Swim Meet Terminology

The language used to describe things at a swim meet can be confusing; we hope this guide will clear up some of the mysteries.

What Are These "Events" You Speak Of?

You might think your child is swimming a race, but she's not: she's swimming an "event." There are individual events and relay events. The individual events are organized around the swim strokes: freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, and breaststroke. (There's also something called the IM, or "individual medley," which means one swimmer swims each of the four strokes in sequence.) There are two kinds of relay events: freestyle relays (each of the four swimmers swims freestyle) and medley relays (each of the four swimmers swims one of the four strokes). Most of the events at JSL meets are "short events": that means 25 yards (one length of our pool) for 8 & unders, 50 yards for the older kids. Some meets will include the "long freestyle," which means 50 yards for the 8 & unders and 100 yards for the older kids. The JSL designates that some meets will include the IM and the freestyle relays, while others will include the medley relay and the long freestyle. Girls swim against girls, and boys swim against boys (except for 6-unders who swim the Mixed Free Relay, which consists of boys and girls on the same relay team).

What Is a "Clerk of Course"?

You will hear the Starter call swimmers "to the Clerk of Course, please." That refers to an area (look for benches that are all lined up underneath an awning), where certain people (the Clerks) are lining up the swimmers so that they end up in the right event, heat, and lane. At away meets, figure out where the Clerk of Course is when you arrive, so you can send your kids there when their events are called.

How Many Events Will My Child Swim, and Which Ones?

The coaches will enter your child in the events they believe he/she is ready for. They do take input, but in the end they make decisions that take into account the needs of the entire team. There are limits on how many events a swimmer can be entered in; typically, a Key West swimmer will swim one or two individual events and perhaps a relay. The newest, youngest swimmers might swim only one if that seems most appropriate. 

How Are the Events Numbered?

If you really want to know ALL the details about the numbering and the order of events, go here. It might be easier to simply remember that girls' events are even-numbered, and boys' events are odd-numbered. Your child will figure out pretty quickly that a number in the 20s means freestyle, 30s means breaststroke, 40s means backstroke, and 50s means butterfly. 

What's a Heat, and What's a Heat Sheet?

Because pools have a limited number of lanes (six or eight, typically), all the kids in an event cannot swim at the same time, so they are divided up into "heats." You can buy a Heat Sheet ($1) at the meet that will show which heat and lane your child is swimming in. Just FYI, the swimmers with the fastest seed times end up in the last heat (and the slowest or no seed time in the first heat). Similarly, the swimmers with the fastest seed time of their heat end up in the middle lanes (and the slower seed times swim in the outer lanes). 

What's an Exhibition Swimmer?

The reasons are complicated, but sometimes coaches will enter a child in an event as an exhibition swimmer. This means the swimmer cannot earn points or a ribbon, even if he finishes first--he gets to swim, and he gets an official time for the event, but his swim doesn't count for the purposes of the competition. If your child is entered as an exhibition swimmer for an event, it simply means the coaches were limited in the number of official swimmers they could enter, or there were no-shows that left empty lanes, etc. It doesn't mean anything negative about your swimmer.

What Is a DQ?

DQ stands for "disqualification." At JSL meets, stroke-and-turn judges observe the swimmers to ensure that the starts, strokes, turns, and finishes are performed according to the rules. If a judge sees a violation of the rules, she will raise her arm and then fill out a DQ slip. Even if it's a five-year old. Even if it's YOUR cute-as-can-be five-year old. Coaches receive copies of the DQ slips, which they use as learning aids to help the swimmer and the team improve. (For example, if swimmers are failing to perform a two-hand touch on a breaststroke finish, the coaches need to know that, and the DQ slip is how they know.) A swimmer who DQs will not get an official time or a ribbon for that event.

Please don't be concerned about DQs; all swimmers DQ at some point! The coaches will try to avoid entering a child in an event he or she cannot swim, but there's no way around it: the first couple of times a child swims butterfly or breaststroke, there will be DQs. The youngest kids often DQ in backstroke (by turning onto their tummies at the last second). It's hard to DQ in freestyle, but it can be done. Everyone DQs. No one points and laughs at the child who DQs. Please do not approach or question a judge or a referee regarding a DQ; direct all questions to your child's coach after the meet.

Will My Child Get a Ribbon?

Ribbons are awarded for 1st through 16th place; sometimes "Super Swimmer" and "Time Improvement" ribbons are awarded as well. Ribbons are handed out at the Meet Celebrations on Thursday nights; if you miss the Meet Celebration, the ribbons will be filed in your child's file folder in the Snack Shack.

Did We Win?

If you stay until the very end of the meet, you'll hear the Starter announce the final score. Scoring is complicated, too complicated for me to try to explain--suffice to say that the winner of an event gets a clump of points, the second-place finisher gets a smaller clump, and so on down to the fourth-place finisher, BUT no team can take more than two of the scoring positions, which means that if we have just ONE swimmer who finishes dead-last in an event and doesn't DQ it, then we get some points!