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 calculator to help you track you progess when swimming in different courses.

Competition Swimming

Participants compete in different age groups and meets depending on their achievement level and how old they are on the first day of the meet.

Swimming Terminology

Blocks  -  The starting platforms behind each lane.

Deck  -  The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials and coaches.  Only those people are authorized people may be on the deck during a swim competition.

Deck Entries  -  Accepting entries into swimming events on the day of a meet.

DQ  -  Disqualified.  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.

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

Event  -  A race or stroke over a given distance. 

False Start  -  When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn.  One false start will disqualify a swimmer or a relay team. 

Fly Overs  -  To save time, swimmers remain at the end of the lane when their event is done.  The next swimmer on the block goes off for his/her event, diving in over the last heat’s swimmer.  The swimmer waiting in the water then gets out of the water.

Golds  -  Officially called Niagara LSC Championships.  Held every March in Webster, NY.  Only those swimmers with qualifying times can compete in this event.

Heat  -  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 compiled.

Heat Sheet  -  The printed pre-meet listing of swimmers’ seed times in the various swim meet.

IM  -  Individual Medley is a swim event using all four competitive strokes on consecutive lengths of the race.  The order must be butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.  Equal distances must be a swam of each stroke.

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 quieting the waves caused by racing swimmers.

Lap -  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 designated by a bright orange card.

Long Course  -  A 50 meter pool.

Meet Marshal  -  The official who controls the crowd and swimmer flow at a meet.  According to USA Swim, the Meet Marshal is in charge of warm ups.  The Meet Marshal determines when the pool is open for warm ups, feet first entry and determines what time and which lanes are open for one-way sprints (typically handled by our timing table/announcer at the meet).

Meet  -  A series of events held in one program.

Meet Director  -  The official in charge of the administration of the meeting.

NT  -  No time.  The abbreviation used on a heat sheet to designate that the swimmer never swam that specific event before.

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

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.

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  -  Assign the swimmers’s heats and lanes according to their submitted 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.  Held every February in three locations in the Niagara reason.  One is hosted by UNAC at the ME pool.  Only those swimmers with qualifying times can compete in this meet with hopes to then quality to swim in Golds (Niagara LSC Championship).

Split  -  A portion of an event that is shorter than the total distance and is times.  (ie. A swimmer’s first 50-yard time is taken as the swimmer swims the 100 race)

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

Step Down  -  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.

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

Taper  -  The resting phase of a swimmer at the end of a season, before the championship meet.

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

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

The Four Strokes

The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. The combination of all four strokes is called 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 flut ter 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 the back.

The breaststroke 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 individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., 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.

Swim practice

Swim practice is where all the hard work and training occurs! Practices are for the swimmers to learn new techniques, improve on strokes, turns and starts as well as to improve endurance and improve their speed in the water! Practice is also a time for the athletes to work together for team skills and camaraderie.