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Glossary of Swim Terms

Glossary of Swimming Terms:


“A” Meet – Saturday swim meets that the top three swimmers in each age group and in each stroke are eligible to compete in this meet.

Admin Table – Area at a swim meet where the Admin Referee, Timing System Operator, Timing Judge, Recorder, and Announcer are located. Usually, all the administrative functions of the meet are conducted here. This is where the results are collected and checked to make sure they are official.

Age Groups – Division of swimmers according to age, usually in two year bands. The NVSL Age Group Divisions are: 8 and Under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-18. At "B" Meets, 6 and Unders will have a seperate group as well.

Alternate Breathing – Breathing bilaterally on both sides in freestyle swimming, every third stroke cycle. For example, breathing to the right side then swimming three strokes and breathing to the left side, then swimming three strokes and breathing to the right side, etc.). Also known as Bilateral Breathing.

Announcer – The person who announces meet information at a meet. This is usually a parent volunteer.


"B" Meet – The swim meet where all swimmers are eligible to compete. Swimmers who competed at the previous Saturday "A" meets are not allowed to swim an event if they placed in the top three at the "A" Meet.

Backstroke – One of the four competitive racing strokes, basically any style of swimming on your back. Backstroke is swum as the first stroke in the Medley Relay and second stroke in the Individual Medley. Racing distances are 25 meters or 50 meters.

Backstroke Flags – Pennants that are suspended over the width of each end of the pool five yards/meters from the wall that notify backstroke swimmers that they are approaching the end of the pool, similar to a warning tack in basketball. Most swimmers will count strokes from flags to the wall.

Backstroke Start – In Backstroke and Medley Relay events, swimmers start the race in the pool, facing the start end, with both hands in contact with the end of the pool or starting block and both feet on the wall with toes below the gutter.

Bid-In – To fill an unoccupied lane, using the procedures of NVSL by-laws

Body Position – The most important technique in swimming is to have the proper body position.

Body Roll – In freestyle and backstroke, the proper side to side rotation of the hips and shoulders to help reduce drag and improve stroke length.

Break Out Stroke – First stroke out of a start or off the walls on turns. It is very important for establishing proper body position, stroke rhythm, and racing tempo.

Breaststroke – One of the four competitive racing strokes. Breaststroke is swam as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the Individual Medley. Racing distances are 25 meters or 50 meters.

Butterfly – One of the four competitive racing strokes. Butterfly (nicknamed FLY) is swam as the third stroke in the Medley Relay and first stroke in the Individual Medley. Racing distances are 25 meters or 50 meters.

Button – Also known as the “Pickle” or the “Plunger”. The manual timing system stopping device that records a back up time in case the touch pad malfunctioned. The button is at the end of wire, plugged into a deck terminal box. It is the timer’s responsibility to push the button as the swimmer finishes the race.


Cap – The silicone or latex covering worn on the head of swimmers. Sometimes to aid in reducing drag and should be used in practice if the swimmer has long hair.

Catch – The starting point in the stroke pattern where the hand feels the most resistance and begins effective propulsive movement.

Championship Meet – The meet held at the end of the season. The Championship Meets for NVSL are Divisionals and those who qualify for NVSL All-Stars.

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

Check-In – The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck-seeded meet. Swimmers will report to the Clerk of Course to check in for their races at "B" Meets.

Circle Swim – When there are more than two swimmers in a lane during practice/warm-ups, swimmers swim up on the right side, staying close to the lane line always staying to the right of the black centerline.

Clinic – A scheduled meeting for the purpose of instruction. For example a coach’s clinic or an official’s clinic. Clinic's focus on specific technique, starts, or turns to help the swimmers get ready for and excel during the upcoming season.

Concessions – The snack bar at a swim meet. The club/vendor usually has healthy (and sometimes not so healthy) snacks and drinks for sale.


Deadline – The date meet entries must be submitted to the host team.

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

Descending – Intervals or swims that decrease in time (#1 1:15, #2 1:10, #3 1:05, etc.)

Descend – To swim each lap in a faster time than the previous (Example: 4 x 50 yards on 1-minute interval, swim #1 in 50 seconds, #2 in 48 seconds, #3 in 46 seconds, and #4 faster than 46 seconds)

Developmental – A classification of swimmers that are just learning the basics of swimming. The purpose of a developmental program is to develop and create young swimmers while teaching them to have fun and love the sport of swimming in the process.

Disqualified (DQ) – 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. The results sheet will reflect “DQ” and no time will be recorded for the event.

Dive – Entering the water head first at the start of the race.

Division Coordinator – An individual selected to be the liaison between a division and the NVSL, to oversee the teams in NVSL sponsored events, to manage divisional meets, and to serve as a member of the NVSL board.

Dolphin Kick – An undulating, simultaneous kick used in Butterfly. It is also used in Backstroke and Freestyle during the kick-out phase off the walls on starts and turns.

Drills – Drills are very important in teaching proper stroke techniques by isolating various components of a specific stroke. Drills are used every day with all groups.

Dropped Time – When a swimmer goes faster than their previous performance in an event, have “dropped time”. Also known as a “Personal Best Time”.

Dryland – The exercises and various strength programs swimmers do out of the water.

Dry Side – The part of the Code book (rule book) that deals with the “Administrative” Regulations of Competition.

Dual Meet – The type of swim meet where two teams compete against each other to see who is the better team. All "A" Meets and "B" Meets are known as dual meets but only scores will be kept at "A" Meets.


Early Take-Off – In relays, an early take-off occurs in an exchange when a relay team member leaves the starting block before the previous team member in the water touches the wall. The relay team is disqualified and notified of the disqualification after the end of the race.

Entry – The listing of a swimmer in an event.

Entry Chairperson – The host club’s designated person who is responsible for receiving, and making sure the entries have met the deadline.

Entry Limit – Each swimmer can only swim two individuals per meet at "A" Meets and three individuals per meet at "B" Meets if they are eligible for the 100 IM.

Entry Time – Official Times used to enter swimmers in meets. These times are usually the swimmer’s personal best in a given event and must have been achieved at previous sanctioned competitions.

Event – Any race or series of races in a stroke, distance, and age group.


False Start – When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn or gun. One false start will disqualify a swimmer or relay team, although the starter or referee may declare a false start due to unusual circumstances.

Final Results – The printed copy of the results of each race of a swim meet.

Finish – In a race, the legal touch at the end of the prescribed distance. In the stroke the for propulsive phase of the arm stroke before the hand starts to recover and/or leaves the water to return for the next stroke.

Flip Turns – One type of turn used in Freestyle and Backstroke. Just as the swimmer approaches the wall, they tuck their body into a somersault, quickly rolls toward the wall, and pushes off with their feet.

Flutter Kick – The alternating kick used in freestyle and backstroke, usually six kicks per stroke cycle

Freestyle – One of the four competitive racing strokes. Freestyle (nicknamed Free) is swum as the fourth stroke in the Medley Relay and fourth stroke in the Individual Medley. Racing distances are 25 meters or 50 meters.


Goals – The short and long range targets for swimmers to aim for.

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


Heats – 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 the heats of the event are completed.

High Elbow – Refers to the recovery phase of freestyle where keeping a high elbow encourages better balance and body roll and to the pull phase of freestyle where the elbow remains in a higher position over the hand, giving the sensation of reaching over a barrel when pulling through the water.

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 for details.

Horn – A sounding device. Used mainly with a fully automatic timing system.


Illegal – Doing something against the rules that is cause for disqualification.

IM – 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. Equal distances must be swam of each stroke. Distances offered is 100 meters.

Intrasquad Meet – A competition for just one team where swimmers compete against their teammates just to get times and to get up and race. Time Trials at the beginning of the summer is an Intrasquad Meet.


Kick Board – A flotation device used by swimmers during practice.

Kick – The leg movements of a swimmer that provide propulsion during execution of the stroke.


Lane – The specific area in which a swimmer is assigned to swim. For example Lane 1, Lane 2, etc.

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.

Lead-Off – The first swimmer (leg) in a relay.


Manual Timing System – A timing system consisting of individual lane timers, each operating a manual watch that is both started and stopped by the timer. This is the timing system used at both "A" and "B" Meets.

Marshall – The official who controls the crowd and swimmers flow at a s swim meet.

Medley Relay – A four person relay in which one swimmer is assigned each of the four strokes in the following order: Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Freestyle


No Time (NT) - The abbreviation used on a heat sheet to designate that the swimmer has not swum that event before.


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

Open Turn – One type of turn used in Butterfly and Breaststroke. The swimmer touches the wall with both hands simultaneously, rotates, and pushes off with their feet.


Personal Best (PB) – Also known as a Personal Record. The best time a swimmer has achieved so far in a given event.

Pool – The facility in which practice/training and meets are conducted.

Practice – The scheduled workouts swimmers attend with their swim team/clubs.


Qualifying Times – Published times necessary to enter certain meets, or the times necessary to achieve a specific category of swimmer.


Race – Any single swimming competition.

Records – Fastest all-time swims by course/sex/event/age group in an organization, meet, or pool

Referee – The head official at a swim meet in charge of all of the “Wet Side” administration and decisions.

Relays – 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: Medley Relays (one swimmer swims backstroke, one swimmer swim breaststroke, one swimmer swims butterfly, or swimmer swims freestyle, in that order – swam as 100 meter and 200 meter distances) and Freestyle Relays (each swimmer swims freestyle – swam as 100 meter or 200 meter).

Relay Exchange – The exchange between the swimmer in the water finishing his/her leg and the next swimmer on the relay team. A perfect exchange will simultaneously have the finishing swimmer’s hand on the touch pad and the starting swimmer's foot just touching the starting block with the rest of the starting swimmer’s body extended over the water.

Results – The official listing by place of finish of the competitors in an event. It includes the official time and any points scored, as well as disqualification. Host teams usually also include in the results any time standards achieved by the swimmers. Results are usually posted in the venue in an accessible location.

Ribbons – Awards earned by swimmers at meets for finishing in the top places. They vary in size, color, design, and method of presentation.


Safety – The responsible and careful actions of those participating in a swim meet and practice

Scoreboard – An electronic display and/or manual display of the times and place finish by lane of the competitors in a heat. Some venues have scoreboards that also display the event information and the swimmer’s name.

Schedule – The list of meets with dates, locations, and times for all swimmers to see.

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.

Start – The beginning of a race. The dive used to begin a race.

Starter – The official in charge of signaling the beginning of a race and insuring that all swimmers have a fair takeoff.

Strategy – An approach to a race. The swimmer and coach discuss possible race strategies prior to the swim. For example – go out fast and hold it, negative split, build steadily to a fast finish, race pace, etc.

Streamline – It often refers to making the body long and narrow (arms/hands together and outstretched, head down between arms, feet together pointed back) in the glide off of the starts and walls, but it also applies to all aspects of the strokes. The more swimming can create a streamlined effect with their bodies, the more efficient they will be in the water.

Stroke – There are four competitive strokes: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle.

Stroke Judge – The official positioned at the side of the pool, walking the length of the course as the swimmers race. If the Stroke Judge sees something illegal, they report to the referee and the swimmer may disqualified.

Substitution – The replacement of one swimmer with another in an event.

Suit – The bathing suit worn by a swimmer, in the water, during competition. The Team Suit is usually a standard tight lycra suit, the Championship Suit is usually a very tight “paper” suit, and the practice suits are usually light fitting lycra suits.

Swimming Up – Swimming in an age group older than ones own.


Team – A NVSL Swimming registered organization with the mission of providing a competitive swim program. Also known as a club.

Team Meets – Dual, Triangular, and Championship Meets.

Team Records – The statistics a team keeps, listing the fastest swimmer in the clubs history for each age group and each event.

Timer – The volunteers sitting behind the starting blocks/finish end of the pool, who are responsible for getting watch times on events and activating the backup buttons for the timing system.


Underwater Pullout – Long, full arm stroke past the hips used in breaststroke after the start and off the walls on the turns.


Venue – The facility in which a swimming competition is conducted.


Warm-Down – The recovery swimming a swimmer does after a race when the pool space is available.

Warm-Up – The practice of “loosening up” session a swimmer does before the meet or their event is swum

Watch – The hand held device (stopwatch) used by timers and coaches for timing a swimmer’s race and taking splits.

Whistle – The sound a Referee makes to signal for quiet before they give the command to start the race.

Work-Out – The practice/training sessions a swimmer attends.

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