Swimming 101

Welcome to the world of competitive swimming, a fantastic sport and great experience for anyone. We recognize that many aspects of our sport are difficult for newcomers to understand. This page will help answer questions you may have. 

 USA Swimming 

USA Swimming is the national governing body for the sport of swimming. NSAC, and all youth swim programs must be members of this organization. Membership is renewed in the fall of each year the fee is passed down to all NSAC families. Membership provides limited, co-benefit accident and liability insurance for swimmers participating in supervised workouts and swim meets. 

 Minnesota Swimming Inc. (MSI) 

Minnesota Swimming is the Local Swim Committee (LSC), or administrative division, that handles our geographic area which includes all of Minnesota, and a few select counties in Western Wisconsin. MSI grants annual charters to clubs like NSAC, making them a part of the USA Swimming family. MSI also administers all USA Swimming sanctioned meets that take place within their jurisdiction. 


The competitive swimming year is sectioned off into two separate competitive seasons, each with their own set of championship meets.  The first season starts in early September and runs through March. This season is typically referred to as the Short Course Season because all competitions during this time, with the exception of the Spring National Championship Meet, take place in a 25 yard, or "Short Course" pool. 

The second competitive season runs from early April through early August, and is usually referred to as the Long Course Season due to the fact that meets in this season are (whenever possible) held in 50 meter, or "Long Course" pools. The Long Course format is used for all USA Swimming Senior National Meets, as well as most major international meets such as the World Championships and the Olympics.

Because USA Swimming uses two seperate formats (Long Course vs. Short Course) throughout the year, swimmers who swim year-round will have two different sets of best times, just as the club has two different sets of club records. Swimmers, coaches and parents will often try and "convert" times so that races and times in different formats can be compared, and there are several tools for sale at meets that will help with conversions, but parents should be aware that Long Course / Short Course conversions are rarely accurate. Instead, it is more helpful to view each season, and the times achieved in the season, separately.

The 4 Competitive Strokes

One of the many things that makes swimming such a unique sport is the fact that swimmers compete in a variety of different strokes. Races are swum at various distances (depending on the age group) in each of the following strokes: Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly and Freestyle, as well as in an Individual Medley in which each swimmer competes a specified distance of each of the strokes. Relays are also done in which one swimmer from each team swims each of the 4 strokes. Although your child may have learned other strokes such as the elementary backstroke or the sidestroke, in swimming lessons, these 4 strokes are the only ones competed in USA Swimming meets.  More information on each of the strokes is included below.

  • Backstroke: This stroke is easily identifiable as it is the only one done on the back.  It is done using an alternating arm motion combined with a flutter kick and good hip, shoulder and trunk rotation. Backstrokers may flip onto their stomach to change direction at the walls, but it must be done in a continuous motion, with no more than one stroke permitted on the stomach.  Race finishes must be done on the back. 

  • Breaststroke: Breaststroke is done using a two-arm simultaneous stroke and underwater recovery along with a strong "whip kick" which is sometimes called the frog kick. Balance in the breaststroke is attained through a "teeter-totter" motion in the water, which has swimmers alternating putting preassure on the upper and lower body, rotating over the short axis. Usually considered the slowest of the 4 strokes, Breaststroke is also one of the most difficult strokes to do correctly. 

  • Butterfly: Butterfly is done using a two-arm simultaneous stroke with an above water recovery along with a "dolphin kick".  Using the same "teeter-totter" motion as the breaststroke, butterflyers appear to move through the water with a wave-like motion. Rhythm, timing and strength are the most important factors in a fast butterfly.

  • Freestyle: In all freestyle events, swimmers may use whatever stroke they would like to get from one end of the pool to the other.  Typically, however, swimmers will use the front crawl during freestyle events as it is the fastest. Because of this, coaches, swimmers and parents often use the word "freestyle" in exhange for "front crawl". 


At NSAC, we believe that competitions are an important step in the progression each swimmer goes through as a swimmer, so we therefore encourage all our members to take part in the meets our club attends. At this point, however, none of our competitions are required. 

At all MSI meets, the events in which swimmers compete are determined based on the age of the swimmer. Each age group has their own set of events chosen to ensure that swimmers compete in a wide variety of events without requiring any athlete to swim an event he or she is unable to do (e.g. an 8 year old will not compete in the 200 fly). Each age group also has it’s own set of time standards designed to provide a set progression of improvement relative to the group’s age and physical maturity, while also ensuring that swimmers always compete against other swimmers of like ability. The USA Swimming designated age groups are 8 & Under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, and Senior. 

At almost all meets NSAC attends, swimmers compete only against swimmers of the same gender and in the same age group, and seeding is done by time, which means your swimmer will always compete in a heat of swimmers of roughly the same ability level.  

Types of Meets

USA Swimming Meets come in a variety of different formats, from Novice all the way through Junior and Senior National Championships. All of these formats, however, are determined based on time standards which indicate the minimum (and sometimes maximum) achievements under which a swimmer may compete in a designated meet. All MSI meets use the Minnesota Swimming Time Standards, while regional or national meets typically use standards based off of the USA Swimming Time Standards. 

Minnesota Swimming classifies their time standards into 5 groups: C, B, A, CH, and ZONE. These levels represent a progression upward (i.e. B times are faster than C times), and usually indicate the type of meet a swimmer may compete in.   

Below is a brief description of all the types of meets you will likely encounter as a swim parent.

A/B/C Open: This is the most frequent type of meet attended by NSAC. These meets allow anyone to swim, regardless of ability and regardless of whether or not a swimmer has ever competed before.

B/C Open: In this type of meet, a swimmer may swim any event in which they do not have an "A" time or better. This includes events in which a swimmer has never competed.

A meet: At "A" meets, swimmers may compete only in events for which they have an "A" time or faster.

Minnesota Championship meets

  • Minnesota Achievement Championships (MAC) is a meet that will allow C level swimmers to have a final meet to see their growth over the year and a chance to achieve B times to qualify for MRC. 

  • Minnesota Regional Championships (MRC): Takes place after MAC. This is a meet that will allow B and A level swimmers to have a final meet to see their growth over the year and a chance to achieve Champ times to qualify for the State Meet.  

    ​These meets are not considered open meets; swimmers must have a provable USA Swimming time that meets the time standard within the last calendar year. Swimmers will not be eligible to compete in events with times below C, or above C (MAC). Swimmers will not be eligible to compete in events with times  below a B or above an A (for MRC). Finals meets are held both at the end of the Winter Season in March and the Summer Season in July. 

State Championships: This is the meet that uses the CH or Champ time standard. This is the end of the season meet for Minnesota Swimming, held for the Winter Season in March, and in late July, early August for the Summer Season. No times below Champ will be allowed, but times faster than Champ are permitted. 

Zones: For comparative and competitive purposes, USA Swimming has divided the country into "zones". Each LSC (such as Minnesota Swimming) is placed into a zone, and every summer following the Summer State Championships, there is a Zone Championship Meet, in which the LSC’s in each zone compete against one another. Swimmers at the Zone Championship Meet compete for their LSC, not for their home club. What this means is that NSAC does not attend zones; Team Minnesota attends zones, and any NSAC swimmers competing in the meet will swim for Team Minnesota. Zones is a great way for swimmers who have typically been rivals to come together as teammates in a fun, competitive atmosphere. Travel to the zones meet is either coordinated by Minnesota Swimming, or swimmers must make their own accommodations, depending on how MSI chooses to organize the team. Team Minnesota has its own coaching staff made up of coaches from around the state that may or may not include anyone from the North Suburban Aquatic Club’s coaching staff. 

USA Swimming Junior or Senior Nationals: At the conclusion of both the Winter and Summer Seasons, USA Swimming runs a Junior and Senior National Meet, in which the top swimmers in the country face off against one another. Junior Nationals is open to all swimmers ages 18 & Under, and Senior Nationals is open to anyone who achieves the minimum time standard.