The rules below are the USA Swimming rules as modified for use in the NVSL. Please see the official NVSL handbook for a comprehensive list of the League's rules. 


The swimming strokes and their rules can be confusing.  Please take a moment to review the rules listed below.  The stroke rules below are the US Swimming rules as modified for use in the NVSL. Teams in other leagues may have slightly different rules.   


Freestyle is defined as any means of swimming across the pool. Any stroke and kick are acceptable. There are, however, a few don'ts associated with this stroke, specifically: (1) You cannot walk on the bottom or pull yourself along using the lane lines and (2) In a 50 Meter race (two pool lengths) you must touch the wall at the 25 meter end before touching the wall at the 50 meter end.  


Like freestyle, almost anything goes in backstroke as long as you stay on your back.  Backstroke starts are different from all others because the swimmer is in the water feet planted against the wall, and hanging on to either another swimmer's legs or the lip on the pool awaiting the starter's signal. "Legs" must be grabbed below the knee.  Persons serving in an official capacity (such as timers or coaches) may not serve as “legs”.  The backstroke flip turn is the one exception to staying on your back and can be used only as part of a turn (not a finish) at the pool wall.


Breaststroke has two components, the kick and the arm pull. The pull and its recovery must both be under the breast and cannot extend further back than the waist area.  The kick is a "frog" kick and the toes must be pointed outward during the propulsive part of the kick.  The arm pull and kick must be in an alternating sequence and the elbows must stay below the water except for tagging the wall at the finish. Breaststroke turns and finishes require a simultaneous two hand touch.


A well executed butterfly is the hardest stroke for most swimmers to perfect. There are two components of the stroke:  the arm pull and the kick. The arm pull must be an over the water recovery (elbows breaking the surface of the water) with the arms moving simultaneously.  The kick is a dolphin style kick with both legs moving simultaneously. Unlike Breaststroke, there is no requirement to alternate the kick and pull. Turns and finishes require a simultaneous two hand touch at the wall.


The individual medley (IM) is when an individual swims each of the four strokes in the sequence Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Freestyle.  In a 100 Meter IM, every turn is

a stroke change and stroke finish rules apply.  This means no Backstroke Flip Turns.   


There are two kinds of Relays, the freestyle relay and the medley relay. Both involve a team of four swimmers, each swimming 1/4 of the total distance. In the freestyle relay, each swimmer swims the freestyle. In the medley relay, the sequence is Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly and Freestyle. At the NVSL Relay Carnival, swimmers 8 and Under swim a modified medley relay where the fly leg of the relay is replaced with a freestyle leg.  In all relays, each swimmer must wait until the previous swimmer touches the wall prior to leaving the deck. Running starts or pushes from teammates are not allowed.


A DQ (short for disqualification) is any violation of the rules observed by any appropriate official. Some of the more common reasons for DQing are as follows:


  • Failure to touch the wall at the turning end of the pool

  • Walking on the bottom or pulling on the lane lines

  • Exiting the pool before swimming the specified distance


  • Past vertical towards the breast at any time except during a flip turn

  • Leaving the wall after a turn past vertical towards the breast

  • Improper flip turn (older swimmers)


  • Incorrect kick, such as a Scissors kick or Flutter kick

  • Non-Simultaneous two-hand touch or one hand touch at turn or finish

  • Toes not pointed outward during the propulsive part of the kick

  • More than one stroke underwater with arms fully extended at start or turn

  • Arm recovery past waist except on first stroke after start or turn    

  • Head didn't break surface by conclusion of second arm pull underwater after a start or turn



  • Non-simultaneous or one handed wall touch at the turn or finish

  • Non-simultaneous leg movement during kicks

  • Arms don't break water surface during recovery (judged at the elbows)

  • Non-simultaneous arm movement during recovery


A false start occurs whenever a swimmer moves towards the pool after having assumed a still position (taking his/her mark) and before the Starter has started the race.  If the false start is detected before the starting signal is sounded, the offending swimmer can be removed from the race prior to it starting.  If a false start occurs but the starting signal has sounded, the race will not be stopped.  Instead the false starting swimmer(s) will be notified of their false start at the conclusion of the race.  The use of a recall signal is now limited to a bad start (i.e., not all swimmers were ready) or for a safety reason.  If the Starter sounds the recall signal, no swimmer can be removed for a false start.