If your son or daughter is newly getting into competitive swim, congrats! It’s an amazing sport with tons of health benefits and endless opportunities to build character and lifelong friendships. We’ve written up some general tips for new swim parents, and now we’d like to help out in another way.
As with any sport, competitive swimming has its fair share of lingo. It won’t be long before you start hearing unfamiliar terms thrown around by coaches, your kid and his or her teammates, other swim moms and dads, and the announcers and other people involved in the swim meets you attend.
Don’t feel lost at sea! Here’s our handy reference guide to common competitive swim terminology. Now you can follow the conversation, and even participate like a seasoned pro.
Competitive Swim Lingo
- Age groups: Competitive swimmers are divided by age; the National Age Groups are: 10 and under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, and 17-18.
- Alternate: Once the top 12 or 16 swimmers have qualified in a preliminary meet, the next two top swimmers (13th and 14th or 17th and 18th ) are designated alternates who step in if one of the qualified swimmers can’t compete.
- Blocks: The blocks at the ends of the pool marking where swimmers start from. The pool dimensions and water depth determine the height of the blocks.
- Clerk of Course: This is the person who manages the area where all the competitors line up before their event begins. It’s an important job for keeping a swim meet proceeding efficiently.
- Cut: The cut is a benchmark of time that swimmers must achieve to move along to the next stage of the competition.
- DQ: Short for “disqualification,” this means a swimmer broke a rule that eliminates him or her from the competition.
- Drop or time drop: This refers to when a swimmer achieves a faster time than in a previous swim.
- Dryland: The regimen of strength and flexibility training that swimmers do out of the water is known as dryland.
- Event: An event is a race or a stroke over a particular distance, typically involving one preliminary round and one final round.
- Finals: The last competitive round of an event. Usually, the top six or eight swimmers move on from preliminary rounds to the finals.
- Final results: The results of each event of a competition are often provided in printed form.
- Heat: A heat is a subdivision of an event in which there are too many competitors to all swim at the same time. The top finish times from each heat are used to determine the event’s results.
- Heat sheet: This is a printout of each competitor’s submitted or preliminary swim time, representing the swimmers’ rankings.
- Illegal: Something is illegal if it’s a violation of a rule that results in disqualification.
- Long course: A 50-meter pool is a long course.
- Officials: Swim meets run on the hard work and dedication of these various certified adult volunteers.
- Pad or touch pad: These are detachable plates at the ends of pools. They’re hooked into a timing system and must be properly touched by competitors to register their official race times.
- Personal best: A personal best is a new faster time achieved by a swimmer.
- Preliminaries or Prelims: These are the earlier rounds of events in which the top-performing competitors qualify for the final rounds.
- Psyche sheet or program: This is a roster of all the swimmer registered to compete in a meet.
- Scratch: If a registered competitor withdraws from or is disqualified ahead of time from an event, it’s referred to as a scratch.
- Seed time: Each competing swimmer is assigned to a heat and lane according to their seed time, which is their submitted or preliminary time.
- Short course: A short course is a 25-yard or 25-meter pool.
- Sign-in, check-in, or positive check-in: This is when competitors confirm their presence and intention to compete by marking their name on a list before the meet begins.
- Split: This is the time to complete one portion of an event (e.g., the time to complete the first 50 meters of a 100-meter race).
- Timed final: Timed finals are competitions of one round, with results determined by the swimmers’ time performances.
- Timers: Timers are the officials located at the ends of the pools who measure swim times by stopwatch and activate the timing system backup buttons.
- Warm down: This is a reduced intensity swim following a race that helps the body cool down.
- Warm-up: This is the exercise and swimming done before a meet to stretch and get the body primed for a more intense swim.