New Members

What to Expect at a YMCA & USA Swimming Swim Meet

General Information

Attending a swim meet can be inspiring and hectic. Understanding everything that happens at a swim meet will undoubtedly reduce some anxiety from both the swimmer and the parents. Swim meets are an excellent opportunity for the whole family to spend time together and with all the other families on the Marlins team. Swim meets provide an opportunity for kids to showcase their swimming. After all, they’ve been practicing for weeks — now it’s time to strut their stuff! Swim meets also allow coaches to see where they need to go in future practices. The coach can evaluate each swimmer’s skills and determine what more needs to be addressed to improve those skills further. So, don’t be disappointed if, after a great swim, the coach launches into a discussion of what went wrong. It’s of teaching — and it works best while your performance is fresh in the coach’s mind and the swimmer’s.

Swim meets usually swim in 25-yard and 50-meter pools. The swim year is divided into two seasons:

  • Short Course meets, which are swam in 25-yard pools (Sept – March),

  • Long Course meets, which are swam in 50-meter pools (April – August).

Swim meets are offered at various levels - for the beginner swimmer, up to the most advanced, and for all age groups. The level of swim meets your swimmer will compete in will depend on how fast their official recorded times are and how old they are. However, some meets are open for all swimmers to compete (Open Meets), including swimmers with no officially recorded USA Swimming.

First-time USA or YMCA Swimmers will typically compete in an Open meet for their first meet and will compete in their age category, against their gender, based on how old they are on the first day of the meet. This means a swimmer may change age group designations in the middle of the season and start competing against the higher age group at their next meet. The most common age group categories are:

  • eight and under

  • 9-10

  • 11-12

  • 13-14+

Swim Meets usually take place over weekends, often starting on Friday evening. Saturday and Sunday competitions start in the morning and typically run into the afternoon. To control the length of the meet, swimmers are limited to how many events they can compete in each day – typically three or four per day (excluding relays). Check the meet information (and look for an e-mail the week of the meet) to determine when your child might swim (they sometimes vary). Either way, you can expect a session to last about 4 hours, from warm-ups to the final heat (depending on the number of swimmers and events offered). In a few cases, meets are scheduled for a single evening (usually Friday). All age groups swim in the same session in these meets, and the meet typically lasts about 2.5 -3 hours. Again, check the calendar, meet information, and occasionally a published timeline to determine the schedule of a particular day/meet. Meets can move along quickly if everything is running smoothly. However, there may also be some downtime during which equipment is repaired or replaced or breaks for swimmers to prepare for long events. Unlike summer league swimming, swim meets leading up to the season championship meet are not focused on “winning” and “placing” but rather on technical improvement. Technical improvements result in faster swimming, but not always right away. Swimming fast is important, but so is a technique, endurance, and race strategy.

Preparing for the Meet

Meet details, including dates, qualifying times, cut-offs, event limits, location/directions, etc., can be accessed from the meet Information posted on

What to Bring

  • Swimsuit, team cap, and goggles. Having an extra suit, extra cap, and an extra pair of goggles packed is always a good idea. These items seem to rip and break at the most inopportune time!

  • Towels – wet bodies are everywhere, so pack at least two.

  • Something comfy for your swimmer to sit on in the team area or bleachers.

  • Chairs – depending on the pool facilities, you may or may not need them, but having them in your vehicle is a good idea. Most facilities have bleacher-style seats. You may bring a stadium seat if you want to sit back.

  • Several changes of clothes such as sweatpants, sweatshirts, and t-shirts. Swimmers need to stay warm between events, and there is nothing worse than pulling on cold, soggy sweatpants. A Marlin's team parka is an excellent way for the swimmer to stay warm while looking sharp. A good idea to bring a change of clothes for the swimmer to leave as many will shower after the meet (they will also need another dry towel for this).

  • Entertainment for the whole family such as travel games, cards, coloring books, books, electronics, etc., if you are bringing youngsters who are not swimming! Parents often bring newspapers, books, laptops, sewing, anything to pass the time!

  • Small cooler of healthy snacks and drinks. Suggestions for items to bring: Water, fruit juice, Gatorade, granola bars, fruit, yogurt, cereal, trail mix, pretzels, and sandwiches. There is usually a snack bar, but they may not offer appropriate selections or selections your child enjoys.

  • Sharpie marker, pen, highlighter.

  • Parents’ Note - The pool area is usually not worse. Make sure you dress appropriately. Nothing is worse than being hot at a swim meet. It makes the time pass very slowly.

  • Most importantly – a POSITIVE attitude to pass on to your swimmer(s) and a lot of encouragement!

The Meet

Before, the Meet Starts

  • Arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of the Marlins warm-up session. This time will be listed in the e-mail to parents before the meeting.

  • Locate other Marlin swimmers and parents to sit near.

  • Swimmers should start getting ready to warm up. Swimmers’ bodies are just like cars on a cold day; they need engine engines going, and swimmers should before being able to go all out. When the warm-ups start, the swimmer should proceed to the swim deck and locate their coach for instructions. Swimmers are not allowed to enter the pool without a coach on deck.

  • Only swimmers, coaches, and officials (timers, strokes and turn judges, meet referee, etc.) are allowed on deck. According to USA Swimming rules, parents are not allowed on deck unless they serve officially. Parents must sit in the spectator area, usually bleachers.

While your swimmer is warming up:

  • Purchase a heat sheet (listing all swimmers entered in each event).

  • Use your highlighter to highlight your swimmer on your cheat sheet.

When your swimmer finishes or before warm-ups begin:

  • Please review with your swimmer what events they are competing in that day.

  • Write the event numbers on the arm or wrist of the swimmer with your sharpie pen.

  • Encourage your swimmer to drink or eat something if they are not scheduled to swim for at least 30 minutes.

  • Know what events your swimmer is competing in. A swimmer needs what event numbers he is swimming. Again, a heat sheet and sharpie are a swim parent’s best friends!

Heat & Lane Assignments

Swimmers compete in their age category, against their gender, in the order of the event numbers. Generally, girls for a given age group and event compete before the boys. Swimmers are organized into “heats” and lane assignments sure swimmers their entry time for that event. At most swim meets, there are no “ready benches” or team volunteers to ensure swimmers get to their heat and lanes on time (most summer league swim programs have this). Swimmers and parents must pay attention to the meet events. Remember the timeline posted on the heat sheet are only estimated times, and the actual meet may run significantly slower or faster.

Heat and lane assignments are posted on deck for the swimmers and usually near the seating section before the event starts. Where and how can vary from meet to meet, so ask a veteran parent to help you identify how it is the most at your meet.

Obtaining the heat/lane assignments and having swimmers ready & behind the blocks in time for their race is probably the most stressful detail for new swimmers and parents – especially for our younger swimmers. Ask another parent and swimmer for help. TEAMWORK. Remember, parents, are not allowed on deck. This is for safety reasons and to reduce the confusion behind the blocks.

Before Each Race

Listen for event announcements. Upcoming events are usually announced over the loudspeaker. Swimmers should report with caps and goggles. On the way to the starting blocks to the clerk, swimmers are expected to talk to their coaches to inform them of their heat & lane assignments and to get race instructions. After speaking with their coach, they should stand behind their assigned lane, check with the timer to ensure they are in the right lane and know their heat number. When the starter calls their heat, they should proceed to the blocks.

After Each Race

Immediately after each race, the swimmer is expected to speak to their coach to get feedback on their race. s are critical and need to happen while it is fresh in both the coach and swimmer’s minds. Swimmers will be told what they did correctly and what they need to work on to improve, regardless of how well they did or did not do in the race. Coaches may ask a swimmer to “warm down” after a race if the facility has an extra pool. Warming down(swimming slow laps) helps to loosen strained muscles and reduce the lactic acid build-up from the race. The swimmer’s muscles recover sooner for their next race by warming down. After the race, talks with coaches and warm-downs should be completed by the swimmer before returning to their seats and speaking with their parents. When swimmers make all of the day's events, they can go home. e your swimmer is not included on a relay. It is not fair to other swimmers who may have stayed to swim on a relay where your swimmer is expected to be a member and is not there.

Meet Logistics

USA swim meets are run solely by volunteers, each critical to the meet's success. The meets are organized and run by the local swim club — parents and swimmers like you. So, be patient when things get long or troubling. Remember, one day, it will be your turn to volunteer at a meet, and you’ll want folks to be considerate, too. The volunteer’s roles consist of:

  • USA Swimming Certified Officials

  • Parent timing volunteers from all teams

  • Army of host team volunteers Susan Swimming Certified Officials

The officials are the most visible volunteers, wearing dark blue pants/shorts and white shirts. The Meet Referee, Deck Referee, Starters, and Stroke & Turn Judges have all completed a certification program for each position they fill. Many do more than one role during the meeting. Unlike many officials in other sports, USA Swimming officials are not there to “catch” swimmers doing something wrong. They are there to “observe” and ensure the races swim fairly.

Unlike in the Olympics, there are not two officials at each end of the pool for each lane. Each stroke and turn judge is responsible for watching multiple lanes and may have to judge both strokes and turns for their end of the pool.

Disqualifications are not a penalty but an opportunity for the swimmer to learn what they did incorrectly to work with their coach to correct the mistake. Only coaches can approach officials to question a call or inquire if a swimmer can be placed in a subsequent heat due to missing their race. Officials have the authority to remove parents from the pool area if they are abusive or interfere with the running of the meet.

Parent Timing Volunteers

Parents from each team is required to time at meets. Each team is assigned a lane or lanes which they are responsible for. Those assignments are based on the number of swimmers the team has entered in the meet.

Host Team Volunteers

Volunteers from the host team positions must prepare for and run a meet successfully. Some of those positions are listed below:

  • Meet Director

  • Computer Operators

  • Equipment Setup

  • Clerk of Course

  • Head Timer

  • Safety Marshals

  • Awards

  • Heat Sheet

  • Concessions & Hospitality

  • Setup/Cleanup