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Swim Team Glossary & Terms

Like most sports, swimming has its own lingo.  A lot of people do not know all the terms and descriptions used by coaches, swimmers, or overheard at swim meets.  We have gathered this list of swimming terminology to help you navigate the sport.


American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) - The national coaches association, they provide coaching education, training, safety information, and an annual clinic. 

Anchor - The last leg of a relay team.

Backstroke (Back) - One of the four competitive strokes. Swimmers must remain on their back at all times during the race.

Barrel Seeding - Also known as circle, pyramid, or championship seeding, this is the seeding system used in prelims where the final three heats of an event are arranged so that the three fastest swimmers occupy the middle or fastest lane in their heat; the next three fastest swimmers occupy the next fastest lane, etc.

Beep - The start sound made by an electronic starting machine to begin each race. 

Blocks - The starting platform swimmers dive off of to begin each race.

Breaststroke (Breast) - One of the four competitive strokes. Arms and legs move together and must stay in the water at all times.

Bullpen - Area adjacent to the Clerk of Course in which swimmers are assembled and assigned to a heat.

Butterfly (Fly) - One of the four competitive strokes. The arms move together and the legs must stay together at all times.

Championship Seeding - Also known as circle, barrel, or pyramid seeding, see barrel seeding.

Circle Seeding - Also known as pyramid, barrel, or championship seeding, see barrel seeding.

Clerk of Course - The person responsible for assigning heats and lanes to swimmers.

Converted Time - The changing of a time made in a meter pool into its equivalent in a yard pool and vice versa. Meters to yards = time X .901. Yards to meters = time/.901

Course - Designated distance over which the competition is conducted. 

Cuts - Qualifying times for specific types of championship meets.

Deck Seeding - A procedure for assigning swimmers to the proper lanes and heats immediately before each event in the bullpen.

Disqualification (DQ) - Swimmers with improper form or technique are disqualified and told why. Swimmers should not be discouraged by a DQ, they should learn from them.

Dual Meet - Meets conducted with two teams. Dual meets usually have a limitation on the number of entrants per event from each team.

Event - A race or series of races in a given stroke and distance. Usually swimmers are entered in four individual events and one relay per day at meets.

False Start - An error when a swimmer leaves the starting platform too early and maybe disqualified or receive a warning.

Finals - The session of a meet where qualifying rounds (prelims) were held previously to determine the finalists (usually 6-16 depending on pool size and whether or not consolation finals are conducted). Results of the finals determine the ultimate placements in a given event. Most “final” types of meets are at the championship level.

Flags - Backstroke flags placed 5 yards or 5 meters from either end of a competition pool. Flip turns - Transitions done at the wall only for Freestyle and Backstroke which involve a somersault turn into the next lap. 

Fly - See Butterfly.

Freestyle (Free) - One of the four competitive strokes. Any means of movement may be used except pulling on lane lines or walking on the bottom.

Freestyle Relay - Four swimmers on each team, each swimmer swims one-fourth of the distance using any desired stroke.

GCAC – The call letters for “Gateway City Aquatic Club.”Heat - A division of an event into a series of races. Each race is one heat. Heats are needed when more swimmers enter a race than there are lanes available in the pool.

Heat Sheet - A list of swimmers entered in each event with their entry times, heats, and lanes.

Individual Medley (IM) - In an IM all four of the competitive strokes are swum by one swimmer in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

Interval - Timed pace cycles in a practice set. An interval is a repeating window of time that a swimmer is allotted to swim a stroke and distance before repeating it.

Invitational Meet - A sanctioned meet sponsored by a team with two or more teams invited to participate. Invitational meets are classified according to the level of competition.

Jump - An error in which a swimmer leaves the platform too soon in a relay race before the incoming teammate touches the wall. The consequence, when witnessed by officials, is disqualification of that relay team.

Lap - Down and back in a pool

Length - One end of the pool to the other

Logbook - A book designed so that each swimmer can keep records of their own times. This is an excellent way of keeping track of improvement. Logbooks may be purchased at most meets and sport and swim shops.

Long Course - Swimming in a 50-meter "Olympic-size" swimming pool. 

LSC (Local Swim Club)  - The local governing swimming organization overseeing a certain section of the United States. 

Medley Relay - A relay where the swimmers swim in the following order: back, breast, fly and free.

Meet Rules - All USA Swimming competition must be conducted in accordance with the rules of USA Swimming published annually.

National Reportable Time (NRT) - A time that meets the criteria for reporting to USA Swimming for possible inclusion in that years Top 16 list.

Ozark Swimming - The LCS which our swim team belongs too. 

Pace Clock - Large clock used to check pace or maintain intervals in practice.

Prelims (Preliminary Heats) - In certain meets, the qualifying rounds held for each event to determine the finalists.

Psych Sheet - A meet program usually available for sale before deck seeded meets. The swimmers in each event are listed from fastest to slowest.

Pyramid Seeding - Also known as circle, barrel, or championship seeding, see barrel seeding. Ready Bench - See bullpen.

Referee - The official who has authority over all other officials at a meet. He enforces all rules, decides all questions about the conduct of the meet, and is responsible for the efficient running of the meet.

Relay - An event where four swimmers swim one after the other for a total time. 

Sanction - Official or authorized approval from USA Swimming for a swim club to sponsor a meet.

Scratch - Withdrawing from an event.

Seeding - The process by which a swimmer is assigned a certain lane and heat in an event. Competitors in each heat are assigned to lanes based on their seedtimes, meaning times that were earned in the previous swim meets. If a swimmer is new to swimming a said event or was previously disqualified in the event, a NT (no time) will be posted in place of a seed time.

Short Course - A competitive pool that measures 25 yards or 25 meters in length.

Split - A per lap time that coaches often track to help swimmers learn how to swim a race more efficiently.

Sprint - A short distance race in which all-out speed is used to compete.

Starter - The official at a meet responsible for the proper, legal start of each race.

Streamline - The position used to gain maximum distance during starts, push-offs, and turns from the wall in which a swimmers body is as tight and fully stretched out in length as it can be.

Strokes - There are four official racing strokes: fly, back, breast, and free.Stroke Judge - A certified official who determines the legality of swimmer's strokes and DQ's those who do not conform to the USS or YMCA rules.

Taper - The final preparation phase of practice prior to a major competition in which practice yardage is decreased.

Timed Finals - Competition in which individuals swim only one time. Final placements are determined by the times performed in all of the aggregate heats. Swimmers are seeded from the slowest to the fastest times.

Time Standards - Qualifying times which have been set up by USA Swimming for all events in all age levels. These include “B”, “BB”, “A”, “AA”, “AAA”, and “AAAA.”

Touch Pad - The part of an electronic timing system that rests in the water at the end of each lane. Swimmers times are automatically recorded when the swimmer touches the pad.

Unattached - Swimmer's must swim unattached when switching from one club to another. A swimmer will be unattached for 120 days.

USA Swimming - The national governing body for amateur swimming in the United States, headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO.  

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