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A Novice Swim Parent Guide to the Swim Lingo -- Part 2

So you got the suit, you got the goggles, you got the cap; your swimmer is enjoying this swim thing and you are starting the get the idea.....yep, you're gonna spend a lot of time on deck.... Time to learn the meet lingo!


Your typical swim meet follows some general features you will see in any given competition day. Events are organized based on age group, gender, stroke and distance. Let me touch on each of these quickly:


  • Age Group: Now the age group thing can be a little different from meet to meet. Some meets are small or a they may not be USA Swimming sanctioned meets (some clubs may host some smaller meets for kids to learn or for recreational purposes, but your child's swims will not be officially recorded with USA Swimming). In that case, age groups may include some age brackets you may not see at bigger meets (like make "6 and under" or "8 and under"). Typically, your child will swim with his or her own age group, as you see it on the heat-sheet (more about that later). So if your child is 6 but the youngest age group is 10 and under, that is where your child will swim. To complicate things a little it could be that your swimmer will compete within a certain age group but may still be ranked according to his or own age.....But let's just stick to the general stuff for now.

  • Gender: Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory - events are going to be numbered and alternate for each stroke and distance, females, then males. For example, all odd events will be females, and all even numbers will be males (So event 1 could be girls, 8 and under 25 free; event 2 would be boys, 8 and under 25 free). Most meets you will attend will probably work this way, at least the more relaxed, non-championship meets. Once you get to bigger meets though, you may have to pay attention to the number of competition pools. Could be that one pool will be the "girls pool" and one pool will be the "boys pool". The event numbers in each case will probably stay the same, even if they are swum in different pools.....so yeah, could get a bit more complex!

  • Stroke: Swimming has four basic strokes: fly (i.e. butterfly), back, breast and free. Events will follow these strokes (not necessarily in that order) as well as the IM (Individual Medley, which has all four strokes in that order....well, unless it's a relay). Chances are, especially in the beginning, your swimmer will compete in events in all four strokes. As he or she progresses, they may prefer/favor a given stroke or event.....But as we previously discussed, let the coaches coach and let them decide what your swimmer should swim at each meet. As they grow in the sport, encourage them to discuss the strategies with their coaches and think about each meet and event as a way to progress and build strong communication with their coach.

  • Distance: So we talked about the two types of seasons during our first discussion -- remember, there is your 25 yard pool and your 50 meter pool. The 25 yard pool is used for what is called the short-course meets -- you will see it on a heat sheet or meet information document as SCY (short course yards -- the long course meets will say LCM for long course meters). If your child swims a 50 during an SCY meet, he or she will start on the block, swim down to the other side, touch the wall (or flip turn) and come back to finish where they started. This is where swim is so awesome for the younger kids who are learning to count and add! The number of laps will be based on the length of the pool and the distance they are swimming. I used to review those with my child when he was little -- He had the notoriously bad habit to stop after a 150 during a 200 race -- Yep, I was the crazy mother, pool side, screaming "TWO MORE LAPS!!!!). One quick note:the distances for some events will be slightly different depending on the course, especially the mid and long distance events. For example, swimmers will swim a 500 free in the short course, but the corresponding event in the long course pool will be a 400 free.


Now that we talked a bit about some general terms, let's spend a little time chatting about the meet, the events, and the heats. I put an example of a heat sheet in this post, so you can get an idea of what they look like. The general features here are events and heats.


Each event corresponds to a gender, age, distance and stroke. In the heat sheet example I posted, you can see that event #7 is the girls, 11-12, 200 yards free style. The following event will be the corresponding age group, distance and stroke for the boys. Depending on how many swimmers are entered in this event and how many competition lanes there are, the event will have a certain number of heats. In this example, event 7 will be ran in four heats. Now this is where some novice parent can get confused and even frustrated. Your swimmer may win his or her own heat, and that is GREAT! But, it doesn't mean that they won their event (they may have though). For each event, once all heats have been swum, the swimmers will be ranked based on their time. Typically, the top 8 or 10 swimmers will get a ribbon or a medal (depending on the meet) and/or could also qualify to swim at finals, if the meet is a preliminary/finals type format.


If you are a super competitive person, this could get tricky. Swimming is all about time. Sure, getting the medal or the ribbon is great; but more important to the competition is progress, getting personal bests, cutting some time from the previous event and some day, making that one cut they're after.....But there are also those meets that just sting....your swimmer adds to every event, doesn't do as well as expected, missed an event, flinches, gets disqualified..... See, more than anything, swimming builds character. Getting DQ'd builds character (and chances are, your swimmer will experience that sting at some point). Adding time, coming in dead last, looking to the next swim for redemption.....yep, you guessed it, it is ALL about character, growth and keeping going.


There is so much more to chat about, so many more questions to answer, so many other topics to discuss....but for now, let's stop here and think about this new world you have entered. The world of swimming will be rewarding and not just for your child. This is a pretty neat group to be a part of. You could have landed in any swim team, but you are here, with SMAC and let me assure you that this is quite possibly the best team you could have joined. So sit back, enjoy these times, get to know people, sign up for the next meet as a volunteer and enjoy the ride!


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