmers to read interval times during warmups or practice.

Paddles. Plastic devices sometimes worn on the swimmers' hands during a practice.

Paper Suit. A slang term for a swimsuit designed to have minimum drag in the water. While many swimmers use the traditional knitted lycra suit, the newest suit is woven lycra, called a "paper" suit because of its texture. New styles and fabrics of suits are continually designed and marketed by swimwear manufacturers.

Positive Check-In. See "Check-In."

Prelim. Short for preliminary, also called heats. These are races in which swimmers qualify for the championship and consolation finals in certain meet events.

Prelims-Finals. With timed finals, the other major type of meet format. Preliminary heats are usually held in the morning session. The fastest six or eight swimmers (depending on the number of lanes) in preliminaries return later to swim in the championship finals heat, while the next fastest six or eight swimmers return in the evening to swim the consolation finals heat. Swimmers who have qualified in the consolation finals heat may not place in the championship finals, even if their finals times would have placed them ahead of championship finals swimmers.

Preseeded. A meet for which seeding is done before the start of the meet. Heat and lane assignments are known by looking at heat sheets or a program upon arrival at a meet.

Proof of Time. Frequently required for entry times a swim meet. Proof that a swimmer officially achieved an entry time must be presented by a coach or team representative if asked to do so by a meet official.

Psyche Sheet. Sometimes called a "heat Sheet" or "meet program." Usually lists all swimmers in an event, listed from fastest to slowest (with nonconforming times, if applicable, listed after conforming times).

Pull Buoy. A flotation device used for pulling or stroke drills by swimmers in a practice.

Qualifying Times. Published times necessary to enter certain meets or the times necessary to achieve a specific level of swimming (such as "A," "AA," etc.).

Recall Rope. A rope across the width of the pool for the purpose of stopping swimmers who are not aware of a false start. The rope is about halfway down a yards pool and about 50 feet from the starting end of meters pool.

Referee. The head official at a swim meet ultimately in charge of all competition-related issues at a swim meet.

Relay. A swimming event in which four swimmers participate as a single team, with each swimmer swimming an equal distance of the race. There are two types of relays, a medley relay, in which each swimmer swims a different stroke (back, breast, fly, and free), and a freestyle relay, in which each swimmers swims freestyle one-quarter of the specified race distance.

Roll. To move on the starting blocks prior to the starting signal. A roll is usually caught by the starter and called a false start, but swimmers will often try to guess the starter's cadence and get a good start. Similar to illegal procedure in football.

Scratch. To withdraw from an event after having declared an intention to participate. Some meets have scratch deadlines and specific scratch rules that, if not observed, may disqualify a swimmer from events, a meet session, or the balance of the meet.

Seed. A swimmer's preliminary ranking for an event in a swim meet. Also, the process of assigning swimmers to heats and lanes in a swimming event based on their submitted entry times.

Seniors. A USA Swimming National Championship meet for swimmers of any age, as long as the event qualification times are met.

Session. A portion of meet distinctly separated from other portions by either locale, time span, type of competition (e.g., distance events), or age group.

Shave. Prior to a major competition, a swimmer will shave his or her entire body. The removal of the hair provides less resistance between skin and water, and heightens a swimmer's sensations in the water.

Short-Course. A pool configured in a 25-yard or 25-meter length. USA Swimming conducts most of its winter competitions in 25-yard lengths, including the Speedo Junior National Championships in March. NCAA swimming competition also uses the 25-yard format. Most of the world swims short-course meters in the winter (25-meter pool). The fastest times swum in a 25-yard pool may only gain U. S. Open or American record status.

Split. A swimmer's intermediate time in a race. Splits are registered every 50 meters (or 25 yards or meters, depending on the pool and the equipment on hand) and are used to determine if a swimmer is on record pace.

Starter. The official in charge of moving swimmers to the start position, signaling the beginning of the race, and ensuring that all swimmers got a fair start.

Stroke and Turn Judge. The official positioned at the side of the pool, walking the length of the course as the swimmers race. If the Stroke and Turn Judge sees something illegal, he or she reports the violation to the referee; such violations may result in the swimmer being disqualified. In higher-level meets, stroke and turn responsibilities will be assigned to separate officials, with one official judging stroke and the other judging turns.

Swim-Off. In a prelims/finals competition, a race held after the scheduled event to break a tie for spots that span the break between finals and consolations heats.

Taper. The resting process in training for swimming competition. During the middle of the swimming season, a swimmer may work out up to 10,000 to 15,000 meters (8 to 10 miles) each day. As a major competition draws near, the swimmer will "taper" off the distances swum each day. A perfectly designed taper will enable the swimmer to compete at his or her peak capability. Designing and executing a proper taper is one of the most difficult aspects of swim coaching.

Timed Finals. Swimming competition in which only heats are swum and final placings determined by those official times (NOT a prelims/finals meet format).

Time Standard. A time established by a meet director, local swim committee, the YMCA, or USA Swimming that a swimmer must achieve for meet qualification or special (usually national) recognition.

Timer. The volunteers or officials behind the starting blocks at the finish end of pool, who are responsible for timing the swimmers in their lanes for each race and recording the times. Timers also activate the backup buttons for electronic timing systems.

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

Touch. The point at which a part of the swimmer's body makes contact with the touchpad or wall at the finish of the race.

Touchpad. The flat, rectangular board under the surface of the water at the end of each lane in the pool. It is where a swimmer's time is registered and sent electronically to the timing system and then to the scoreboard.

Trainer. In the United States, an athletic trainer; in Europe, "trainer" refers to the coach.

Travel Fund. A sum of money set aside for a swimmer to use for travel expenses, entry fees, or other purposes. Hamilton Aquatics designates certain fundraisers (such as the Swim-a-thon and Ad Book) as ones where swimmers have an opportunity to earn money for their travel funds.

Turnover. The number of times a swimmer's arms turn over (cycle) in a given distance or time during a race.

Unattached. An athlete-member of USA Swimming who competes but does not or cannot (according to the USS rules ) represent a club or team.

USS. A reference to USA Swimming, the national governing body for amateur competitive swimming in America. USA Swimming is a recently designated official name; the old official name of this body was United States Swimming, Incorporated.

USS Number. A number assigned by USA Swimming to a swimmer after he or she has filled out the proper forms and paid the annual dues. Is used on swimmers' entries into all USA Swimming meets and many YMCA meets.

Yards. An American-system measurement of the length of a swimming pool. One yard equals 36 inches. A short-course yards pool is 25 yards (75 feet).

Yardage. The distance a swimmer races or swims in practice; total yardage for a practice.

Warm Down. Used by the swimmer to rid the body of excess lactic acid generated during a race.

Warm-Up. Used by the swimmer before the race to get his or her muscles loose and ready to race.

Zones. Groups of local swim committees of USA Swimming. The country is divided into four zones, Eastern, Southern, Central, and Western. After Junior Olympics, each zone sponsors a zone-level age-group meet with very strict qualifying times or rules. "Zones" are held for short-course and long-course seasons.