The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly.  The combination of all four strokes is called Individual Medley.


Each swim meet offers a variety of events and distances, depending on the age group and classification.  Each swimmer will have a limit to the number of events he or she may swim each day, depending on the meet rules.

In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke.  The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the crawl, which is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water surface and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick.  On turns and finishes, some part of the swimmers must touch the wall.  Most swimmers do a flip turn.

Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick while on the back.  On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a flip turn and some part of the swimmer must touch the wall.  The swimmer must finish on his back.

The breaststroke, which is the oldest stroke dating back hundreds of years, requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane.  The hands are pressed out from in front of the breast in a heart-shaped pattern and recovered under or on the surface of the water.  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 at, above, or below the water surface.

Some consider the butterfly to be the most beautiful of the strokes.  It features a simultaneous recovery of the arms over the water combined with an undulating dolphin kick.  In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together and may not flutter, scissors, or use the breaststroke kick.  Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish. The butterfly is the newest stroke and was developed in the early 1950s as a variation of the breaststroke.  It became an Olympic stroke in 1956 in Melbourne.

The individual medley, commonly referred to as the IM, features all four strokes.  In the IM, the swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after one-fourth of the race to backstroke, then breaststroke, and finally freestyle. 

In the medley relay, all four strokes are swam.  The first swimmer swims backstroke, the second breaststroke, the third butterfly, and the final swimmer anchors the relay with freestyle.

The freestyle relay events consist of four freestylers, each swimming one-quarter of the total distance of the event.

Starts:  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 starting horn is sounded to start the race.  If the starter feels that one of the swimmers has moved, left early, or has gotten an unfair advantage, the guilty swimmer may be disqualified after the race for a false start.  Under USA Swimming rules, one false start disqualifies the swimmer.


The technical rules of swimming are designed to provide fair and equitable conditions for competition and to promote uniformity in the sport.  Each swimming stroke has specific rules designed to ensure that no swimmers get an unfair competitive advantage over another swimmer.

The Course

Competition pools may be a short course (25 yards or 25 meters), or long course (50 meters).  World records are accomplished in 25 and 50-meter pools.  USA Swimming maintains records for 25-yard, 25-meter, and 50-meter pools.


USA Swimming is made up of approximately 2,800 teams from all over the country.  Of these clubs, nearly half have 80 swimmers or less, and a handful of teams have over 500 swimmers.  A team may be comprised of any number of swimmers, parents, and coaches.
Participants compete in different age groups and meet depending on their achievement level and how old they are on the first day of the meet.  Traditionally recognized age groups are 10 and under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18.  Many local meets feature 8-under, single age groups, or senior events.  Team practice groups are usually determined by age and/or ability.


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.  All parents are encouraged to get involved with some form of officiating.

At The Meet

Swim meets are a great family experience.  They're a place where the whole family can spend time together.
Listed below are some very in-depth guidelines geared to help you through your first couple of swim meets.


Before the Meet Starts

Arrive at the pool at least 15 minutes before the scheduled warm-up time begins.

Upon arrival, find a place to put your swimmer's blankets, swim bags, and/or sleeping bags.  The team usually sits in one place together, so look for some familiar faces.

Once checked in with your coach, have the swimmers write each event number on their hands in ink.  This helps him remember what events he is swimming in and what event number to listen to or watch for.

Your swimmer now gets his cap and goggles and reports to the pool for warm-up instructions.

After the warm-up, your swimmer will go back to the area where his team is sitting and wait there until his first event is called.  The meet will usually start about 10-15 minutes after warm-ups are over.

According to USA Swimming rules (because of insurance purposes) parents are not allowed on deck unless they are serving in an official capacity.  Similarly, all questions concerning meet results, an officiating call, or the conduct of a meet should be referred to a coach.  He or she, in turn, will pursue the matter through the proper channels.

A psych sheet is usually available for sale in the lobby or concession area of the pool.  It lists all swimmers in each event in order of seed time.  If the swimmer is swimming an event for the first time, he will be entered as a "no-time" or NT.  A "no-time" swimmer will most likely swim in one of the first heats of the event.  A heat sheet may be available close to the start of the meet that lists the actual heat and lane a swimmer will be competing in.

Meet Starts

A swimmer usually reports directly to his lane for competition a number of heats before he actually swims.  Check with your swimmer's coach for specific instructions.

In some novice meets, a swimmer's event number will be called, usually over the loudspeaker and he will be asked to report to the "clerk of course" or "bullpen".  Swimmers should report with his/her cap and goggle.  The clerk will usually line up all the swimmers and take them down to the pool in the correct order.

You can expect at least 4-8 heats of each event.

The swimmer swims his race.

After each swim: he is to ask the timers (people behind the blocks at each lane) his/her time.

The swimmer should then go immediately to his or her coach.  The coach will discuss the swim with each swimmer.

Depending on the coach's instructions, the swimmer may be asked to do some recovery swimming if a "warm-down" pool or lanes are available.

Things you, as a parent, can do after each swim:
Tell him how great he did.  The coaching staff will be sure to discuss stroke techniques with him. You need to tell him how proud you are and what a great job he did.  Take him back to the team area and relax.

When a swimmer has completed all of his events, he and his parents get to go home.  Make sure you check with the coach before leaving to make sure your swimmer is not included on a relay.

Results are usually posted somewhere in the facility. Awards are often gathered for a team and given to the coach at the end of the meet.  The coach will give the awards to the swimmers at a later time.

What to take to the Meet

Most Important:  Swim Suit, Team Cap - and goggles

(if your swimmer uses them)

Baby of talcum powder to dust the inside of swim cap. 

This helps preserve the cap and makes it easier to put on.

Towels.  Your swimmer will be there a while, so pack at least two.

Something to sit on.  The swimmer area may be located in a gym or cafeteria.  Example: sleeping bag, an old blanket, or anything that will be comfortable to sit on.  The swimmers will be spending a lot of time on it.

Sweatsuits.  Each swimmer may want to bring two because they can get wet and soggy.

Team T-shirts.  Two or three.  Same reason as above.

Games.  Travel games, coloring books, iPods, books, anything to pass the time.

Food.  Each swimmer is usually allowed to bring a small cooler.  It's a good idea to bring snacks as the snack bars at the meet may not have healthy options.

Once you have attended one or two meets this will all become very routine.  Do not hesitate to ask any other parent for help or information.

These meets are a lot of fun for the swimmers.  He gets to visit with his friends, play games, and meet kids from other teams.  He also gets to race and sees how much he has improved from all the hard work he has put in at practice.