This will help you understand the basics of swimming and competition, and has been adapted from the USA Swimming website.

 --CCist coaches



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

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.

In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the crawl or just “free”, 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.

The 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.

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 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 freestyle.




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.

In the fall/winter season, we compete in short course pools so the younger kids can swim 25’s.  In the spring/summer season, we compete in long course pools (50 m pools) so the shortest distance to swim for the younger swimmers over the summer are 50’s. 

In short course, since the pool is 25 yards (or meters), a 50 is 2 laps and a 100 is 4 laps.  In long course, since the pool is 50 meters, a 50 is 1 lap and a 100 is 2 laps. 



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 (age 10 & younger together), 11-12, 13-14, 15&over (age 15 and older together). Many local meets feature 8 and under, single age groups, or senior events. Team practice groups are usually determined by age and/or ability.

Typically at meets, 8 & Under swimmers compete in 25’s, 50’s, or 100’s and age 9-12 swimmers in 50's, 100's and 200's.   CCiST may focus shorter distance events but encourages swimmers to try longer events as well!!   Typically after your swimmer turns age 9, they can’t race in 25’s anymore and so they will compete in 50’s and 100’s (or more once they’re more adequately trained).  We practice 50’s and 100’s (and sometimes longer) in practice, so they are definitely able to complete them at meets, so don’t worry!  For swimmers aged 13, they do not have 50's anymore, except for freestyle but longer distance events will be added.  


How to watch swimming

While your swimmer is on a swim TEAM, swimming is actually more of an individual sport.  Because of that, when you’re watching your swimmer in a meet, what you should pay most attention to is their finishing time rather than what place they get.  It is really fun to watch their times when your swimmer is younger because they drop time significantly!  With younger swimmers, they can drop crazy amounts of time like 20 seconds whereas elite swimmers will only drop a couple hundredths of a second.  Typically the fastest stroke is freestyle, followed by butterfly, then backstroke, then breaststroke.  But usually the younger swimmers will have the slowest times in butterfly because it’s hard for them to coordinate the movement, thereby making it difficult and slower.

The BEST way to encourage your swimmer during meets is to record their times and congratulate them for dropping time in their events rather than the place they got in the race.  (They will already feel good by finishing first!) 

For more information about how to encourage your swimmer, visit the following website by USA Swimming: