Glossary of Swimming Terms

We thought this glossary of those strange and wacky words we use in the sport of swimming, first published on the USA Swimming web site, would be fun to have in or FAQ section. You may or may not find these words in the English Dictionary, and if you do, their definitions will probably be radically different than the ones listed in this Glossary. Relax and take your time reading. Soon you'll be understanding and maybe even speaking some "swim slang."

"A" Time

Time classification for a swimmer. National Age Group Time Standard "A". "A" time is 1% faster than the "BB" time standard and 1% slower than the "AA" time standard. See the published chart of the current season's times on our web site.

Age Group

Division of swimmers according to age. The National Age Group divisions are 10 & under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18. Some LSCs have divided the swimmers into more convenient divisions specific to their situations: (i.e.) 8-under, 13-Over, 15-Over, Junior, Senior. The River City Swim League uses 6 & Under, 8 & Under, 9 & 10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16 & 17-18 for its Championships.



The final swimmer on a relay team.

"BB" Time

Time classification for a swimmer. National Age Group Time Standard "BB". "BB" time is 1% faster than the "B" time standard and 1% slower than the "A" time standard. The River City Swim League uses this time standard as it "B" Time Standard. See the published chart of the current season's times on our web site.


One of the four competitive racing strokes, basically any style of swimming on your back. Backstroke typically consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter 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.

Backstroke is swum as the first stroke in the Medley Relay and second stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter (8 & Under age groups offer the 25 yd back).


The starting sound from an electronic starting device, often used with a computerized timing system.



The starting platforms located behind each lane. Some pools have blocks at the deeper end of the pool, and some pools have blocks at both ends. Blocks have a variety of designs and can be permanent or removable.



The floor of the pool. Bottom depths are usually marked on the walls or sides of the pool.



One of the four competitive racing strokes. The breaststroke, which is the oldest stroke dating back hundreds of years, 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.

Breaststroke is swam as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter. (8 & Under age groups offer the 25 yd breast).


The staging area where swimmers wait to receive their lane and heat assignments for a swimming event, which is sometimes referred to as the "Clerk of Course." Area is usually near the start end of the pool and has rows of chairs for the swimmers to sit. The Clerk of the Course is in charge of the Bullpen.



One of the four competitive racing strokes. The butterfly is the newest stroke and was developed in the early 1950s as a variation of the breaststroke. It became an Olympic stroke in 1956 in Melbourne. 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.

Butterfly (nicknamed "Fly") is swam as the third stroke in the Medley Relay and first stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter (8 & Under age groups offer the 25 yard fly).

Cap (or Racing Cap or Bathing Cap)

The latex, lycra or silicone covering worn on the head of swimmers. The colors and team logo's adorning these caps are limitless - Team Caps, National Caps, State Team Caps, award caps, plain practice caps, etc.

Car Pool

The major transportation service provided by parents of a swim club, to shuttle swimmers to and from practices, meets and other activities.



A card that may either be handed to the swimmer in the bullpen or given to the timer behind the lane. Cards usually list the swimmers name, seed time, event number, event description and the lane and heat number the swimmer will swim in. The stopwatch times are written on these cards. A swimmer will usually have a separate card for each event he/she swims.


Carbohydrates or "Carbs"

The main source of food energy used by athletes. Refer to a Nutritional Manual for more information.


Championship Meet

The meet held at the end of a season.


Circle (Pyramid) Seeding

In trials or preliminaries of trials-finals meets, the swimmers in the top 3 heats are intermingled so that the fastest three swimmers are in the middle lanes of the last 3 heats, the next 3 in the lane next to that in each of those heats, and so forth. This is also called "circle seeding." In finals, those finishing fastest by time swim in the top 1 or 2 heats (Final and Consolation Final).



The chemical used by most pools to kill the bacteria in water and keep it clear and safe to swim in.



A scheduled meeting for the purpose of instruction. (i.e.) Official's clinic, Coach's clinic.


Closed Competition

Swim meet which is only open to the members of an organization or group. Summer club swim meets like the River City Swim League dual and championship meets are considered to be "Closed Competition. "


Colorado (Timing Systems)

The primary supplier/brand of automatic/electronic timing systems (see definition below). Like "Kleenex" and tissues, the term "Colorado" has become commonly used to refer to these types of systems.



Designated distance (length of pool) for swimming competition (e.g., Long Course = 50 meters / Short Course = 25 yards or 25 meters).


The date meet entries must be "postmarked" by, to be accepted by the meet host.


The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coaches.


Deck Entry

Accepting entries into swimming events on the first day or later day of a meet. Often, RCSL Dual Meets will allow you to "Deck Enter" at the meet; The RCSL Championships DO NOT allow for Deck Entries.



The abnormal depletion of body fluids (water). The most common cause of swimmers cramps and sick feelings.



How far a swimmer swims. Distances for short course competitions/pools are 25 yards (1 length), 50 yards (2 lengths), 100 yards (4 lengths), 200 yards (8 lengths), 400 yards (16 lengths), 500 yards (20 lengths), 1000 yards (40 lengths), 1650 yards (66 lengths). Distances for long course competitions/pools are 50 meters (1 length), 100 meters (2 lengths), 200 meters (4 lengths), 400 meters (8 lengths), 800 meters (16 lengths), 1500 meters (30 lengths).

The events in the River City Swim League meets are all short course 100 yards or less except for some relay events.

Disqualification / DQ

A swimmer's performance is not counted because of a rules infraction. A potential disqualification is signalled by an official raising one arm with open hand above their head. The official results will list the swimmer's results as "DQ". The results may also list the reason for the disqualification when published.



Entering the water head first. Diving is not allowed in practice or during meet warm-ups except at the designated time, in specific lanes that are monitored by the swimmer's coach. Some pools may also be too shallow to permit for a safe dive start to a race and events in these pools will start with the swimmers in the water with their hand on the wall.


Double Dual Meet

Type of swim meet where three teams compete in dual meets against each other at the same time. Separate meet scores would be kept for Team A vs. Team B, Team A vs. Team C, and Team B vs. Team C.


Dual Meet

Type of meet where two teams/clubs compete against each other.


Dropped Time

When a swimmer goes faster than the previous performance they have "dropped their time."



The exercises and various strength and stretching programs that swimmers do out of the water.


An individual, relay team, or club roster's event list in a swim competition.

Electronic Timing System

Timing system operated on DC current (battery). The timing system usually has touch pads in the water, junction boxes on the deck with hook up cables, buttons for backup timing, and a computer-type console that prints out the results of each race. Most systems also send the results to a PC and software for sorting the results and scores for the meet; some systems are also hooked up to a scoreboard that displays the swimmers' times.


The status of a member swimmer that means they are registered and have met all the requirements necessary to participate in a meet or other activity.


The items necessary to operate a swim practice (pace clock, kickboards, etc.) or conduct a swim competition (stop watches, clipboards, starting system, etc.).


A race or stroke over a given distance. An event equals 1 preliminary with its final or one timed final (see later descriptions).

False Start

When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn or gun or, in a relay event, prior to the previous swimmer touching the wall to complete his/her swim (see "Jump" below). One false start will disqualify a swimmer or a relay team, although the starter or referee may disallow the false start due to unusual circumstances.

NOTE: Since the River City Swim League is meant to be an introductory eaperience for new swimmer, the League modifies this rule to allow for a first false start in a heat to be "forgiven"; after any swimmer commits this first false start, the rule above applies to all of the swimmers in the heat, regardless of who committed the inital false start


The international rules-making organization for the sport of swimming.


Final Results

The printed copy of the results of each race of a swim meet, usually sorted in the order of finish from fastest to slowest.



Large rubber flipper-type devices that fit on a swimmers feet. Used in swim practice; not allowed in competitions.


Flags (or Backstroke Flags)

Pennants that are suspended over the width of each end of the pool approximately 15 feet from the wall.

FLAGS (formerly J.O.'s)

Not to be confused with (Backstroke) Flags, the acronym for the  FLorida Age Group ChampionshipS. An age group championship meet conducted by the Local Swim Committee of USA Swimming (Florida Swimming in our area - in 2010, this meet has been renamed from the "Junior Olympic Championships [J.O.'s]).


The order of events and type of swim meet being conducted.



A money-making endeavor by a swim team/club usually involving both parents and swimmers and critical to the functioning of the team/club.



One of the four competitive racing strokes. In freestyle (nicknamed "Free") events, the competitor may swim any stroke or combination of strokes. The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the "front 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. On turns and finishes, some part of the swimmer must touch the wall. Most swimmers do a flip turn.

It is swum as the fourth stroke in the Medley Relay and fourth stroke in the I.M. but, in these events, the swimmer cannot repeat a legal stroke already swum in the event (butterfly, backstroke or breaststroke). Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, 200 yards/meter, 400 mtr/500 yd, 800 mtr/1000 yds, 1500 mtr/1650 yds (8 & Under age groups offer the 25 yd freestyle).


The short- and long-range targets for swimmers to aim for.


Glasses-type devices worn by swimmers to keep their eyes from being irritated by the chlorine in the water.


A reference manual published by teams/clubs or other swimming organizations.


A division of an event when there are too many swimmers to compete at the same time. The results are compiled by swimmers time swum, after all heats of the event are completed.


Heat Winner Award

A ribbon or coupon given to the winner of a single heat at an age group swim meet.


Heat Sheet

The pre-meet printed listings of swimmers' seed times in the various events at a swim meet. These sheets vary in accuracy, since the coaches can submit swimmers times many weeks before the meet. Heat sheets are sold at the admissions table and are used mainly to make sure the swimmer has been properly entered in all the events they signed up for. Parents enjoy looking at the seedings prior to the race plus swimmers can tell the order the events will be conducted and get a rough idea how long the meet sessions will last.


High Point

An award given to the swimmer scoring the most points in a given age group at a swim meet. All meets do not offer high point awards; check the pre-meet information.



A sounding device used in place of a gun. Used mainly with a fully automatic timing system.


Doing something against the rules that is cause for disqualification.


Individual Medley. A swimming event using all four of the competitive strokes on consecutive lengths of the race. The order must be Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Freestyle (a stroke other than a legal version of one of the prior three strokes used). Equal distances must be swum of each stroke. Distances offered 100 yards/meters (short course only), 200 yards/meters, 400 yards/meter.


A specific elapsed time for swimming or rest used during swim practice.


An illegal start done by the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th member of a relay team. The swimmer on the block breaks contact with the block before the swimmer in the water touches the wall.


The leg movements of a swimmer. A popular word to "yell" to encourage swimmers during a race.

Kick Board

A flotation device used by swimmers during practice. Also, a lightweight object used with great accuracy by coaches to get an individual swimmer's attention.


The specific area in which a swimmer is assigned to swim - e.g., Lane 1 or Lane 2. In pools with starting blocks at only one end: As the swimmers stand behind the blocks, lanes are numbered from right (lane 1) to left (Lane 6) when standing behind the blocks looking down the pool.

Lane Rope/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.



One length of the course (the ususal meaning); sometimes may also mean down and back (2 lengths) of the course.


Late Entries

Meet entries from a club or individual that are received by the meet host after the entry deadline. These entries are usually not accepted and are returned to sender.



The part of a relay event swum by a single team member or a single stroke in the IM.



The extent of the competitive course from end to end. See lap.


Long Course

A 50-meter pool. Also the course that most international competitions, including the Olympics, are competed over.



Local Swim Committee. The local level administrative division of the corporation (USA-S) with supervisory responsibilities within certain geographic boundaries designated by the Corporation.



A stretch material used to make competitive swim suits and swim hats.


A mechanical or electronic failure.


The swimmer's starting position assumed prior to the starting signal after being prompted by the  Starter's command to "take your mark" (starting position).



The official who control the crowd and swimmer-flow at a swim meet.



A series of events held in one program over a single session on a single day or over several sessions over several days.


Meet Director

The official in charge of the administration of the meet. The person directing the "dry side" of the meet.



The measurement of the length of a swimming pool that was built per specs using the metric system. Long course meters is 50 meters, short course meters is 25 meters.

National Time Standards

A set of times developed by USA Swimming to assist swimmers in performance planning. They are based on percentiles of the all time 16th fastest time in each stroke in each age group. River City uses these times (see "A" and "BB" Times above) to determine awards at the championship meet.

“No Breather”

Swimming a distance, usually one length of the pool, without taking a breath from start to finish.

No Time (NT)

Used in place of the swimmer’s Seed Time (see below) to indicate that the swimmer has not previously successfully completed the event. No Time swimmers are usually seeded as the slowest swimmers in the race.


Official Verification Card. Issued by meet officials to swimmers achieving a Junior National or Senior National time (in USAS meets only).

Pace Clock

A large analog or digital clock placed beside the pool to allow swimmers and coaches to time practice swims and/or the time between repeats in a set.

Prelims (or Trials)

In certain meets, the qualifying rounds for each event to determine the finalists.

Proof of Time

A requirement at some meets to make certain that swimmers have legally met the entry time standards for that meet.

Pull Buoy

A floatation device that is used to support the swimmer’s legs so that they can focus on or overload the arms during practice.

Qualifying Time

The minimum (or maximum) time necessary to be allowed to enter an event. Usually used for large championship type meets or meets based on the National Time Standards (see above)


The meet official who has the final authority over all other officials at the meet. He makes all final decisions and sees to the efficient running of the meet.


The number of swims of a particular distance and stroke that comprise a set in practice. Usually expressed as number times distance and stroke at a set interval; e.g. 12 x 50 Free @ 1:00.

Seed Time

The time a swimmer uses to enter an event. These times appear on the heat sheet and the entry cards and determine the swimmer’s heat and lane assignment in a meet.


The process of assigning swimmers to lanes and heats by time. In general the swimmers with the slower seed times swim in the earlier heats. The order of swimming in the final heats depends on the type of meet.

Senior Meet

A meet with only one age group called "Senior." Swimmers of any age who have met the qualifying times may compete.


A group of swims that the swimmers complete in training (see Repeats above).


The time a swimmer achieves in one or more laps of his race. Coaches use these times to help instruct swimmers in pacing. For example, the time for the first 50 yds in a 100 yd race is the swimmers 50-yd split. Also refers to the time achieved by each swimmer in their portion of a relay event.


The USA official responsible for starting each heat and calling the swimmers to the blocks (in River City dual meets, this person will usually also serve as the Referee).

Stroke and Turn Judge

A trained and often USAS certified official, who determines the legality of swimmers' strokes, turns and finishes and disqualifies those who do not conform to the rules.

Swimming World

A monthly magazine and web site about competitive swimming.

Timed Final

A meet that does not require the swimmer to swim two or more times to determine the order of finish in an event; the swimmers are seeded by time, swim the race in their heats and the times from all the heats are then integrated to determine the order of finish. All River City meets, dual and championship, are timed final meets

Timed Final (Straight) Seeding

Swimmers are assigned to lanes in heats from slowest to fastest. In a given heat, the fastest swimmers swim in the middle lanes and the slower ones on the outer lanes.

Top 16

A tabulation of the top 16 times in the US in each age group and stroke. These are published annually in Swimming World. The "consideration" times that may be eligible appear in the USAS rulebook and on the CSI website. For consideration, times must be achieved in a USAS sanctioned meet (River City times are not eligible)

Touch Pad

An electronic pad which stops a clock when the swimmer touches it at the end of the race. This is usually the official time, although corrections are made if it is determined the swimmer missed the pad or that the pad malfunctioned.


The status a swimmer receives when changing from one USAS club to another. A swimmer must swim unattached for 120 days from the date of the last USAS meet he swam for the previous club. During this time they may compete individually, but may not be entered in relays. River City uses this designation in very limited special cases when a swimmer may choose to change teams.


Abbreviation for United States Swimming, the governing body for all amateur swimming in the United States as designated by the US Olympic Committee. National headquarters are in Colorado Springs, CO.