Glossary of Swimming Terms

A glossary of those strange and wacky words we use in the sport of swimming. You may or may not find these words in the English Dictionary, and if you do, their definitions will probably be radically different than the ones listed in this Glossary. Relax and take your time reading. Soon you'll be understanding and maybe even speaking some "swim slang." 

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

The final swimmer in a relay. Also a term coaches use for the beginning of all four strokes indicating the “high elbow”, “catch,” or “early vertical forearm.” 

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). 

The starting platforms located behind each lane. Minimum water depth for use of starting blocks is 4 feet. Blocks have a variety of designs and can be permanent or removable. 

One of the four competitive racing strokes. Breaststroke is swam 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) 

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). 

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

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. 

A scheduled meeting for the purpose of instruction. (i.e.) Official's clinic, Coach's clinic. 

Colorado Timing System 
A brand of automatic timing system. 

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

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. 

Deck Seeding 
Heat and lane assignments are posted after swimmers have checked in have “scratched” (indicated they will not participate in the event.) 

The abnormal depletion of body fluids (water). The most common cause of swimmers cramps and sick feelings.

How far a swimmer swims. Distances for short course are: 25 yards (1 length), 50 yards (2 lengths), 100 yards (4 lengths), 200 yards (8 lengths), 400 yards (16 lengths), 500 yards (20 lengths), 1000 yards (40 lengths), 1650 yards (66 lengths). Distances for long course are: 50 meters (1 length), 100 meters (2 lengths), 200 meters (4 lengths), 400 meters (8 lengths), 800 meters (16 lengths), 1500 meters (30 lengths). 

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. 

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

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

An individual, relay team, or club roster's event list in a swim competition. 

Electronic Timing 
Timing system operated on DC current (battery). The timing system usually has touchpads 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 swimmers. 

A race or stroke over a given distance. An event equals 1 preliminary with its final, or 1 timed final. 

False Start 
When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn or gun. 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. 

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

Final Results 
The printed copy of the results of each race of a swim meet. 

Large rubber flipper-type devices that fit on a swimmers feet. Used in swim practice, not competition. 

Pennants that are suspended over the width of each end of the pool approximately 15 feet from the wall. 

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). 

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

Glasses-type devices worn by swimmers to keep their eyes from being irritated by the chlorine in the water. 

All of the swimmers entered in the event are divided into heats, or groups of swimmers. The results are compiled by the times swum, after all heats of the event are completed. 

Heat Award 
A ribbon, coupon, or other prize 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. 

High Point 
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. 

A sounding device. Used mainly with a fully automatic timing system. 

Doing something against the rules that is cause for disqualification. 

IM (Individual Medley)

A swimming event using all four of the competitive strokes on consecutive lengths of the race. The order must be: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Freestyle. Equal distances must be swam of each stroke. Distances offered: 100 yards, 200 yards/meters, 400 yards/meter.

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

Type of meet that requires a club to request an invitation to attend the meet. 

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. 

Junior Nationals 
A USA-S Championship meet for swimmers 18 years old or less. Qualification times are necessary. 

Kick Board 
A flotation device used by swimmers during practice. 

The specific area in which a swimmer is assigned to swim. (ie) Lane 1 or Lane 2. 

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. 

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. 

The part of a relay event swum by a single team member. A single stroke in the IM. 

Long Course 
A 50-meter pool. 

Local Swim Committee. The local level administrative division of the corporation (USA-S) with supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries designated by the Corporation. There are 59 LSCs. 

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

A series of events held in one program. 

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

The measurement of the length of a swimming pool that was built per specs using the metric system. Long course meters is 50 meters, short course meters is 25 meters. 

USA Swimming National Championship meet conducted in March/April and August. 

A building constructed for the purpose of housing a swimming pool and related equipment. 

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

No Time. The abbreviation used on a heat sheet to designate that the swimmer has not swum that event before.

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

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. 

A brand of automatic timing system. 

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 warmups or swim practice. 

Colored plastic devices worn on the swimmers hands during swim practice. 

Positive Check In 
The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck seeded or pre seeded meet. The swimmer or coach must indicate the swimmer is present and will compete. 

The scheduled workouts swimmers attend with their swim team/club. 

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. 

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. 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 are swimming in. 

Pull Buoy 
A flotation device used for pulling by swimmers in practice. 

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. 

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

A swimming event in which four swimmers participate as a team. 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 
A meet that is approved by the LSC in which it is held. Meet must be conducted according to USA Swimming rules. All participants, including coaches, athletes and officials, must be USA Swimming members. 

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. 

Assign the swimmers heats and lanes according to their submitted or preliminary times. 

Deck Seeding - swimmers are called to report to the Clerk of the Course. After scratches are determined, the event is seeded. Pre Seeding - swimmers are arranged in heats according to submitted times, usually a day prior to the meet. 

Portion of meet distinctly separated from other portions by locale, time, type of competition, or age group. 

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

A portion of an event that is shorter than the total distance and is timed. (i.e.) A swimmer's first 50 time is taken as the swimmer swims the 100 race. It is common to take multiple splits for the longer distances.

The beginning of a race. The dive used to begin a race. 

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

The command given by the Starter or Referee to release the swimmers from their starting position.

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

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

Stroke Judge 
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. 

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 ties stand. 

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 clubs history for each age group/each event. 

Time Standard 
A time set by a meet or LSC or USA-S (etc) that a swimmer must achieve for qualification or recognition. 

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

Unofficial Time 
The time displayed on a read out board or read over the intercom by the announcer immediately after the race. After the time has been checked, it will become the official time. 

USA Swimming 
The national governing body of the sport headquartered in Colorado Springs. 

USA-S ID Number 
A 14-part number assigned to a swimmer after they have filled out the proper forms and paid their annual dues. The first 6 parts are numbers of a swimmer's birthdate: Month/Day/2-Digit 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. 

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

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

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

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