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Swim Meet 101

If you and your swimmer are new to swim meets, this is the page for you! We hope it provides answers and guidance for what to expect, what to pack and how a meet operates. Please be sure to contact us if you have additional questions. We have all been first time swim families and want to help you!

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What to pack

  • $1 for a Heat Sheet (the volunteer will love you if you use a $1 bill!)
  • A highlighter for finding and marking your child's events on the heat sheet.
  • A Sharpie for marking your child's arm (see separate info re: marking your child)
  • Healthy snacks: granola bars, fruit, water, Gatorade, crackers. Coolers are allowed.
  • Extra towels
  • Camp chairs or a picnic blanket
  • Pop-up tents or umbrella tents, where space allows. Shade is key on hot evenings!
  • Sunscreen
  • Swim cap and goggles (a spare pair of goggles is a good idea, too)
  • Cash for the concession stand

How meets operate

Meets are typically on Thursday evenings, with the meet beginning around 6pm. Home team warm ups are typically 4:45-5:15 with away teams warming up from 5:15-5:45. With the exception of the conference swim meet, all meets are duals where there are not finals, meaning all swimmers swim their events once and winners are placed/ribbons are awarded based on those times. 

8 & Under swimmers swim 25 Meter lengths (one length of the pool).

Swimmers 9 and over swim 50 Meter lengths for individual strokes.

Pre-Meet Preparation:

  • The Coach will inform swimmers of the events in which they are swimming on or before the day of a meet.
  • Directions to away meets may be found on the website, under Meets & Events>Pool Locations.
  • Pack swimmer’s gear.
  • Pack parent’s gear.

Arriving at the Meet:

  • Get to the pool on time. Allow extra time for parking and walking to the pool.
  • Check-in with the Coaches to let them know you are there.
  • For $1 you may purchase a Heat Sheet that lists the names of swimmers and the event in which they’re entered for the meet, conference qualifying times, and the fastest time for your child to-date.
  • Parents check-in with Volunteer Coordinator.

During the Meet:

  • Parents, especially for younger swimmers, can help with getting their swimmer to the Clerk of the Course on time to avoid missing their event. (The Clerk of the Course area is similar to being "on deck" in baseball. Look for a row of benches or folding chairs, where swimmers are being checked in by the volunteer in charge.)
  • After swimming an event, swimmers should be sure to ask Timers for their “unofficial” time.
  • Swimmers should be notified if they have been disqualified or “DQ'd” in an event.
  • Swimmers are encouraged to check with the coaches after they swim an event to receive helpful tips and pointers, but may not sit at the coaches table.
  • Concessions, including bottled water, soda, and snacks will be available for purchase at all pools, both home and away. However, you are welcome to bring your own.

After the Meet:

  • Pick up team and pool area.
  • Volunteers will be asked to help put away equipment.
  • We must leave the pool as we found it for use the next day.

Plan on the meet lasting 3-1/2 to 4 hours.

Events allowed per swimmer

Each swimmer is allowed to choose up to three individual events [the four strokes, and, for 9 and up, the Individual Medley (IM)]. Coaches may place swimmers in up to two relays. You will declare your swimmer as "available for relays" each week when you sign up for your individual events online.  Swimmers may change their individual events from meet to meet. 

Strokes and events

The four competitive strokes are:

  • Freestyle is characterized by an alternate overhand motion of the arms and an alternating up and down flutter kick.
  • Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arm while on the back using a flutter kick.
  • Breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pulled from the breast in a heart-shaped pattern and recovered under the surface of the water except at the finish. The kick is a simultaneous somewhat circular motion similar to the action of a frog. On turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch with both hands.
  • Butterfly consists of a simultaneous overhand stroke of the arms combined with an undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together and may NOT use any other kick. On turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch with both hands.

The following events are in addition to the above strokes:

  • Individual Medley (I.M.) features all four strokes. The swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes to the backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle. This event is only for swimmers ages 9 and older.
  • Medley Relay consists of 4 team members swimming one leg each of the four strokes. The first swimmer swims the backstroke, the second swimmer swims breaststroke, and third swimmer swims butterfly and the last swimmer swims freestyle.
  • Freestyle Relay consists of 4 team members swimming freestyle for each leg.

Most young swimmers start out swimming freestyle and backstroke before progressing to breaststroke and butterfly. It is not essential to know all strokes before joining the team. Strokes will continue to be taught and improved upon during practice.

Order of events

First Half

Boys Girls
Event #


Event #
#1 Medley Relay 8 & Under #2
#3 Medley Relay 9-10 #4
#5 Medley Relay 11-12 #6
#7 Medley Relay 13-14 #8
#9 Medley Relay 15-18 #10
#11 25 M Freestyle 8 & Under #12
#13 50 M Freestyle 9-10 #14
#15 50 M Freestyle 11-12 #16
#17 50 M Freestyle 13-14 #18
#19 50 M Freestyle 15-18 #20
#21 25 M Butterfly 8 & Under #22
#23 50 M Butterfly 9-10 #24
#25 50 M Butterfly 11-12 #26
#27 50 M Butterfly 13-14 #28
#29 50 M Butterfly 15-18 #30
#31 25 M Backstroke 8 & Under #32
#33 50 M Backstroke 9-10 #34
#35 50 M Backstroke 11-12 #36
#37 50 M Backstroke 13-14 #38
#39 50 M Backstroke 15-18 #40

Second Half

Boys Girls
Event # Event Event #
#41 Individual Medley (I.M.) 9-10 #42
#43 Individual Medley (I.M.) 11-12 #44
#45 Individual Medley (I.M.) 13-14 #46
#47 Individual Medley (I.M.) 15-18 #48
#49 25 M Breaststroke 8 & Under #50
#51 50 M Breaststroke 9-10 #52
#53 50 M Breaststroke 11-12 #54
#55 50 M Breaststroke 13-14 #56
#57 50 M Breaststroke 15-18 #58
#59 Freestyle Relay 8 & Under #60
#61 Freestyle Relay 9-10 #62
#63 Freestyle Relay 11-12 #64
#65 Freestyle Relay 13-14 #66
#67 Freestyle Relay 15-18 #68

The order is the same for each stroke; boys compete first and then girls compete in each age group. Heats will be slowest to fastest.


Ribbons are awarded for heat winners in 10 & Under events (typically handed to the winner at the completion of each heat),  for 1st-6th place in each individual event (typically handed out at practice the following day) and 1st place only for relays. 

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Heat Sheets

The Heat Sheet is a paper packet/program that shows all the participating swimmers and what events they will participate in as well as the heat number and lane number. Heat Sheets can be purchased at the meet for $1. The announcer will say the event and heat number. Sometimes there is also an electronic board with this information.

Pictured below is an example of a Heat Sheet.

This Heat Sheet example shows all of the entries from two teams for the Boys 8 & Under 25 Meter Freestyle.

WFST stands for Woodneath Farms Swim Team.

Seed Time is the fastest time a swimmer has swum an event.

A: The event number

B: NT means "No Time" has been recorded previously

C: The Heat number

D: The lane number

E: Northland Conference swim meet qualifying time

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How to mark your child

In order to help you and your child keep track of their specific events at the meet, most families mark the events on the child similarly to the example below. First, highlight all places in the Heat Sheet where your child's name is found. Then, use that Event, Heat and Lane information to create a grid/list on your child's arm in permanent marker.

Make four (4) column headings - E, H, L, S. These stand for Event, Heat, Lane and Stroke. Go through the heat sheet and find your swimmer's name which you highlighted. For each event, write the event number, heat number, lane number and stroke in the corresponding column.

Note: For younger swimmers, write your swimmer's name in big letters on his/her arm or back. This helps the volunteers who are lining up the swimmers at the starting blocks.

In this example, the child is swimming:

Event #11, Heat 4, Lane 4, 25M Freestyle

Event #31, Heat 1, Lane 6, 25M Backstroke

Event #41, Heat 2, Lane 3, 25M Breaststroke

Event #59, Heat 2, Lane 4, Free Relay

Each swimmer is responsible for their own event schedule. Listen carefully as the events are called so that you do not miss your event.

At the conclusion of the meet, the Sharpie can be removed with alcohol-containing hairspray, hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol. 

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Getting disqualified 

Occasionally, a judge will disqualify (or "DQ") a swimmer during their event. Typically, the judge will inform the swimmer of this at the end of their race. There are official stroke rules listed on the Missouri Valley Swimming website or on the USA Swimming website. Please visit those websites for more exact rules on each stroke.  Below is a list of common reasons a swimmer is disqualified. 

Freestyle: Pulling on the lane line; pushing off from the bottom of the pool

Breaststroke: Improper kick; arm pull below the hips; failure to perform two-handed touch at turn or finish 

Butterfly: Flutter kick instead of dolphin kick (swimmer must keep both legs together); failure to perform two-handed touch at turn or finish 

Backstroke: Rolling over to stomach as the swimmer touches the wall; improper flip turn 

Relays: Leaving the starting block too soon

Once a swimmer gets disqualified, they are not eligible to place in that event no matter what their time is.

Every swimmer has been DQ'd at one point or another! Please reassure your swimmer that it is okay and that you are proud of them. The coaches will have tips for them to improve and will go over these with the swimmer in practice.

Diving into the pool

During practices, your child will receive instruction on diving off a starting block. If they are unable to do this, they are permitted to dive off the side of the pool. A swimmer is also allowed to be in the water and push off the side of the wall to begin the event.

Conference Swim Meet

All swimmers who compete in three dual meets and meet the qualifying time (listed in each heat sheet) in an event will earn a place at the Conference Championship meet held at the end of the swim season at the Springs Aquatic Center. Swimmers are allowed to swim in three individual events at the conference meet.  

Conference is a very large swim meet, taking place over the course of several days. It includes prelims and finals, with the top 16 swimmers from prelims advancing to the finals. Bring everything you would for a swim meet (your lawn chairs, coolers and winning spirit!!). Heat sheets are $5 at conference and there is a concession stand for food and drink.

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The Woodneath Farms Whitecaps are part of the Northland Swim Conference.

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