Swimming: The Sport

The Skills

The four competitive strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

The Competition

Each swim meet offers a variety of events and distances, depending on the age group and classification. Each swimmer may enter up to four individual events per day in a timed finals meet.

  • In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most commonly used is the crawl, which is characterized by the alternate overhand motion of the arms and an alternating flutter kick.
  • The backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick. On turns, some part of the swimmer must touch the wall.
  • The breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pulled from the breast in a heart shaped pattern and recovered under or on the surface of the water. The elbows shall remain under the surface of the water except at the finish. 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, with shoulders in line with the surface of the water.
  • The butterfly features a simultaneous overhand stroke of arms combined with an undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs tighter and may not flutter, scissor or use the breaststroke kick.
  • 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 the backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle.
  • In the medley relay, all four strokes are swum. The first swimmer swims backstroke, the second breaststroke, the third butterfly, and the final swimmer, freestyle.
  • The freestyle relay events consist of four freestyle swimmers, each swimming one quarter of the total distance of the event.

Starts, Turns, and Finishes

Many races are won or lost by the swimmer’s performance in the start, turn and finish. In the start, the swimmer is called to the starting position by the starter who visually checks that all swimmers are motionless.

When all swimmers are set, the gun or starting horn is sounded to start the race. If the starter feels that one of the swimmers has moved, left early or gotten an unfair advantage, the race will be recalled.

Swimming: The Rules

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.

Trained officials observe the swimmers during each event to ensure compliance with these technical rules. If a swimmer commits an infraction of the rules, a disqualification will result.


This means that the swimmer will not receive an official time and will not be eligible for an award in that event. Disqualifications may result from actions such as not getting to the starting blocks on time, false starting, advancing themselves by walking on or pushing off the bottom of the pool, pulling on the lane lines or unsportsmanlike-like conduct. A disqualification should be treated as a learning experience, not as a punishment. Disqualifications are also a result of technical rules violations. They include but are not limited to:

Freestyle:  Walking on the bottom, pulling on the lane rope, not touching the wall on a turn, not completing the distance

Backstroke:  Pulling or kicking into the wall once a swimmer has turned passed the vertical onto the breast, Turning onto the breast before touching the wall with the hand at the finish of the race,

Breaststroke:  Illegal kick such as flutter (freestyle), dolphin (butterfly), or scissor (sidestroke), Shoulders not level, Alternating movements of the arms, taking two arms strokes or two leg kicks while the head is under water, touching with only one hand at the turns or finish

Butterfly:  Alternating movements of the arms or legs, Pushing the arms forward under instead of over the water surface (Underwater recovery), A breaststroke style of kick, touching with only one hand at the turns or finish


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.

Officials may be Timers, Turn Judges, Stroke Judges, Relay Takeoff Judges, Clerk of Course, Starter, or Referee. All parents are encouraged to get involved with some form of officiating.