The following is republished from the USA Swimming Website




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




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. 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. Team practice groups are usually determined by age and/or ability.


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. 



Swimming is a wholesome, positive activity because no matter where you are in the swimming progression, the sport encompasses the fundamental elements that parents love. At USA Swimming, we believe that the core benefits of swimming include:

  • Fun-whether it is the exhilaration of achieving your goal time or playing cards with your friends at a swim meet, we love this sport and stay involved because it is FUN.
  • Fitness-getting kids to be water safe, keeping them moving with fundamental aerobic activity, or a low impact workout for the joints as we age, swimming keeps its participants in incredible shape and teaches basic FITNESS principles that last a lifetime.
  • Friends-ask any swimmer what they like most about the sport, more often than not it will be the friendships they made through car pools to practice, hanging out at the end of the lane, or pushing their buddies to try just a little bit harder at practice.

Under the USA Swimming umbrella there are different levels of involvement as well as entry points to the sports.   Listed below are the most common areas where your child can get involved with USA Swimming.


Becoming safe in the water and learning to swim are essential skills. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14 in the United States. Many of those deaths might have been prevented with swim lessons. Swimming lessons are a fun activity for kids of all ages and are often a great entry point into swimming.  Check out USA Swimming’s Make a Splash Program and more in our Learn to Swim Section.


Many children get their competitive start through a neighborhood swim team, local recreational team, country club, school team or a USA Swimming club team. At this level, swimmers learn and refine swimming skills and begin to compete against their peers. You can find a local club to get your swimmer started by using USA Swimming’s Find a Club Tool.


As swimmers mature, the goals become a little bigger and they move into senior level swimming.  At this level swimmers still refine skills, but training becomes more serious and is designed by professional coaches to get athletes to peak performance when they are physically and mentally prepared to do so. Athletes are still part of the USA Swimming club system, but may also compete for a high school or college team depending on their ages.


Some athletes have the talent, dedication, and commitment to reach the elite levels of the sport. They compete at national and international level competitions and strive to make a national team to represent their country in the Olympics or other international competitions. Elite swimmers in the United States come out of the USA Swimming club system.