Union Aquatics Club
Union Aquatics Club

Swimming 101

Swimming is not just a sport, but a way of life that offers an excellent lifetime activity for health and well being. Through practice and competition, UNAC athletes also learn about perseverance, determination, dedication, commitment, achievement, and goal setting. Rounding out these life assets, swimmers develop skills in time management, courage, self control and self discipline. They learn how to strive for victory and accept a lesser outcome gracefully. Swimmers become an asset to the community by being good friends, neighbors, students and employees. They build character through the pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming.



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


Competition pools may be short course (25 yards or 25 meters), or long course (50 meters). The international standard (as used in the Olympics) is 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. Click here for a time conversion calculator to help track a swimmer's progress when swimming short or long course meters.

Competition Swimming

Swimmers compete in different age groups depending on their age on meet day and can qualify for certain meets by meeting time standards.

Swimming Terminology

Blocks  -  The starting platforms swimmers use to dive into the water for races. For backstroke, swimmers start in the water. For all other strokes, swimmers start out of the water.

Consolation Finals - The race that determines final places and times for the next fastest swimmers who failed to qualify for the finals. Swimmers in a consolation final may not place ahead of swimmers in the final heat regardless of their time. Generally, this heat determines places 9-16 or 11-20, depending on if a pool is 8 or 10 lanes.

Deck  -  The area immediately around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, meet marshals and coaches.

Deck Entries  -  Swimming event entries that are accepted on the first or a later day of a meet.

DQ  -  Disqualified. During a swimming race, when a swimmer has been DQ'd, his/her finish in a race and time will not be counted.

Dryland  -  Exercises and various strength programs swimmers do out of the water.

Event  -  Any race or series of races (heats) in a given stroke and distance.

False Start  -  When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the starting signal. The swimmer will be DQ'd if the referee independently observes and confirms the starter's observation. Relay swimmers will be DQ'd for false starting if a swimmer leaves the block before his/her teammate touches the wall.

Final - Any single race that determines the final places and times in an event.

Finals - The concluding session of each day of a preliminary and finals meet in which the fastest qualifiers in each event compete.

Fly Overs  -  Used to help manage session time lines, fly-overs are forward starts where a heat is started while the swimmers from the previous heat are allowed to remain in the water at the conclusion of their race. The swimmers on the block will dive in over the swimmer from the previous heat. Once the swimmers dive in, the swimmers waiting in the water will then exit the pool from their swimming lane.

Golds  -  Officially called Niagara LSC Championships, this meet is typically held in March. Swimmers must achieve qualifying time standards for their age group in order to attend this meet.

Heat  -  All swimmers entered in an event are divided into a heat or groups of swimmers. The results of a race are compiled by the times swum after all heats of the event are completed.

IM  -  Individual Medley. This swim event combines all four competitive strokes into one race. The number of lengths for each of the strokes depends on whether the race is a 100, 200 or 400 IM. The stroke order is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

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

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 controlling the waves caused by racing swimmers.

Lap -  Is often used interchangeably with length but refers to the 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 for the longer freestyle events (e.g. 500 yards). The counting is done from the end opposite the starting blocks. The numbers listed on the card are the odd numbers (e.g. 1, 3, 5, etc). A bright orange colored card versus a number indicates to the swimmer that he/she is on their final length (e.g. last 25 yards, meters).

Local Swimming Committee (LSC) - An administrative division of USA Swimming with supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries designated by USA Swimming.

Long Course  -  A 50-meter pool, also referred to as an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Meet - A series of events held in one program.

Meet Director - Appointed by the meet host, the meet director is the organizer and coordinator of all meet activities. Responsibilities include, but are not limited to: securing an appropriate meet facility, obtaining a meet sanction, preparing and distributing meet invitations, organizing meet committees and distributing final results.

Meet Marshal  -  Every swim session of a meet must have both a male and female meet marshal. Meet marshals are in charge of safety around the pool deck (e.g. no running, enforces warm-up and warm-down rules), in the stands (e.g. clear pathway of bleacher stairs), in the locker rooms, hallway bathrooms and in hallways (e.g. no horseplay). In addition, the meet marshals will notify a custodian when any supplies need to be replenished (e.g. toilet paper) or if there are any hazardous conditions (e.g. slippery floors). Although the meet marshals constantly circulate during the meet, he/she will have a chance to watch his/her swimmer(s) during the meet.

NT  -  No time. This abbreviation indicates that a swimmer has never swam a specific event before.

Officials  -  Adult volunteers who are certified by the LSC where they reside and who help USA Swimming run consistent, high-quality and technically-correct competitions.

PB – Personal best. This is a swimmer’s best time for an event.

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.

Preliminaries/Qualifying Heats - Heats are swum to determine the fastest swimmers for the finals whereby final placings for an event will be determined.

Qualifying Times  -  Published times necessary to enter certain meets or the times necessary to achieve a specific category of swimmer.

Relay  -  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. 2) Freestyle relay – Each swimmer swims freestyle.

Seed  -  A way in which swimmers are divided into heats and lanes, according to their entry or preliminary times.

Seeding  -  Swimmers are arranged in heats according to submitted times, usually a day prior to the meet.

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

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

Silvers -  Officially called Niagara Championship Qualifier, this event is typically held every February in three locations in the Niagara region. One is hosted by UNAC at the ME pool. Only those swimmers with qualifying times can compete in this meet with hopes to then qualify to swim in Golds (Niagara LSC Championship).

Split Time  -  Time recorded from an official start to completion of an initial distance within a longer event (e.g. a swimmer's 50-yard time of a 100-yard race).

Stand Up  -  The command given by the Starter or Referee which releases the swimmers from their starting position.

Step Down  -  The command given by the Starter to have swimmers step off the blocks.

Stroke  -  There are 4 competitive strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

Taper  -  This is referred to as a resting phase for a swimmer, usually at the end of a season or before a championship meet.

Timed Finals  -  Competition in which only heats are swum and final placings are determined by those times performed in the heats.

Touch Pad  -  An automatic electronic timing device used in swimming competitions that ensures time accuracy. At the end of a race, when the swimmer touches the touch pad, an official time is registered.

The Four Strokes

The event which combines all four strokes in a race is called the individual medley.

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.

Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick while on the back. Swimmers must not turn their shoulders more than 90 degrees or they will be DQ'd from the race for not remaining on their backs. The only exception to this rule is during the backstroke flip where swimmers may turn onto their stomachs for one arm pull, provided their arm movement is continuous. When their feet leave the wall, swimmers must be on their backs. Backstroke races start with swimmers in the water. At the finish of the race, backstroke swimmers must stay on their backs until they touch the wall.

In breaststroke, a swimmer's arms and legs must move simultaneously, on the same horizontal plane and identically to each other. The arms and legs stay mostly underwater, but a swimmer's head must break the surface every stroke. The hands scoops water out to the sides before sweeping in toward the middle of the body and then shooting forward. Swimmers are not allowed to pull their hands past their hips. The kick is simultaneous and a somewhat circular motion similar to a frog's kick. For every arm stroke, there must be one, and only one, kick. During the breaststroke pull out, done at the start of the race and at turns, swimmers are allowed to do one dolphin/butterfly kick in the first part of the pull-down and before the first breaststroke kick. At the wall for each turn and at the finish of the race, swimmers must touch with two hands, simultaneously, and on the same horizontal place.

Butterfly is swum with an undulating, dolphin-like movement at the surface of the water. The arms pull underwater simultaneously and recover over the water, also simultaneously. Both hands must come out of the water at the same time on every stroke. Swimmers much kick up and down with feet together and may not use a flutter, scissors, or breaststroke kick. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on turns and at the finish of the race.

The individual medley, or IM, is a race in which the swimmers swim each stroke for one-fourth the total distance of the race. During each portion of the event, swimmers must swim the strokes legally (e.g. swimmers must finish the butterfly and breaststroke laps with two-hand touches). Swimmers must swim the strokes in this order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

Swim practice

Swim practice is where all the hard work and training occurs! During practice, coaches work with swimmers on technique, stroke work, starts and turns, and improve their endurance and speed in the water. Practice is also a time where swimmers can push one another during sets, which provides team spirit and camaraderie.