Swimming 101

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

In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the crawl, 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.

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 IM, 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.

Swim Seasons

Swimming is unlike many other sports in that it has two seasons, the summer or long course season, and the winter or short course season. During the spring and summer months swimmers may swim outside in a 50-meter pool called a long course pool. The 50-meter distance is referred to as the Long Course Meter (LCM) distance. This is the distance swimmers in the Olympics swim. During the winter months swimmers compete indoors in a 25-yard pool called a short course pool. The 25-yard distance is referred to as the Short Course Yards (SCY) distance. This is the distance high school and colleges compete. State, zone and national meets allow swimmers to qualify to compete using either short course or long course times. The long course time standards are several seconds higher than short course standards because of the difference in the length. CIA divides the swimming year into two seasons:

  • Short Course Yards (SCY); Starts in late August or September and typically ends with the State Championship meet in mid/late February

  • Long Course Meters (LCM); Starts in late March or April and typcially ends with the State Championship meet in late July

Competition 101

The highest form of competition in swimming is international competition, such as the Olympics. USA Swimming is the organization which sponsors national competition in the United States.  There are other groups that sponsor swimming such as community education, YMCA’s and school districts. However, USA Swimming is the only organization, structured into clubs, which sponsors swimmers from beginning levels to international competition. CIA is a club member of USA Swimming and pays annual dues to both USA Swimming and the Iowa affiliate, Iowa Swimming Inc (ISI). Many older CIA swimmers compete in high school during the high school season, but return to CIA for the rest of the school year to train and compete year-round. Additionally, some CIA swimmers on college teams come back during summer season and during long breaks. Since swimming is a year-round sport organized into a club, it demands full-time coaching.

USA Swimming Rules Overview

All competitive swimming events are held under USA Swimming sanctions and are conducted in accordance with rules that are designed to provide fair and equitable conditions of competition. Each swimming stroke has specific rules designed to ensure that no swimmer gets an unfair competitive advantage over another swimmer. Here is a link to the USA Swimming Rules and Regulations.

Course Distances and Age Groups

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.

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 events.

Officials and Timers

Officials are required at all competitions to observe the swimmers complying with the rules of each event and stroke. Timers are also required in order to ensure accurate times are recorded. Without officials and timers, the meets cannot happen which is why parent volunteers are essential.

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