SWIMMING BASICS

THE FOUR SWIMMING STROKES

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

Freestyle

In the freestyle, the competitor may swim any stroke he or she wishes. Most swim the front crawl, as it is traditionally the fastest stroke. It is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water surface and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick. The freestyle is swum over 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 metre distances.

Backstroke

In the backstroke, the swimmer must stay on his or her back at all times. The stroke is an alternating motion of the arms. On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a flip turn and the swimmer must touch the wall with some part of the body. Swimmers must surface within 15 metres after the start and each turn. Backstroke race distances are 100 and 200 metres.

Breaststroke

Perhaps one of the most difficult strokes to master, the breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pushed forward from the breast on or under the surface of the water and brought backward in the propulsive stage of the stroke simultaneously. The kick is a simultaneous thrust of the legs called a frog or breaststroke kick. No flutter or dolphin kicking is allowed. At each turn a swimmer must touch with both hands at the same time. Breaststroke races are distances of 100 and 200 metres.

Butterfly

One of the most challenging strokes, the butterfly features the simultaneous overhead stroke of the arms combined with the dolphin kick. The dolphin kick features both legs moving up and down together. No flutter kicking is allowed. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish. The butterfly was born in the early 1950s due to a loophole in the breaststroke rules and became an Olympic event in Melbourne, Australia in 1965. Butterfly races are swum in 100 and 200 metre distances.

Individual Medley

The individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four competitive strokes. In the I.M., a swimmer begins with the butterfly, changes to the backstroke after one-fourth of the race, then the breaststroke for another quarter and finally finishes with the freestyle. The I.M. is swum in 200 and 400 metre distances.

Relay

Freestyle Relay – 4 swimmers participate taking turns swimming a particular distance (50m, 100m and sometimes 200m) of front crawl each.

Medley Relay all four strokes are swum by four different swimmers. No swimmer may swim more than one leg of the relay, which is swum in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle order. The medley relay is 400 metres -or four by 100 metres.

Starts and Turns

Many races are won or lost in starts and turns. In the start, the swimmer is called to the starting position by the starter who visually checks that all swimmers are still. Then, once the starter is satisfied, the race is started by an electronic tone.

Quick turns are essential to a good race. In all events the swimmer must touch the wall, but in the freestyle and backstroke the swimmer may somersault (flip turn) as he or she reaches the wall, touching only with the feet. In breaststroke and butterfly, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands before executing the turn.

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.

COURSE

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. 

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 and over. 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

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.  See also Officiating.