Competitive Swimming 101

Competitive Swimming 101
What you need to know

Your child recently joined a swim team and wants to start competing – but where to begin? A good start might be an internal meet against fellow teammates, as offered by some local clubs. Alternatively, the YMCA offers region-wide novice meets for their swimmers.

More experienced kids will definitely want to join USA Swimming to access the majority of meets in the San Diego-Imperial region. These are organized for all swim levels, beginner through Junior Olympians, and beyond. Discover local information at

How often your child competes will depend on a number of factors, including his overall enthusiasm, team expectations and your family’s weekend schedules.

Swimming is a year-round sport, divided into two seasons: short course (25-yard pool) in the fall/winter, and long course (50-meter pool) in the spring/summer.

Meet Information
The organizer of each meet publishes an information sheet in advance that includes location, dates, times, official rules and a list of events, divided into girls/boys and various age groups. Advance registration, managed as a team entry, is almost always required. Several days before the meet, the organizer releases an estimated timeline; plan to be flexible.

Motivational Times
USA Swimming establishes motivational times and classifications to help inspire your child. He is considered a “C” swimmer until demonstrating faster race times. Over time, he might become a “B” swimmer, then go after championship “A” level times.

For many competitive, regional swimmers, the ultimate goal would be to achieve Junior Olympic (JO) times and compete in one of these prestigious, twice-annual events.

Typically, each event’s top eight finishers receive a ribbon. At a USA Swimming event, the A, B and C categories are often awarded separately. Championship or “A” meets usually award medals for top three finishers. If your child does place, don’t expect an Olympic-style ceremony at the end of the meet. Your team’s coach distributes the awards at a later date.

Tracking Progress
There are some helpful apps to download, including USA Swimming’s Deck Pass, which tracks results, time standards and overall achievements. Another useful app is Meet Mobile, which provides seed times, estimated timelines, real-time results and team scores.

Words of Wisdom
Keep the focus on overall improvement and the achievement of personal bests. Even young ones will soon be talking about “dropping time” (instead of simply winning the heat or getting a ribbon) as the most important measure of success.

Of course, not every event will result in a personal best, but if your child puts in the time and energy, ultimately he will improve. This is one of the many important life lessons that competitive swimming offers.

Ready to compete? Read “6 Tips for a Stress-Free First Swim Meet”.


Lisa Pawlak is an Encinitas resident and mother of two young swimmers. She is a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and San Diego Family Magazine.

Published: April 2015




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