OCSC Bleacher talk: Swim meets 101 

Swim meets are a great family experience. They're a place where the whole family can spend time together. Below are some in-depth guidelines geared to help you through your first couple of swim meets. It may seem a little overwhelming, but we tried to be as specific and as detailed as we possibly could. If you have any questions, please ask coaches or veteran parents.


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.


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.


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/open events.


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.


  1. Arrive at the pool at least 15 minutes before the scheduled warm-up time begins. The coaching staff will either email you the meet timeline/warm-up schedule or direct you to the meet landing page, which will include timeline info. 
  2. Upon arrival, look for ORANGE. The team usually sits in one place together, so look for some familiar faces. The pool deck gets very wet and crowded so you may want to place most belongings in a locked locker. Keep cap, goggles, towel, warm clothes and a healthy snack on deck with your swimmer.
  3. Parents are not allowed on deck once warm-ups begin so make sure your swimmer checks in with his or her coach!
  4. Once "checked in", write or have the swimmers write each event-number on his or her hand in ink or sharpie. This helps him/her remember what events he/she is swimming and what event number to listen or watch for.
  5. Your swimmer now gets his/her cap and goggles and reports to the coach for warm-up instructions. It is very important for all swimmers to warm-up with the team. A swimmer's body is just like a car on a cold day-he/she needs to get the engine going and warmed-up before he/she can go all out.
  6. After warm-up, your swimmer will go back to the team area where his/her team is sitting and wait there until his first event is called. This is a good time to go to the bathroom if necessary, get a drink, etc.
  7. The meet will usually start about 10-15 minutes after warm-ups are over.
  8. According to USA Swimming rules (because of insurance purposes), parents are not allowed on deck unless they are serving in an official capacity. Similarly, all questions concerning meet results, an officiating call, or the conduct of a meet, should be referred to a coach. He or she in turn, will pursue the matter through the proper channels.
  9. Heat Sheets are usually available for sale near the pool entrance along with a small admission price.  It lists all events, swimmer name, heat, lane, and time, usually slowest to fastest by heat.  If the swimmer is swimming an event for the first time, he/she will be entered as a "no-time" or "NT". A "no-time" swimmer will most likely swim in one of the first heats of the event.


  1. It is important for any swimmer to know what event numbers he/she is swimming (again, why they should have the numbers on their hand). He/she may swim right away after warm-up or they may have to wait awhile.
  2. Most meets are computerized. There are generally two ways a swimmer gets to his/her lane:
    • A swimmer usually reports directly to his/her lane for competition a number of heats before he/she actually swims. Coaches will get them behind the blocks with time to spare.
    • In some novice meets, a swimmer's event number will be called, usually over the loudspeaker, and he/she will be asked to report to the "clerk of course" or “staging”. This is most often for 8&under age groups.
      • Generally, girls events are odd-numbered and boys events are even-numbered. Example: "Event #26, 10-Under Boys, 50 freestyle, report to Clerk of Course.
      • The clerk will usually line up all the swimmers and take them down to the pool in correct order.
  3. The swimmer swims his or her race.
  4. After each swim:
    • He/she is to ask the timers (people behind the blocks at each lane) his/her time.
    • The swimmer should then go immediately to his or her coach. The coach will discuss the swim and sometimes, will ask the swimmer to “cool down” before preparing for the next event.
  5. Generally, coaches will provide:
    • Positive comments or praise
    • Suggestions for improvement
  6. Most meets move very quickly so we ask swimmers to remain in the team area until all of their events are done. When a swimmer has completed all of their events, check with the coach before leaving to make sure your swimmer is not included on a relay. Sometimes relay substitutions must be made if another swimmer is sick or is unable to swim.
  7. Things you, as a parent, can do for your swimmer:
    • Tell him how great he did and how proud you are! The coaching staff will be sure to discuss stroke technique with him.
    • Check results/Collect awards
    • Discuss goals for practice and the next meet.
  8. Results are usually posted somewhere in the facility. If awards are given at the meet, it is your responsibility to pick them up when your swimmer is done. Sometimes all awards are given to the coach at the end of the meet. If so they will be placed in your family folder at the Oregon Pool. While checking the results, you see a “DQ” next to your childs name, this means “Disqualification”. DQ’s are common for new swimmers and happen for many reasons. It means something in your swimmer’s race was performed illegally as it pertains to swimming rules. Coaches are notified of each DQ and can explain this to your swimmer. All coaches make it a point to work on those specific skills to improve for the next meet.
  9. As a whole, coaches expect 3 main things at a meet. 1. 100% effort, 2. Support teammates, 3. HAV E FUN!!



From the USA Swimming website

Sticking With Swimming….What Can a Parent Do?

The Unfortunate Path that Many Swimmers Follow

The swimmer’s career often starts with 8/under success and high parental enthusiasm. The child is encouraged by parents and others to excel and a big deal is made out of every accomplishment.

As the child changes age groups and moves into the 9/10 group, even the most successful child may struggle because he or she has a harder time finding success against 10 year olds. What successes are achieved may not be as noticeable.

Unfortunately, as many as one-third of the young swimmers and their families do not make it past this point.

By the time swimmers are 10 or 11 years old they (or their parents) may realize that twice a week practices or summer only swimming is not enough to compete with others who are practicing more frequently. Physical ability and natural coordination can still help athlete to stay competitive and have success but it is getting harder to stay on top.

More big changes and rude awakenings are lurking in the future.

The first Big Change: From 10/under to 11 & 12

Events become longer going from 25s and 50s to 50s and 100s and even some 200s and distance freestyle events. Competition changes from sprint competition to race/pace/competition.

In some programs, one half of the athletes and their families do not make this change. They never give the coaches or the program a chance to help the athlete adapt to the changing nature of swimming competition.

The second Big Change: From age 12 to 13&14/Senior swimming

Events change again. Now it is all 100s & 200s along with 400/500 and 1000/1650. The athlete must develop a work ethic and intensify the training aspect of swimming.

Physical changes affect both male and female athletes. Athletes get bigger and stronger, but many, especially the girls, may struggle to cope with their "new bodies." This can one of the most rewarding phases of an athlete’s career, yet many will give up.

The third Big Change: A focus on college swimming

Swimmers who remain in the sport start to look at the possibility of swimming in college. Questions arise concerning the choice of colleges, the level of swimming, the possibilities of scholarships and the willingness to compete and train for another four years.

Let’s put these changes into "real" numbers. Suppose a team has 12 Novice swimmers.

  • Only 8 will remain in swimming past the first Big Change
  • Only 4 will remain in swimming past the second Big Change.
  • Only 2 will remain in swimming past the third Big Change.

The Role of the Parent in Navigating the Big Changes

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is the parents who are responsible for their child leaving the sport. For example, parents who are former athletes, especially former swimmers, may have unreasonably high expectations. Parents believe that they are in charge of the athlete’s happiness and that only winning can bring happiness.

Parents believe that early success equates with long term success. The 8/under star will, of course, become an Olympian. Parents may not understand the need for technical and skill development before "swimming fast."

Parents must examine their own motives. Form a philosophy that emphasizes the process, not the outcome. Be the guides on the "fun path" not the "victory path."

When parents use these words, their emphasis is misplaced: We - Beat - Win - Fast - Lost - Try - Only – My

What Can Parents Do to Reverse the Trend?

Parents must develop, progress and grow the just as athletes do. Experience is the key and communication is the mode. Swimmers already have coaches, friends and teammates. They need a parent to fill the parental role. "Coaches coach children, parents raise children. "

Here are some of the benefits your child will garner if he or she sticks with swimming:

Life Lessons: Only one swimmer can win the race. Does this mean everyone else is a loser? Of course not!

Swimmers need to constantly be reminded that a top-notch effort on their part will result in personal satisfaction and a contribution to their team. Most USA Swimming clubs design a program of competitive training and competition for our younger swimmers based on long term development.

Therefore, we may not stress early competitive success with a great deal of fanfare. Remember that swimmers under the age of 12 are very inconsistent, which can be frustrating to a parent or to the swimmers themselves. Fun and patience are the keys here.

Leadership: In many cases, our team leaders and successful senior swimmers were not outstanding age group swimmers. Those who stick with it often develop into outstanding leaders, having learned patience, dedication and commitment.

Steady progress and understanding the meaning of various accomplishments will make a motivated, well adjusted senior swimmer.

USA Swimming clubs go to great lengths to provide opportunities for all swimmers equally, although sometimes it may seem that more emphasis and time is spent on senior swimming.

An 8/under will swim no more than 45 minutes two or three times a week, while a senior swimmer may be in the water 18 hours per week! Both swimmers are having their needs met as part of a long-term progression.

Understanding the long-term benefits and the long-term progression will help parents navigate the waters of a swimmer’s career. If you associate time with attention, the longer a swimmer stays with swimming the more attention he or she will receive.

USA Swimming website.


Swimming Tips: --written by Laura Hilgers

To become a more powerful and efficient swimmer, practice this simple dry-land exercise: Find a lounge chair, flick on the TV, and settle in for a few hours of Major League Baseball. Often endowed with ample chins and guts, major leaguers aren’t always paragons of sinewy fitness, but they know something a lot of hard-bodied swimmers don’t--namely, that a strong swing (or stroke) comes from your hips. "If you have a powerful hip rotation," says Richard Quick, coach of both the Stanford University and U.S. Olympic women’s swim teams, "you’ll be a lot stronger than if you’re swimming with your arms and legs. The power transfers through the upper body." Swimming has always been a great workout, but this relatively new concept--that hips are key--could make it an even better one, allowing you to swim faster, stronger, and more efficiently.

Like a baseball player, a swimmer initiates the stroke at the hip, following quickly with the shoulders and arms. In swimming, though, the rotation is more continuous. "Your rhythm is in the tempo of your midsection, not in your arm turnover," notes Laughlin.


To learn to rotate your hips, pivot your belly button toward one side of the pool with each stroke. When your right arm enters the water, your right hip should feel as though it’s pointing toward the bottom, so that your pelvis is nearly perpendicular to the water’s surface, though you’ll actually be rolled over only about 60 degrees. Your hips rotate to the opposite side as you pull through the water with your arm. To maximize your efficiency on your side, Laughlin recommends concentrating on extending your arm fully at the beginning of each stroke. "Reach," he says, "just as you would for something on a high shelf—before starting your pull."
Precise Doesn’t Mean Easy
But what’s so great about efficiency--especially for the average fitness swimmer who wants to exert effort? More than you might think. First, efficiency makes you faster, which means you’ll be able to swim longer; if you’re now swimming a 1,500-yard workout, you might be able to notch 1,750 yards in the same amount of time. Second, using your hips works muscles that a "flat" stroke won’t, including your lats, your pecs, and your hard-to-pinpoint oblique abdominals. And finally, when you place your arm into the water in a more biomechanically correct fashion, you place less stress on your shoulders, greatly reducing the risk of injury.

Therein lies swimming’s greatest advantage: Because water is buoyant and places no stress on joints, it’s a nearly injury free sport. Which means that swimmers can work out not just longer, but harder--and later in life. Consider Tom Lane of San Diego, the oldest masters swimmer in the country: He’s been swimming since 1898. Sure, he’s blind and he only swims the backstroke, but at age 102 he doesn’t have any peers who are triathletes or marathoners. In fact, he doesn’t have any competitors in the pool either, which is why he’s finally decided to quit racing. "I already have all the medals and hold all the records, so why bother?" he points out. Just imagine the possibilities if he rotated his hips.


Parent Support, The Do’s and Don'ts of Swimmer Parents

One of the greatest frustrations a swimmer will face is having the "correct support" from their parents. Many parents become involved in swimming because their child is interested but they themselves have had no prior knowledge or training in the swimming world. Many parents can often hinder their child from becoming the best athlete they can be by falling into common supportative parent mistakes. What are these mistakes and how can you, as a parent, keep from making them?

1) Learn the sport of swimming but leave the technique correcting to the coaches. Swimming is a very complicated sport that requires the entire body. Your swimmer may have beautiful technique but their mind wasn’t in the race. Or, your swimmer may have the best intentions in a race but not have the technique to support their swim. Depending on where your swimmer is in the sport, you can bet that your coach, at some point, will lead your swimmer down the correct path.

2) Ask questions and be patient. Since swimming is very complicated, technique is not corrected in a day or potentially in a lifetime. Your coaches are giving your swimmer a lot of information every practice and swim meet and it may take a while for the swimmer to catch on. Once the swimmer is ready mentally and physically, everything else will fall into place. However, coaches are humans and sometimes miss a technique mistake. Feel free to approach your coach and ask them if your swimmer is doing it correctly. It never hurts to point something out. Your coach will then be more aware of it and appreciate you for it.

3) Be your swimmer’s best and loudest cheerleader and leave everything else up to your coach. It is your swimmers responsibility to report to the coach first after a race and not the parent. A race is freshest immediately afterward and important information can be lost if the swimmer takes too long to come to the coach. It is also not a good idea to be your child’s coach. This is confusing to the swimmer if the parent is giving the child, potentially, incorrect information that can be contradicting to the coach’s teachings.  If you have questions or concerns about your coaches teachings, approach them before or after practice but not during a meet or practice.

4) Get your swimmer involved in the team functions. Swimming can often feel like an individual sport when it is not. Relays, team support, and unity are all important aspects of swimming. If your club offers a team outing, get involved. It will be much more fun for your swimmer at the long swim meets if they have friends on the team and feel like they are in a team sport.

5) As a parent, get involved and come to practice. Just as the kids are learning from their coach at practice, so can you. It is also helpful for the parents to meet friends on the team so they feel connected. There are many opportunities to volunteer.....so what are you waiting for...get involved.