Terms were taken from the USA Swimming web site and modified to fit our team.   



These are just a few of the many of the “words” used in our swimming world.  From time to time, you may hear new ones as the sport changes, but these will give you the basics to communicate on a level playing field with the other swim parents and competitors.   The first part of the list deals with swim meet specific terms and the second part about general terms.  The designation “USA-S” is short for USA Swimming, our national governing body which is headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO.


PART 1 – Swim Meets


Time Standards            USA-S has set up certain time standards to help rank, or classify, a swimmer.  The faster the time swum by the athlete, the “higher” the level of the swimmer.  Some meets will use time standards for entry qualification.

"A" time                         The lowest National Age Group Time Standard for an "A" swimmer.  "A" time is .01 seconds faster than the "BB" time standard and .01 slower than the "AA" time standard. See the NAGTS published chart on the USA-S web site.

"AA" time                      The time classification for a swimmer that is .01 seconds faster than "A" time standard.

"AAA" time                    The time classification for a swimmer that is .01 seconds faster than the "AA" time standard.

"AAAA" time                  The time classification for a swimmer that is .01 seconds faster than the "AAA" time standard.  This is the fastest time standard listed on the NAGT chart.  Times faster than this are approaching National cuts or Top Times consideration.

"B" time                         The first time classification for most swimmers. A "B" time is .01 seconds faster than the "C" time standard and .01 seconds slower than the "BB" time standard. 

"BB"                              The time classification for a swimmer that is .01 seconds faster than the "B" time standard and .01 slower than the "A" time standard.

“C” time                        Any time that has been achieved by a swimmer that is slower than the “B” time. 

“NT”                             No Time. This is the abbreviation used on a heat sheet to designate that the swimmer has not swum that event before.

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

NRT                           National Reportable Time. A time list published once a year, which if a swimmer equals or betters the time on the list, they may submit their time in that event for consideration for national recognition.


Meet Classifications        Often meets are classified by certain time standards.  Swimmers must have achieved those time standards to be able to enter the meet.


A-Meet                          Swim meet that requires swimmers to have previously achieved an "A" time standard in the events they wish to enter.

A-B Meet                        Swim meet that offers separate competition for both "A" swimmers and "B" swimmers. Swimmers compete in separate brackets against other swimmers of their own ability. 

A-B-C                            Swim meet similar to the A-B meet except that there are three divisions.  This type of meet includes every ability level of swimmer from novice to the expert.  All swimmers with an "A" time or faster compete in the "A" division, and all swimmers with a "C" and down compete in the "C" division.  The "B" division is the most limited with both top (.01 slower than "A") and bottom (.01 faster than "C") limitations.

“Open” Competition        A competition in which any qualified club, organization, or individual may enter.

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

Dual Meet                      Type of meet where two teams/clubs compete against each other.

Invitational                     The type of meet that requires a club to request an invitation to attend the meet.

Prelims-Finals                  Type of meet with two sessions. The preliminary heats are usually held in the morning session. The fastest six or eight (Championship Heat) swimmers and the next fastest six or eight swimmers (Consolation Heat) return in the evening to compete in the Finals. A swimmer who has qualified in the Consolation Finals may not place in the Championship Finals even if their finals time would place them so. The converse also applies.

Timed Finals                   Competition in which only heats are swum and final place is determined by those times.


Swim Meet Terms

Age Group                     Is a division of swimmers according to their age. The National Age Group divisions are:  10-under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18. Some LSCs have divided the swimmers into more convenient divisions specific to their situations: (i.e.) 8-under, 12 & Under, 13 & Over, 15-Over, Junior, Senior.

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 swimmers will be the first alternate and the second will be second alternate. If a finalist cannot participate, the alternates are called to take their place.

Backstroke               One of the four 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. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter (LSCs with 8-under divisions offer the 25 yd back). 

Blocks                       The starting platforms located behind each lane. Blocks have a variety of designs and can be permanent or removable.

Bonus Heat                  The heat held during the finals session of a Prelims/Finals meet that is slower than the swimmers participating in Big Finals. The Bonus Heat may refer to Consolation Finals or an extra heat in addition to Consolation finals.

Breaststroke                    One of the four competitive racing strokes. Breaststroke is swum as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter. (LSCs with 8-under divisions offer the 25 yd breast)

Butterfly                     One of the four competitive racing strokes. Butterfly (nicknamed FLY) is swam as the third stroke in the Medley Relay and first stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter (LSCs with 8-under divisions offer the 25 yard fly).

Button (Pickle)                The manual Timing System stopping device that records a back-up time in case the touch pad malfunctioned. The button is at the end of a wire, plugged into a deck terminal box. There are usually 3 buttons per lane. It is the timer’s responsibility to push the button as the swimmer finishes the race.

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. It is 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.

Circle Seeding                A method of seeding swimmers when they are participating in a prelims/finals event. The fastest 18 to 24 swimmers are seeded in the last three heats, with the fastest swimmers being in the inside lanes. (I.e.) Lane 4 in the final three heats. See rule book for exact method for seeding depending on the lanes in the pool.

Consolation Finals       After the fastest six or eight swimmers, the next 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. Consolations are the second fastest heat of finals when multiple heats are held and are conducted before the Championship heat.

Course                          Designated distance (length of pool) for swimming competition. Long Course = 50 meters / Short Course = 25 yards or 25 meters.

Deck                             The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coaches. No one but an "authorized" USA Swimming member may be on the deck during a swim competition.

Deck Entries                   Accepting entries into swimming events on the first day or later day of a meet.

Disqualified                  A swimmer's performance is not counted because of a rules infraction. A disqualification is shown by an official raising one arm with open hand above their head.

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.

Entry Chairperson           The person from the host club who is responsible for receiving the entries from the visiting teams. This person usually will find discrepancies in the meet entries and notify the entering club to correct any errors.

Entry Fees                      The amount per event a swimmer or relay is charged. This varies depending on the LSC and type of meet.

Entry Limit                     Each meet will have a limit of total number of events that a swimmer can swim.  Often times it may refer to the number of swimmers entered in the meet. 

Electronic Timing            Timing system operated on DC current (battery). The timing system usually has touch pads in the water, junction boxes on the deck with hook up cables, buttons for backup timing, and a computer-type console that prints out the results of each race. Some systems are hooked up to a scoreboard that displays swimmer’s times.

False Start                      When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn. One false start will disqualify a swimmer or a relay team, although the starter or referee may disallow the false start due to unusual circumstances.

Fastest to Slowest            A seeding method used on the longer events held at the end of a session. The fastest seeded swimmers participate in the first heats followed by the next fastest and so on. Many times these events will alternate one girl’s heat and one boy’s heat until all swimmers have competed.

Finals                              The final race of each event. See "Consolation Finals", "Timed Finals", etc.

Format                            The order of events and type of swim meet being conducted.

Freestyle                        One of the four competitive racing strokes. Freestyle (nicknamed Free) is swum as the fourth stroke in the Medley Relay and fourth stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, 200 yards/meter, 400 mtr/500 yd, 800 mtr/1000 yds, 1500 mtr/1650 yds (LSCs with 8-under divisions offer the 25 yd free).

Goggles                      Are a glasses-type device worn by swimmers to keep their eyes from being irritated by the chemicals in the water. Some goggles come in prescription strength for those swimmers who made need help with their vision.

Heats                             Are divisions of an event when there are too many swimmers to compete at the same time.

Heat Award                   A ribbon or coupon given to the winner of a single heat at an age group swim meet.

Heat Sheet                 The pre-meet printed listings of swimmers' seed times in the various events at a swim meet. These sheets vary in accuracy, since the coaches submit swimmers times many weeks before the meet. Heat sheets are sold at the admissions table and are used mainly to make sure the swimmer has been properly entered in all the events they signed up for. Parents enjoy looking at the seedings prior to the race, plus swimmers can tell the order the events will be conducted and get a rough idea how long the meet sessions will last.

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

IM                               Individual Medley. A swimming event that uses all four of the competitive strokes on consecutive lengths of the race. The order must be: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke then Freestyle. Equal distances must be swum of each stroke. Distances offered: 100 yards, 200 yards/meters, and 400 yards/meter.

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.

Lane                              The specific area in which a swimmer is assigned to swim. (I.e. Lane 1 or Lane 2) If the pool has starting blocks at only one end, then the lanes are numbered from right (lane 1) to left (lane 8) as the swimmers face the competition course.

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. Counting is done from the end opposite the starting end. The numbers on the cards are "odd numbers" only with the final lap being designated by a bright orange card.

Late Entries                    Some meets have the option for the swimmers to do “late entries” if they do not turn in their registration forms on time.  There is an increase in the meet fees associated with late entries.

Marshalls                        The officials who control the crowd and swimmer-flow at a swim meet.

Meet Director                The official in charge of the administration of the meet. They person direct the "dry side" of the meet.

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

Officials                           The certified adult volunteers who operate the many facets of a swim competition.

Positive Check-In             The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck seeded or pre seeded meet. The swimmer must mark their name on a list posted by the meet host.

Prelims                          Usually the morning session during a Prelims/Finals meet in which the qualification heats are conducted.

Pre-seeded                     A meet conducted without a bull pen in which a swimmer knows what lane and heat they are in by looking at the heat sheet or posted meet program.

Psyche Sheet                An entry sheet showing all swimmers entered into each individual event. It is sometimes referred to as a "Heat Sheet" or meet program. However, a “heat sheet” would show not only every swimmer in an event, but also what heat and lane they have been assigned.

Qualifying Times             Published times necessary to enter certain meets, or the times necessary to achieve a specific category of swimmer. See "A", "AA" (etc.) times.

Referee                          The head official at a swim meet in charge of all of the "Wet Side" administration and decisions.

Relays                            A swimming event in which four swimmers participate as a team and 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/mtr and 400 yd/mtr distances. 2.) Freestyle relay - Each swimmer swims freestyle. Free relays are conducted over 200 yd/mtr, 400 yd/mtr, and 800 yd/mtr distances.

Sanctioned Meet              Is a meet that is approved by the LSC in which it is held.  The meet must be conducted according to USA-S rules and all participants, including coaches, athletes and officials must be USA Swimming members.

Scratch                          To withdraw from an event after having declared an intention to participate. Some meets have scratch deadlines and specific scratch rules, and if not followed, swimmer can be disqualified from remaining events.

Seed                              To assign the swimmers heats and lanes according to their submitted, or prelim, times

Seeding                          Deck Seeding – events will be seeded after a positive check-in deadline. Pre Seeding - swimmers are arranged in heats according to submitted times, prior to the meet.

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.

Short Course                  A 25-yard or 25-meter pool.

Split                              A portion of an event that is shorter than the total distance and is timed.  Such as the swimmer's first 50 free of the 100 free race.

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

State                              A meet held twice a year (Short Course and Long Course) sponsored by the LSC. In larger LSCs it is common to hold a Championship Senior meet and Age Group meet separately. Qualification times are usually necessary.


Stand-up                        The command given by the Starter or Referee that releases the swimmers from their starting position

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

Stroke                            There are 4 competitive strokes:  Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle.

Stroke Judge                   Is the official positioned at the side of the pool, walking the length of the course as the swimmers race. If the Stroke Judge sees something illegal, they report to the referee and the swimmer may be disqualified.

Submitted Time               Times used to enter swimmers in meets. These times must have been achieved by the swimmer at previous meets.

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, any ties stand.

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

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

Touch Out                     To reach the touchpad ahead of a close competitor in a race.

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

Tri-meet                         A meet with three teams competing for points to see who places 1st-2nd-3rd.

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

Unofficial Time                The time displayed on a read out board or read over the intercom by the announcer immediately after the race. All times must be verified by meet officials before they are official times.

Warm-down                   The recovery swimming a swimmer does after a race when pool space is available.

Warm-up                       The practice and "loosening-up" session a swimmer does before the meet or their event is swum.


PART 2 – General Terms


Developmental                A classification of a 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.

Dry Land                       The exercises and various strength programs swimmers do out of the water.

FINA                             The international rules-making organization for the sport of swimming

Goals                            The short- and long-range targets for swimmers to aim for.

Handbook                      A reference manual published by teams/clubs and LSCs or other swimming organizations.  

Insurance                       USA Swimming offers "accident insurance coverage," which is automatic when a swimmer, coach, or official pays their USA-S membership fee. Many restrictions apply so check with your club for detailed information.

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

“Juniors”                        This is the USA-S Championship meet for swimmers 18 years old or less. Qualification times are necessary.

Length                           The extent of the competitive course from end to end.

Long Course                   A 50-meter pool.

LSC                               Local Swim Committee. The local level, administrative division of USA  Swimming that has supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries.

Meters                           The measurement of the length of a swimming pool using the metric system. A long course pool is 50 meters.  Sometimes pools may be set up as 25 meters.  This is called short course meters.

NAGTS                         National Age Group Time Standards - the list of "C" through "AAAA" times published every 4th year.

“Nationals”                    This is the USA Swimming National Championship meet conducted in March/April and August.

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. Sufficient USA Swimming officials are present to certify that the athletes' swims are in compliance with USA Swimming technical rules.

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

Olympic Trials                The USA-S sanctioned long course swim meet held the year of the Olympic Games to decide what swimmers will represent the USA on our Olympic Team. Qualification times are faster than Senior Nationals.

Pace Clock                     The electronic clocks or large clocks with highly visible numbers and second hands, positioned at the ends or sides of a swimming pool so the swimmers can read their times during warm-ups or swim practice.

Paddles                          Colored plastic devices worn on the swimmers hands during swim practice to increase resistance during the pull phase of the stroke.

Proof of Time                  An official meet result from a sanctioned, or approved, meet. Coaches must supply proof of time with some meet entries, and other meets it is not required unless a swimmer fails to swim the required time standard.

Pull Buoy                       A flotation device held between the legs of a swimmer so they will use only their arms to propel themselves through the water.

Safety                            The responsible and careful actions of those participating in a swim meet. USA-S and each LSC now have a "Safety Coordinator" and each meet must have "Marshalls" in charge of safety.

Sectionals                       Nickname for Speedo Championship Series

Senior Nationals              Is a USA-S National Championship Meet for swimmers of any age who have met certain qualification times.

SWIMS                          Is the USA Swimming database system that keeps track of every time swum by all swimmers. It is available through the USA-S website.

Taper                            The resting phase of a swimmer at the end of the season before the championship meet.

Team Records                The statistics a team keeps, listing the fastest swimmer in the club’s history for each age group/each event.

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.

USA-S ID Number          A 16-part number assigned to a swimmer after they have registered with USA Swimming. The first 6 parts are numbers of a swimmer's birth date: Month/ Day/Year using zeros as place holders. The next three spaces are the first three letters of the athlete's legal first name. The next letter is the middle initial, followed by the first four letters of the swimmer's last name. For example: USA-S ID# for swimmer Suzanne Eileen Nelson and born Aug.27, 1976 = 082776SUZENELS.  Swimmers without enough letters in their name to complete the 3-1-4 pattern will use an * to fill in the blank spaces.

Yards                            The measurement of the length of a swimming pool using the American system A short course yard pool is 25 yards (75 feet) in length.

Yardage                         The distance a swimmer races or swims in practice. Total yardage can be calculated for each practice session.

Zones                            The country is divided up into 4 major zones: Eastern - Southern - Central - Western. At the end of the long course season (in August) the Zone Administration sponsors a championship age group meet.