Below is a list of terms used in the swim world.


Age-group swimming: The term applied to youth club swimming in America, both year-round and summer league.  Swimmers compete in the following age brackets: 8 and under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14 and 15-18. Their age on the first day of a swim meet is their age for the whole meet, even if their birthday falls during the competition. Swimmers are not divided by age at high school and elite meets such as the Speedo Sectionals, so in those cases, you may see 14-year-olds competing against 18-year-olds or even swimmers in their 20s. However, swimmers under 18 can set a national age group record while competing in an “open” meet.

Alternate: In a Prelims/Finals meet, after the finalists are decided, the next two fastest swimmers other than the finalists are designated as alternates. The faster of the two being the first alternate and the next being second alternate. If a finalist cannot participate, the alternates are called to take their place. 

Anchor: The final swimmer in a relay.

Approved Meet: A meet conducted with enough USA Swimming officials to certify conformance to USA Swimming rules. The meet may include competitors who are not USA Swimming members. The meet may be a competition sanctioned at the LSC level with the added approval of USA Swimming because both member and non-member athletes will be competing.

ASCA: The American Swim Coaches Association. The professional organization for swim coaches throughout the nation. Certifying coaches and offering many services for coaches' education and career advancement. 

Backstroke: One of the 4 competitive racing strokes, basically any style of swimming on your back.  Backstroke is swum as the first stroke in the Medley Relay and second stroke in the I.M.  

Beep: The starting sound from an electronic timing system.

Bell Lap: The part of a freestyle distance race (400 meters or longer) when the swimmer has two lengths plus five yards to go. The starter rings a bell over the lane of the lead swimmer when the swimmer is at the backstroke flags. 

Blocks: The platform from which swimmers begin races.

Breastroke: One of the 4 competitive racing strokes.  Breastroke is swim as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the I.M.

Butterfly: One of the 4 competitive racing strokes.  Butterfly (nicknamed FLY) is swum as the third stroke in the Medley Relay and first stroke in the I.M.

Cap: The silicone or latex covering worn on the head of swimmers.  

Catch: The point in a swimmer’s stroke at which the swimmer’s hand grabs the water in front of them and applies downward pressure to move the body forward.

Championship Meet: The meet held at the end of a season. Qualification times are usually necessary to enter meet. 

Championship Finals: The top six or eight swimmers (depending on the number of pool lanes) in a Prelims/Finals meet who, after the prelims are swum, qualify to return to the Finals. The fastest heat of finals when multiple heats are held. 

Check-In: The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck-seeded meet. Sometimes referred to as positive check-in, the swimmer must mark their name on a list posted by the meet host. 

Club team: Generally speaking, this is the USA Swimming or YMCA sanctioned swim team under which your child trains and competes. Your kid does not represent the club team when competing at high school or summer league meets.

Consolation: The second fastest heat of finals when multiple heats are held and are conducted before the Championship heat.  

Deck: The area surrounding the pool at practices and meets, not including the bleachers or stands. USA Swimming rules prohibit parents from being on the deck at practice. At meets, only swimmers, coaches, officials and select volunteers may be on the deck.

Deck Entries: Accepting entries into swimming events on the first day or later day of a meet. Not offered at most meets.

Deck Seeding: Heat and lane assignments are posted after swimmers have checked in have “scratched” (indicated they will not participate in the event.) Used often for distance events.

Dehydration: The abnormal depletion of body fluids (water). The most common cause of swimmer’s cramps and sick feelings. 

Developmental: A classification of meet or competition that is usually held early in the season. The purpose of a developmental meet is to allow all levels of swimmers to compete in a low-pressure environment. 

Disqualified AKA DQ: A swimmer’s performance is not counted and the time swum is void because of a rule’s infraction.

Distance: Generally, freestyle events 500 yards or 400 meters or longer. It can be argued that the 400 individual medley is a distance event.

Diving Well: A separate pool or a pool set off to the side of the competition pool. This pool has deeper water and diving boards/platforms. During a meet, this area may be designated as a warm-down pool with proper supervision. 

Division I, II, III: The three levels of competition within the National Collegiate Athletic Association.  Division I programs tend to be the best funded and provide more athletic scholarships (except for Ivy League programs) but they demand the biggest time commitment. Division II schools tend to be smaller and while they do offer scholarships, they may offer fewer full rides in favor of spreading the money across the team. Division III does not offer athletic scholarships but time limits on training and competition may yield a better balance between academics and sports.  That said, some top Division III programs are faster and more competitive than Division I programs.

Dolphin kick: Once just the leg motion for butterfly, the dolphin kick (which mimics the undulating motion by which the sea animal moves through the water) is now considered the fifth stroke. It is done underwater in streamline position to in order build momentum on fly, freestyle and backstroke starts and turns. Swimmers are even allowed to take one dolphin kick in breaststroke.

Drill: A controlled form of stroke designed to draw attention to a particular aspect of that stroke: Catch-Up , Drag, Salute, Elbows High, Zip-up, Doggy Paddle, Duck, and many more

Dryland: A catch-all term for all physical conditioning done outside of the water. This can range from pre-practice stretching to regular sessions dedicated to lifting weights or doing resistance exercises, yoga, Pilates, spin classes, etc.

Entry Fees: The amount per event a swimmer or relay is charged.  This will vary depending on the meet.

Entry Limit: The maximum number of events a swimmer can participate in during a single day or during the entire meet as set forth in the meet information. 

Entry: An individual or relay declares their intention to swim.

Event: A race or stroke over a given distance.

FINA: Federation Internationale de National de Amateur, the international governing body of competitive swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming.

False Start: Occurs when a swimmer leaves the starting block, or is moving on the block, before the starter starts the race or before a relay leg has touched the wall.

Final Results: 
The printed or electronic copy of the results of each race of a swim meet.  

Finals: The championship final of an event in which the fastest eight swimmers from the heats or semi-finals compete.

Flags: Pennants that are suspended over the width of each end of the pool approximately 5 meters from the wall to allow backstroke swimmers to determine where the end of the pool is.

Freestyle: One of the 4 competitive racing strokes.  Freestyle (or free) is swum as the fourth stroke int he Medley Relay and fourth stroke in the I.M.  There are no rules governing the form of this stroke.

Gutter: The area at the edges of the pool in which water overflows and is recirculated into the pool.

Hand entry: The position the hand is in at the time it touches the water after the recovery and before the catch phase. The hand should enter with the fingers together and pointing downward, as if putting on a glove. It should also enter in line with the shoulder to avoid injury.

Heats: The way swimmers are grouped to swim at meets. Generally, swimmers are grouped in heats according to their entry or seed time, with the fastest swimmers in each heat assigned to the middle lanes and each heat getting progressively faster.

  • Distance Events – Can be seeded Fastest to slowest.  The fastest seed times are in the first heat and each heat gets progressively slower.
  • Circle Seeding - The fastest swimmers are distributed among the last three or four heats, with the fastest assigned to lane 4 in the final heat and the next fastest athlete in lane 4 in the penultimate heat, etc.

Heat award: A ribbon, coupon, or other prize given to the winner of a single heat at an age group swim meet. 

Heat sheet: Printed listings for each heat of each event to be swum.  Also known as the meet program. Swimmers should already be aware of what events they are entered in, but the heat sheet will tell them the order of events as well as the group and lane to which they are assigned. Athletes should take this this timetable into consideration when planning when to warm up and when to leave the deck to go to the bathroom or the vendor area, lest they miss their heat.

High elbow:  The high elbow catch maximizes the surface area in contact with the water. It essentially positions the forearm, wrist and hand to act like an oar, pushing more water than the hand could manage on its own. Thus, the swimmer covers more distance with each stroke. This technique also keeps the shoulder in a more stable position, which helps prevent repetitive-use injuries.

High Point: An award given to the swimmer scoring the most points in each age group at a swim meet. All meets do not offer high point awards; check the pre meet information. 

Horn: A sounding device. Used mainly with a fully automatic timing system to start a race. 

IM: This term stands for individual medley, an event in which a swimmer performs all four competitive strokes. The order is Fly, Back, Breast, Free. (The order is different in a medley relay, where the order is back, breast, fly, free.) IM race distances are 100 (one length of each stroke, contested only in a short course, or 25-yard), 200 and 400. In a short-course pool, a 200 IM is 50 yards/meters or two pool lengths of each stroke; in a long-course or 50-meter pool, it’s one length. In a 400 IM, the swimmer does 100 yards/meters of each stroke. In short course, that’s four lengths; in long course, it’s two.

IMX: A motivational program that allows swimmers across the nation to compare themselves to the thousands of other athletes in their age group. Swimmers must swim a combination of events, at least one time per season, and USA Swimming will automatically give you your ranking.

IM Ready: A steppingstone program to IMX where swimmers compete in a series of five events at shorter distances to earn a score.  In this program swimmers are not ranked. 

Interval: A specific elapsed time for swimming or rest used during swim practice.

Jammers: Swimsuits worn by male swimmers that extend to the knee.

Jump: An illegal start done by the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th member of a relay team. The swimmer on the block breaks contact with the block before the swimmer in the water touches the wall. 

Junior Nationals: A USA-S Championship meet for swimmers 18 years old or less. Qualification times are necessary. 

Knee Skins: Swimsuits worn by female swimmers that extend to the knees. 

Lane: The specific area in which a swimmer is assigned to swim.  Lanes should be numbered from right (Lane 1) to left (Lane 8).  The number of lanes vary.

Lane Lines: Continuous floating markers attached to a cable stretched from the starting end to the turning end for the purpose of separating each lane and quieting the waves caused by racing swimmers. 

Lap: One length of the course. Sometimes may also mean down and back (2 lengths) of the course. 

Lap Counter: The large numbered cards (or the person turning the cards) used during the freestyle events 500 yards or longer.  

Late Entry: Meet entries from a club or individual that are received by the meet host after the entry deadline.  

Leg: The part of a relay event swum by a single team member.

Length: Technically, a length is once across the pool; a lap is across and back.  However, most coaches use the terms interchangeably to mean simply once across the pool.  

Long course: A 50-meter pool. This is the true definition of Olympic-sized pool. Most long-course racing is done in the summer from May to August. A swimmer’s long-course times will generally be slower because there are fewer turns.  There are several online calculators for converting short-course times to long and vice versa.

LSC: Local Swim Committee. The local level administrative division of the corporation (USA-S) with supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries designated by the Corporation. There are 59 LSCs

Meet Director: The person in charge of the administration of the meet.

Mile: The slang referring to the 1500 meter or 1650 yard freestyle, both of which are slightly short of a mile.

MSI:  Aka Minnesota Swimming Incorporated.  Our local swim committee which governs USS swimming in the state of Minnesota.

NAGTS: National Age Group Time Standards - the list of "C" through "AAAA" times published each year.

Nationals: USA Swimming meet conducted seasonal throughout the year.  Must make qualifying time to attend.

Non-Conforming Time: A short course time submitted to qualify for a long course meet, or vice versa

Novice: A beginner or someone who does not have experience.

NT: No time.  The abbreviation used to designate that the swimmer has not swum that event before.

Observed Meet: A meet that is not conducted according to USA Swimming rules (high school, YMCA) where a request for observation has been processed and approved in advance. USA Swimming officials must be present to certify that the athletes' swims are following USA Swimming technical rules. 

Observed Swim: A swim observed by assigned USA Swimming officials for conformance with USA Swimming technical rules in a meet conducted under other than USA Swimming rules.

Official: A judge on the poolside.  Various judges that are certified through USA Swimming watch the strokes, turns and finishes or are times and starters.

Official Time: The swimmers event time recorded to one hundredth of a second (.01) as indicated in the results.

Olympic Trials: The USA Swimming sanctioned long course swim meet held the year of the Olympic Games to decide which swimmer will represent the US on our Olympic Team.  Qualification times are faster than Nationals.

Open Turn: The two-handed touch turn completed for Breaststroke and Butterfly

PB: Personal Best - this is your best time to date for a stroke and distance, remember that long course (50m) times will be slower than short course (25m) so you will have pb's for each.

Positive Check In: The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck seeded or pre seeded meet. The swimmer or coach must indicate the swimmer is present and will compete.

Pull Buoy: The figure of eight style float that goes between your legs for pull 

Prelim: Short for preliminary.  Those races in which swimmers qualify for the championship and consolation finals.  Usually held in the morning or the day before the finals at large championship meets.

Psyche Sheet: An entry sheet showing all swimmers entered in an individual event and their times listed from fastest to slowest. Psyche sheets are used only at larger championship meets prior to the meet being seeded into heats and lanes.

Ready Room: A room pool side for the swimmers to relax before they compete in finals. 

Recovery: This term has two meanings for swimmers. It can pertain to the point in the stroke in which the hand is above the water line preparing for the next stroke. It can also be used to describe the process of resting and refueling after practice or a race.

Referee: The head official at a swim meet.

Relays: A swimming event in which four swimmers participate as a team. Each swimmer completes an equal distance of the race. There are two types of relays: 1.) Medley relay - One swimmer swims Backstroke, one swimmer swims Breaststroke, one swimmer swims Butterfly, one swimmer swims Freestyle, in that order. Medley relays are conducted over 200 yd/m and 400 yd/m distances. 2.) Freestyle relay - Each swimmer swims freestyle. Free relays are conducted over 200 yd/m, 400 yd/m, and 800 yd/m distances. 

Relay Exchange: The exchange between the swimmer in the water and the next swimmer on the relay.

Sanction: A permit issued by an LSC to a USA-S group member to conduct an event or meet. 

Sanction Fee: The amount paid by a USA-S group member to an LSC for issuing a sanction. 

Sanctioned Meet: A meet that is approved by the LSC in which it is held. Meet must be conducted according to USA Swimming rules. All participants, including coaches, athletes and officials, must be USA Swimming members. 

Scratch: To withdraw from an event at a meet. Oftentimes, heading into a major meet, swimmers will enter every event for which they have qualified in order to keep their options open and then withdraw (or opt not to compete in finals) based on how they feel at the meet.

Sculling: A drill in which the swimmer gently moves their forearms and hands back and forth through the water, developing a sense of how each move affects the swimmer’s forward progress.

Seed: Assign the swimmers heats and lanes according to their submitted times.

Sectionals: Nickname for Speedo Championship Series (see below). 

Senior Meet: A meet that is for senior level swimmers and is not divided into age groups. Qualification times are usually necessary and will vary depending on the level of the meet. 

Session: Portion of a meet distinctly separated from other portions by time.

Set: A self-contained part of a swim practice a ‘main set’ might be 10 x 100m free

Start: The beginning of a race. The dive used to begin a race. 

Starter: The official in charge of signaling the beginning of a race and ensuring that all swimmers have a fair takeoff. 

Stand-up: The command given by the Starter or Referee to release the swimmers from their starting position.

Step-Down: The command given by the Starter or Referee to have the swimmers move off the blocks. Usually this command is a good indication everything is not right for the race to start. 

Shave Down: The process of removing all arm, leg, and exposed torso hair, to decrease the 'drag' or resistance of the body moving through the water.  Usually used only at championship level meets.

Short course: In America, this term usually means a 25-yard pool. Most USA Swimming-sanctioned racing during the fall, winter and spring is done in short-course yards, including high school and college meets. The term can also pertain to 25-meter pools, although they are more common abroad.

Speedo Championship Series: Open "senior level" meets held in the spring and summer. Each Zone may hold up to four meets. Meets are commonly called "Sectionals." Qualifying times, sites, dates and meet rules are determined locally. 

Split: The time for a portion of a race, such as each 25 or 50 of a 100-yard-race. Coaches will compare the split for the first (or front half) part of a race with the second (or back half) to determine where the swimmer was fastest and slowest.

Negative Split means the swimmer swam the second half faster than the first.

Sprint: All out as fast as you can go, breathing as little as you can.  Also used as a term for short races like a 50 or a 100 yard/meter race.

Steady: Swimming at a pace which is easily maintained (not easy or too hard, aiming for consistency of pace)

Streamline: When the body is pointing in a long, straight line with the arms at the ears, locked together with one hand on top of the other, while the legs are together, and the toes are pointed.  It is used on starts and turns because it minimizes drag or resistance underwater.

Stroke Count: Number of strokes per 25m or 50m (FC and BC every 2 arm pulls - a cycle - BR and Fly every stroke) abbreviated as SC

Stroke Rate: Number of strokes per minute (measured by stopwatch or calculation) abbreviated as SR

Swim-off: In a Prelims/Finals type competition, a race after the scheduled event to break a tie. The only circumstance that warrants a swim-off is to determine which swimmer makes finals or an alternate, otherwise ties stand. 

SWIMS: USA Swimming database system that keeps track of every time swum by all swimmers. Available through the USA-S website. 

Taper:  The week or two before a major meet, the coach will begin scaling back the volume or workload at practice in favor of working on fine details, like starts and turns. This allows the swimmer to get more rest in hopes of dramatically improving their times at their goal meet. Warning: You may find your swimmer suddenly has a lot more energy after practice while at the same time telling you, “I can’t take the garbage out because I’m on taper.”

Tech-suits: Swimsuits made from water repelling fabric often with bonded seams.  They are worn at high level championship meets. Beginning in 2020 only swimmers ages 13 and over may wear them. 

Time Trial: An event or series of events where a swimmer may achieve or better a required qualifying time.

Time Standard: A time set by a meet or LSC or USA-S (etc.) that a swimmer must achieve for qualification or recognition. 

Timer: The volunteers sitting behind the starting blocks/finish end of the pool, who are responsible for getting watch times on events and activating the backup buttons for the timing system. 

Touch Pad: The removable plate (on the end of the pools) that is connected to an automatic timing system.  A swimmer much hit the touchpad to register an official time in a race.

Touch: The finish of a race.

Transfer: The act of leaving one club or LSC and going to another. Usually 120 days of unattached competition is required before swimmer can represent another USA-S club. 

Yardage: The total distance your swimmer covers in per practice, day or week (also referred to as volume) and usually measured in yards or meters (e.g. “my child’s group practices 5,000 yards a day or 25,000 yards a week”). This number can vary widely depending on your child’s age, whether s/he sprinter or distance swimmer, how long the practice is and their coach’s philosophy. Note: it’s still called yardage even when they’re swimming long course meters.

Unattached: An athlete member who competes but does not represent a club or team. (abbr. UN) 

Underwaters: The time a swimmer spends below the surface doing dolphin kick in streamline position or the breaststroke pullout. Swimmers are permitted to go 15 yards or meters underwater off the start or turn.

Unofficial Time: The time displayed on a board or read over the intercom by the announcer immediately after the race.  After the time has been checked, it will become the official time.

USS: United States Swimming, Inc., the national governing body for swimming in America.

VCC: Virtual Club Championships. The VCC recognizes and highlight clubs that are developing athletes and achieving success at multiple levels emphasizing the team element in club swimming. This program serves as a key part of the Athlete Development & Performance component of the Club Recognition Program.

Warm Down: The loosening a swimmer does after a race when pool space is available. Used by the swimmer to rid the body of excess lactic acid generated during a race.  Can also be called cool down.

Warm-up: The practice and loosening session a swimmer does before the meet or their event.  Essential to avoid injury, loosen muscles and prepare the body to go fast. 

Zones: A regional long-course championship meet held at the end of the summer, comprised of age-group swimmers from one of four zones: eastern, western, central or southern. In this case, swimmers may represent their city or state on a relay with swimmers from other clubs.  Minnesota is part of the Central Zone.  Swimmers who make Zones in Minnesota represent Team Minnesota at Zones.