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Fan's Guide to Swimming and Diving Page 3 of 5 (The Essentials)

swimmer1- History & Object
2- Strokes
3-The Essentials

4- Pool Diagram
5- Diving

The Essentials

Game Length

A typical high school swim meet consists of 12 events, including 8 individual races, 3 relay races, and a diving competition. Depending on the level (dual meet vs. championship) and the schools’ preferences, Junior Varsity, Varsity, boys, and girls may compete separately or together. If the competition is combined, the races are held in separate heats, and each group only competes with members of the same group.

Start of the game

At the start of each race (except back and medley relay), swimmers step onto the starting blocks. The starter says, “On your mark,” and fires a starting pistol or sounds a horn to begin the race. Swimmers dive into the pool and begin to race. In most events, swimmers dive from the starting blocks to start the race. For backstroke and the medley relay, however, the swimmer begins in the water, holds onto the starting block or wall, and performs a backwards dive to start. In relay events, the second, third, and fourth swimmers dive from the starting blocks and must keep their feet in contact with the block until the previous swimmer touches the wall.

Team Scoring

Swimming is a team sport made up of individual races, relay races, and diving. The team with the most points at the end of the meet is the winner. Points are award to the top finishers; the exact point breakdown depends on the number of teams competing and the number of entries per team. For example, two teams competing in a dual meet where three entries are allowed per team (six lanes) would be as follows:

Individual events (includes diving): 6-4-3-2-1-0 points for first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively.

Relay races: 8-4-2-0 points for first, second, third, and fourth, respectively.


Below is the list of events in the typical order:

200 medley relay: Four swimmers compete in this relay, each swimming a different stroke. The order of the strokes is backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle.

200 freestyle: An eight-lap midrange freestyle race.

200 individual medley: One swimmer completes two laps of each stroke. The order of the strokes is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

50 freestyle: A two-lap all-out freestyle sprint.

1-meter diving: Divers perform 11 dives from the 5 categories of forward, back, reverse, inward, and twist (see diving section for more details).

100 butterfly: A four-lap butterfly sprint.

100 freestyle: A four-lap freestyle sprint.

500 freestyle: A 20-lap freestyle distance swim.

200 freestyle relay: An eight-lap, all-out freestyle sprint relay in which each swimmer completes two laps.

100 backstroke: A four-lap backstroke sprint.

100 breaststroke: A four-lap breaststroke sprint.

400 freestyle relay: A 16-lap freestyle relay in which each swimmer completes four laps.


Swimmers are usually specialists in one or more strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly) and are either sprinters or distance swimmers. There are no positions, per se, but swimmers are usually seeded, or ranked, by speed. A team’s fastest seeded swimmer in a race competes in one of the middle lanes, with slower swimmers in the outside lanes. During relays, the two fastest swimmers usually swim first and last. The fastest person, called the anchor, races last.


Equipment in swimming is minimal. In competition, swimmers wear a tight-fitting swimsuit that has minimal drag and a pair of goggles to help them see underwater. Some swimmers wear a swim cap on their head to lessen drag that longer hair causes.

Common Referee Signals

A typical meet has at least one sanctioned official who is the referee. Referees ensure that the rules are enforced and that the meet runs smoothly. The referee usually serves as the starter to signal the beginning of each race. Volunteers may fill the roles of timer to time the swimmers in each lane, and scorer to record the results. At championship meets, additional personnel assist the referee in his duties and can include the following: stroke inspectors to ensure that the swimmers strokes do not violate the rules, turn judges to examine the turn at each wall, relay takeoff judges to make sure the feet of the swimmers diving remain on the block until their teammates have touched the wall, and finish judges.

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