Swim Meets - Everything You Need to Know


Swim meets are often the primary reason why your child loves this sport! Let’s take a deeper dive into them so that you know all you need to know about them.


Types of Meets

Not all of the meets your child attends will be the same. We will break down three of the most common types of meets you will encounter.

Timed Final. This will be the most common format of meet you will experience, especially if you have a young swimmer. If a meet is conducted in a timed finals format, it means that your child will compete in their events only one time each day.


Championship. These meets are also called prelims / finals meets. These types of events will be more prevalent as your child gets older but can be held for athletes as young as 11-12 years old at select mid and post season competitions. In a championship format competition, all athletes will compete in their events (typically in the morning) with the opportunity to compete again later in the day. This is called the preliminary session or “prelims”. In prelims, your athlete is competing for the chance to compete again in “finals”. The quantity of athletes that are invited to compete in finals depends on the parameters of the competition, but most finals sessions are reserved for the fastest 8, 16, or 24 athletes.


Qualification Meet. In order to attend a qualification meet, athletes must swim their event in a time at or under the meet’s designated time standard. Another word that kids and parents often use to identify qualification standards is “cuts”.  Qualification meets are often held at the end of the winter and summer seasons (March & July). Qualifying for and attending these meets is a BLAST for the kids and is often a source of motivation for them. Here are the most common qualifier meets your child may experience in their swimming career (sorted from least to most challenging)


Divisionals > Age Group State > Zones > Senior State > NCSA Championships > Junior National Championships > National Championships > Olympic Trials 


The farther up the ladder your child climbs, the farther they travel and the rarer the air becomes. The climb can give your child memories that last a lifetime!

Before The Meet - What to Do & Information to Know

What information do you want to look for and what exactly do you need to do before a meet? We’ll be happy to address those questions in this section.

Step 1 = Find out what meets to attend. This is the first place you want to start as a competitive team parent. The competition schedule for our team is attached to this meeting agenda. Please speak with your child’s coach if you have any questions regarding the meet schedule.

Step 2 = Commit to attend the meet. Feel free to reach out to a fellow parent or a member of our coaching staff if you are unaware of how to commit your child to a competition on our website.

Step 3 = Watch for meet information via email. On the week of your child’s competition, you can expect to receive nearly all of the information you and your child will need to be prepared for the meet. One particularly helpful guide that we will send you is the Creature Meet Guide. In this guide, you can expect to find information such as: recommended arrival times, competition start times, team apparel, special competition notes, etc.

At The Meet - What to Bring & Athlete Arrival

It’s meet day! It’s likely an exciting (and somewhat anxious) time in your household. Let’s address a few items that will hopefully remove the anxiety on the big day.

What to bring. There are a few things that your child is encouraged to bring with them to a swim meet. They are as follows:

  • Swim suit (we request that Sea Creatures compete in black suits (unless they’re championship suits)
  • NSC cap (if worn)
  • Goggles
  • Their designated NSC shirt for the day (Day 1 = Black, Day 2 = Green, Day 3 = White)
  • Towel
  • Drink and snacks to stay hydrated and refuel them after their races (light food. not candy)
  • Sharpie pen for little kids (so that their coach or teammates can write their events, heat, and lane on their arm to help them remember)

Athlete drop-off. Either drop your child off at the facility entrance or walk them inside the facility in accordance with their arrival time in the Creature Meet Guide. This is typically 15 minutes prior to the start of warm-ups. They will likely find their teammates or will be able to locate where the team is sitting once they arrive on the pool deck.

At The Meet - Spectating & Supporting the Club / Your Child

You’ve dropped your child off, and they’re with their team. It’s time to get ready for the fun to begin as a spectator or volunteer!

Spectating? Sit with your team.  If you are not assisting with the operation of the meet, then sit with other NSC families to create a cheering section for the team. This is a great way to meet the parents of your child’s teammates.

Home competition? Get Involved! We plan to take a deeper dive into this topic in our next parent clinic, but I wanted to encourage you to sign up to support the Sea Creatures at our hosted competitions. Nearly ⅓ of our budget relies on our ability to host quality competitions, and your help goes a long way in making this possible!

When you’re signing your child up for a home NSC meet, navigate to the Job Sign-ups section of the event page to understand what role you could play to support our club and help run a meet. Most families start as timers, but there are many other opportunities available.

Swim Meet Lingo

Here are a few things that you’ll need to know as a parent / spectator of swimming.

Clerk of course. The clerk of course is the area younger swimmers, typically 8 or 10 and under, will go to be placed in their heats and lanes. This keeps them organized and makes sure that they are in the correct places. A volunteer of the competition host will place each swimmer in their respective heat and lane and then escort them behind their blocks to race.

Times & timing protocol. Times are the primary way swimmers’ progress is tracked at competitions. If this is your swimmer’s first time in an event, they will have no time “NT” on the heat sheet. After swimming the race, the time that registers on the touchpad will be their official time, unless the touchpad malfunctions.  Then the plunger (little black button the timers press when the swimmer stops) will be the backup.  If that fails as well, the stopwatch times will be averaged and that will be the official time.

Disqualifications. A disqualification, or ‘DQ”, happens when a swimmer does not follow the official rules when swimming. An official, the person wearing a white shirt and blue or black shorts, will raise their hand if a swimmer has been disqualified.  They will then speak to one of the head officials to confirm it. If your swimmer gets disqualified, an official will typically explain the disqualification to either your swimmer or the coach.  Then it is the coach’s job to correct the swimmer. Everyone gets DQ’ed!  It happens to the best swimmers and no one is perfect.  While we don’t wish to have frequent disqualifications, we use them as learning opportunities for the children and coaches.

Heat sheet vs. psych sheet. A heat sheet shows exactly which heat and lane your swimmer is in.  This helps you and them know when they are about to swim.  Your swimmer can write their event, heat, and lane down on a piece of paper, on their arm or leg, or come ask one of the coaches or look for the posted heat sheets on the walls. A psych sheet is typically distributed prior to the start of the meet and displays the ranking of each swimmer in the events.

After the meet

Once the meet is complete, the parents can expect to receive an email from our staff recapping the performance of the team. Your children will partake in a meet wrap-up meeting with their peers at the practice immediately following the meet.  It is at these meetings where we recognize the athletes for their accomplishments and relate it to their training. You can expect to see posts on social media recognizing our athletes who earned new time standards after the meet!

Words of Wisdom

I wanted to wrap up our conversation with a few words of wisdom for our new swim / sports families. 

  • You might be anxious on the day of a swim meet, but I would bet that your child is even more nervous. If they want to perform well, it’s likely because they don’t want to let you down. Keep this in mind and understand that they’re much smarter than you think and can read your every emotion.  Swimming is a lot like life. There are going to be setbacks and struggles. The best thing you can give your child is your support and encouragement!
  • While at the meets, sit with other families and encourage your kids to sit with their teammates. Swim meets are a great way for teammates to grow closer and create experiences. The same thing is true with your friends in the stands.
  • Don’t be afraid to volunteer because you’re worried you don’t know what to do.. Nearly everyone else is either in the same boat as you or has been in your shoes. Trust me, the time flies by faster if you’re helping anyway : )