Swim Meets 101

Swim meets can be a bit intimidating for new-comers. If you haven’t done so previously, consider making arrangements with your coach to attend a meet as a spectator before entering a meet for competition. Ask questions! Those of us who have been around awhile will be more than happy to talk about the things we’ve learned. Below is a brief description of some of the things to expect at a swim meet.

Signing up for swim meet competition       

Swim meet announcements are sent out through email to all email addresses on your account. The email gives directions about how to sign up for the meet on the GCST Team Unify website (you will need your user name – the main email on your account – and password for this purpose).

  • Under the Event Tab choose the meet you would like your swimmer to attend.
  • Click on Edit Commitment button.
  • Choose the swimmer you are signing up.
  • Review the Important Notes regarding the meet you are signing up for along with the cooresponding charges for the meet.
  • Choose your declaration for the swimmer; 
    • Yes, Please sign [Swimmer Name] up for this event
    • No, thanks, [Swimmer Name] will NOT attend this event
  • Check mark the events that your swimmer would like to swim and make any notes for the Coaches in the designated box. 

Choosing events

Swimmers will need to speak with their coaches to choose the events they want to participate in. There typically is a limit of three events per day, depending on the swim meet. Swimmers and families are encouraged to talk with their coaches about which events they should sign up for, especially if they are unsure what to do.

State Championship Meets; Coaches will be selecting the events for the swimmer along with the possibility of entering them into a relay. If your swimmer cannot take part in the meet you must notify the coach immediately.

What to bring to a swim meet

Swimmers should bring a swim suit, swim cap, goggles, several towels, a blanket or chair to sit on, sweats or a bathrobe to keep warm, snacks and drinks (or money for concessions), and something to do between events. For outdoor meets, be prepared for the weather – consider bringing extra blankets, a hat, mittens, a coat, a tent, an umbrella, and/or sunscreen as appropriate.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the Board of Directors and other parents as they can advise and give first hand experiences. Please feel free to reach out to your fellow Swim Parents, they are full of knowledge and willingness to help.

Required List of Items: 

  • Suit & extra suit (if available)
  • Extra goggles
  • Extra cap
  • 2 towels per day
  • Warm clothing for between swims - It can get cold even in a warm pool area!

Suggested Extra Items:

  • Extra fluids & snacks - Please consider healthy snacks and lunches ie; granola, yogurt, sandwhiches, jerky, WATER, chocolate milk, fruits, veggies, crackers, bagels and muffins.
  • Blanket or a large towel to sit on - Parents may want to bring a chair. Check in advance to see what spectator seating is available.
  • Fun things to do in between swims - Books, cards, and games help to keep kids occupied while they are waiting to swim. Keep in mind that this is a moist humid area.
  • Highlighter/Sharpie and a pen/pencil for the heat sheet.
  • Small amount of cash for heat sheets, snacks, or other items.

Suggested Items for Outdoor Meets: 

  • Shade or shelter- Pop up tents/umbrellas/canopies
  • Chairs
  • Cooler
  • Sunscreen
  • Blankets - Again, it is cold in the mornings and in the early evenings, even in the summer.

Swim meet schedules & heat sheets

Schedules and heat sheets often are not available until the day the meet starts. A heat sheet is a detailed listing of all the events, heats and lane assignments for the entire meet. The schedule and heat sheet will be posted somewhere near the pool, and are also available to buy.

Some meets also make their schedules available on-line. Keep in mind that the schedules are approximate and should not be strictly relied upon. It is not unusual for a swim meet to get ahead of schedule. You should listen to and rely on the event announcements prior to each event and heat.


Before competition begins, a warm-up period is provided. Usually warm-ups last one hour and end 15 minutes prior to the first event. Check in with your coach when you arrive at a meet to get instructions for warm-up.


Swimmers 8 years old and younger are asked to report to the bullpen well before their races. The bullpen is a designated area at the pool where volunteers organize the swimmers into heats and escort them to the correct starting blocks at the right time so they won’t miss their events. The meet announcer will announce when young swimmers should report to the bullpen. Older swimmers are on their own to get to the starting blocks at the right time.

Starting a race

The meet referee keeps the meet moving by signals delivered with a whistle. Five short whistles in a row signal the announcer to call the next heat, and the swimmers in that heat should get behind the starting blocks.

Then the referee will blow a long whistle, signaling the swimmers to get onto the starting blocks. (Note that back stroke events have an additional long whistle, the first one indicating that swimmers should enter the pool, the second indicating that swimmers should take hold of the starting block.)

When the referee says “take your mark” swimmers get in the ready position and hold still. When the beep sounds the swimmers take off. If a swimmer is not ready to start from the blocks, they are allowed to start from the pool deck next to the blocks.

After a race

Be sure to have your swimmer find his/her coach as soon as they have finished their event for feedback and instructions about warming down.  Remember, as a parent your job is to be supportive for your swimmer let the coaches handle all of the coaching needs for your swimmer.

Dos and don’ts around the pool

There are several things to be mindful of to help the meet run smoothly:

  • Avoid making loud noises and taking flash pictures at the beginning of a race. There is no photography allowed behind the blocks, this includes cell phones!
  • Avoid walking in front of the lane timers!
  • Parents shouldn’t be behind the starting blocks at any time, and swimmers only need to be there when they are about to swim.
  • Be mindful of the officials and give them plenty of space to walk around the pool.
  • Respect the roped off areas of the pool; there are many reasons why an area is roped off to the general public.
  • Encourage and cheer for your swimmer. Keep positive at all times to help with moral for all around you.
  • Help your swimmer keep track of events and get to the starting blocks on time. Swim meets move very quickly from one event to the next. For most events, have your swimmer check in with the coach at least two events prior to their swim.
  • Make sure your swimmer eats some high-energy food, and stays well hydrated.
  • Offer to help with timing, or other volunteer positions.

Different kinds of swim meets

Most long course (LCM) and short course (SCY) meets are available to all swimmers and held at local pools. Some meets require an “A” time or a “B” time in order to qualify for the meet. A and B times are standards set for both short course and long course by Oregon Swimming each year.

The Oregon State Championship meets require an “A” time. Other championship meets, such as sectionals (i.e., regionals), the Western Zone championships, and national junior Olympics establish their own standards for participation. See http://www.oregonswimming.org/times/ for relevant time standards.

Record keeping

You don’t need to write down your swimmers times or commit them to memory in order to keep track of them. You can find your swimmers time while using the OnDeck App and you can get real time updates using the Meet Mobile App.

All times from all the meets submit times to an on-line database for both Oregon Swimming and USA Swimming.