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Terms, Tips & Videos!

Swim Terminology:

Butterfly: The butterfly is a swimming stroke swam on the chest, with both arms moving symmetrically, accompanied by the butterfly kick along with the movement of the hips and chest.

Breaststroke: Breaststroke is a swimming style in which the swimmer is on their chest and the torso does not rotate.

Backstroke: Backstroke or back crawl is one of the four swimming styles used in competitive events regulated by FINA, and the only one of these styles swum on the back.

Freestyle: Freestyle is a category of swimming competition, defined by the rules of the International Swimming Federation, in which competitors are subject to only a few limited restrictions on their swimming stroke.

Swim Equipment: 

  • Kick board - A flat float used for doing kick
  • Pull Buoy - The figure of eight style float that goes between your legs for pull
  • Fins - A swim fin, or a flipper, is an aquatic sports accessory used to enhance the speed and performance of swimmers in the water. Swim fins are designed to increase propulsion, stability, and maneuverability when swimming. 
  • Paddle - Colored plastic devices worn on the swimmers hands during swim practice.

Swim Events

  • IM - Individual Medley (all four strokes together in order Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Frontcrawl/Freestyle)
  • Medley - All four strokes swum in a specified order
  • Medley Order - Butterfly, Back, Breast, Free, Medley Relay Order is always Back, Breast, Fly, Free


  • Time Trial - The time trial meet is a non-official meet where swimmers establish base or “seed” times for in-season individual heats and volunteers are given the opportunity to have a dry-run of setting up the pool facilities and hosting a meet. *Any seed times established during the Time Trials do not count towards qualifications for Divisionals or Invitationals. Any disqualifications occurring during the Time Trials will result in No Time (NT) for seed times.
  • Dual Meet - A Dual Meet is an official meet between a host team and a visiting team. The host team is responsible for setting up the facility and running the meet. The visiting team will provide requested volunteers and coordinate with the host team to ensure a successful meet. An official time earned in an individual event by a swimmer in a Dual Meet counts towards qualifications for that event at Divisionals. When declaring or signing up for a swim meet a swimmer may declare for up to three individual events. Coaches *may* add up to two relays in addition to a swimmer’s individual events making a total in 5 possible events at any given swim meet. Swimmers may choose to swim as few as one event at a meet.
  • Tri Meet - A Tri Meet is an official meet between a host team and two visiting teams. The host team is responsible for setting up the facility and running the meet. The visiting teams will provide requested volunteers and coordinate with the host team to ensure a successful meet. An official time earned in an individual event by a swimmer in a Tri Meet counts towards qualifications for that event at Divisionals.
  • Divisionals - Divisionals is an official meet between a host team and two visiting teams within their division. The host team is responsible for setting up the facility and running the meet. The visiting teams will provide requested volunteers and coordinate with the host team to ensure a successful meet. Any swimmer who earned two official times in an individual event at an official meet during the season may swim the event at Divisionals. The team with the most cumulative points at the end of the Divisionals Meet is awarded first place in their Division.
    • Division ranking is updated by the NWSC periodically throughout a current season. The swimmers times will determine their ranking in their division.
  • Invitationals - Invitationals is an official meet between all teams with one or more qualifying swimmers within the Northwest Austin Swim Circuit. Swimmers will qualify for Invitationals by earning an official time in an individual event during the season that qualifies for an invitation to the meet. Invitational qualifying times can be found here for the 2024 season. There are no awards given. 

Terms During Meets:

  • Event - This is defined by the age group, sex and swimming stroke, such as Boys' 9-10 Backstroke. The number of events at each meet varies.
  • Event Winner - This is the swimmer who has the fastest time in the entire event consisting of all the heats of that event.
  • Finishes -This is how a swimmer ends the race by touching the wall in a legal way depending upon the stroke.
  • Flags - Backstroke flags are placed at both ends of the pool 15 feet from the end to serve as a warning to backstroke swimmers that they are nearing the wall for a turn or finish.
  • Heat - When an event has more swimmers entered than available lanes, as is usually the case, there are multiple heats of the event.
  • Heat Sheet- This is the official schedule of swimmers in their assigned events, heats and lanes. Learn how to read a heat sheet HERE
  • Heat Winner - This is the person who comes in first in a particular heat of an event. This does not automatically mean that the swimmer has also won the event, since there are usually multiple heats for any event.
  • DQ - DQ or a Disqualification are the terms that describe whether a stroke is being performed correctly (legally) as defined by United States Swimming rules. If a swimmer is judged by a Stroke judge to be swimming incorrectly, that swimmer is disqualified (DQ) for that event in the meet. The swimmer should ask their coach for instructions to correct the problem before swimming the same event in another meet. DQ does not mean that a swimmer cannot swim in further events or meets. It is a learning tool for swimmers.
  • Declaring - Declaring for a meet is the act of signing up for individual events through swimtopia. Swimmers may also choose to make themselves either available to swim in relays or unavailable. Swimmers should know that relays are generated by the software and are seeded by time. There is no guaranteed spot on a relay, nor are the spots chosen by preference, only by times.
  • Seeding - This refers to the heat and lane assignment of the swimmer. Swimmers are arranged (seeded) by the best times, with the slowest swimmers in heat 1 and so forth. Further, the fastest swimmers are seeded in the middle of the pool outward.
  • Starting Block - A raised platform that swimmers dive from during competition.
  • Starts - This is the entry into the water (generally a dive) or the beginning of the backstroke (push off back dive) at the sound of the starting buzzer.
  • False Start - When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn or gun. 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.
  • False Start Rope - A recall rope across the width of the racing pool for the purpose of stopping swimmers who were not aware of a false start. The rope is about 1/2 way on yard pools and about 50 feet from the starting end on meter pools. 
  • Dive Start - Diving entry from the blocks in the deep end (usually either a grab start or a track start)
  • Psyche Sheet - An entry sheet showing all swimmers entered into each individual event. Sometimes referred to as a "Heat Sheet" or meet program. However, a “heat sheet” would show not only every swimmer in an event, but also what heat and lane they are swimming in.
  • Qualifying TimesPublished times necessary to enter certain meets, or the times necessary to achieve a specific category of swimmer.
  • Scratch - To withdraw from an event after having declared an intention to participate. Some meets have scratch deadlines and specific scratch rules, and if not followed, swimmer can be disqualified from remaining events. 
  • 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

Terms on Deck:

  • 25 - One length of the pool
  • 50 - Two lengths of the pool
  • 100 - Four lengths of the pool
  • Lap - Two lengths of the pool
  • Length - One length of the pool
  • Drill - A controlled form of stroke designed to draw attention to a particular aspect of that stroke: Catch-Up , Drag, Salute, Elbows High, Zip-up, Doggy Paddle, Duck, and many more
  • Set - A self-contained part of the swimming session as ‘set’ by the coach e.g. a ‘main set’ might be 10 x 100m free
  • Streamline - Underwater body position after diving or pushing off the wall which maximizes swim speed and efficiency. “Long Upper Body” 
  • Pull - Arms only (no kicking)
  • Dolphin Kick - Simultaneous leg kick used in Butterfly
  • Underwater - usually refers to kicking, using Dolphin kick
  • Go off - Time in which you have to complete a swim or set of repeat distance/times inclusive of rest time
  • Grab Start - A type of Dive Start. Can also refer to starting from in the pool holding onto the side
  • Descending - Getting faster (i.e. the time taken reduces)
  • Negative Split - Go faster for the second half of the set distance than the first half
  • Easy - Usually swim down or warm up, a slow easy stroke focusing on stretching out the stroke and warming up or down.
  • Swim Down - Swimming slowly and steadily at the end of the session to warm down
  • Sprint - All out as fast as you can go, breathing as little as you can.
  • Steady - Swimming at a pace which is easily maintained (not easy or too hard, aiming for consistency of pace)
  • Dry-land - Exercises or stretches that are conducted out of the pool in order to warm up, build strength and increase flexibility.
  • Open Turn - The two handed touch turn completed for Breaststroke and Butterfly
  • Number 1 - Your best stroke, often Freestyle, but can be others.
  • Best Time or PB - A best time is achieved when a swimmer exceeds their own previous "best time" in an event - it shows that a swimmer has improved over their own time, regardless of how other swimmers finish.
  • Dive Start - Diving entry from the blocks in the deep end (usually either a grab start or a track start)
  • Anchor: -The final swimmer in a relay
  • Bottom - The floor of the pool. Bottom depths are usually marked on the walls or sides of the pool.
  • Deadline - The date meet entries must be "postmarked" by, to be accepted by the meet host.
  • Deck -The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coach
  • Dropped Time - When a swimmer goes faster than the previous performance they have "dropped their time".
  • Kick - The leg movements of a swimmer. A popular word to "yell" to encourage swimmers during a race.
  • Pace Clock - The electronic clocks or large clocks with highly visible numbers and second hands, positioned at the ends or sides of a swimming pool so the swimmers can read their times during warm-ups or swim practice. 

Helpful Tips:

  • Blow bubbles: Focus on exhaling when your face is in the water. Empty your lungs with each breath.
  • Slow down, and focus on how you are swimming: Learn some drills and do them every time you swim.
  • Swim frequently: Even if you only have time for a short swim, it’s best to get in the water at least three or four times a week, just to maintain your “feel” for the water.
  • Vary your training: If you do the same thing every day, you are probably getting good at whatever it is that you do. But you’re probably also a one-dimensional swimmer. Bring your swimming to life by adding new things to your workouts, such as different strokes, new drills, kick sets, and interval training.
  • Focus less on your arms and more on body position: Your hips should ride high in the water, and your spine should be aligned (forming a straight line from your head to your tailbone).
  • Maintain proper head position: Your head should not be submerged under the water or sticking mostly out of the water. Try to have a neutral head position, so that you are looking at the bottom of the pool and about six feet (2 meters) ahead of you.
  • Watch what the pros do: Check out some videos of Olympic swimmers, and try to emulate their strokes the next time you are in the water.
  • Swim fast at practice: If you want to swim fast in a race, you've got to practice your quick speed. Interval training is the best way to improve your speed.

Swim Videos:

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Common DQ's


Pushing yourself forward off the bottom of the pool.

Pulling yourself forward with the lane line, other than those two things you are free to swim the style you choose.


Rolling on to your stomach (other than if you are about to doing a flip turn)

Pulling on the lane line

Pushing off the bottom of the pool


Doing a butterfly, flutter, or scissor kick

Not getting your head out of the water every stroke.

Keeping the 1/1/1 ratio, 1 pull with your arms, 1 breath (don’t actually have to breathe but your head must come up), 1 breaststroke kick with toes out and feet flex for the majority of the kick

Arms going below belly button

Not touching the wall with two hands for your finish


Non-simultaneous arms (arms not moving together or in sync)

Feet coming apart (flutter kick or breaststroke kick)

Arms not coming out and going over the water after the pull

Not touching the wall with two hands for your finish

All Strokes:

Moving on the block after the start says “Take your mark” and before the BEEP, this will cause a false start, the first false start of every heat is strike one for the entire heat, next swimmer to false start is DQ’ed

Not finishing a race

Stopping to fix goggles (excluding freestyle)

Pushing off the bottom of the pool

Pulling on the lane line

Swimming in another swimmers lane

Relay: Not getting out of the water fast enough (before the swimmer after you gets to the other wall) or leaving too early.

Updated: 2024

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