Winter Swimming 101 (Info for parents and swimmers)

Swimming is a sport for everyone.

You’ve chosen swimming for your child. Or maybe your child has chosen swimming. Whatever the reason, you are now a swim parent.  Maybe you swam yourself and know already what a great sport it is. But maybe you have just happened upon it and know nothing.  Here you can find out the basics of what you need to know as a swim parent.
The first thing you need to know is that swimming is a sport for everyone. It doesn’t matter about a person’s age, gender, ability, everyone can find a lane in the pool.  This is probably one of the best things about swimming that makes it a sport that will hopefully last a lifetime for every athlete. 

Swimming is a team sport. 

This surprises a lot of people.  Don’t the athletes compete individually?  Yes, in a sense they do.  But to train as a swimmer and to train effectively you need a team in the water.  Your team is what pushes you to swim faster, to improve and to develop.  Your team is your support system when practices get tough.  But sometimes even when you compete, you compete as a team. Not just in relays, but in all of your events, because many meets are scored such that individual performances count as points for the team.  This means that everyone is a part of the team and everyone counts.  Swimmers make great teammates because they encourage each other!

Swimming has a lot of different levels.

Swimming competitions are for everyone but not everyone can go to every competition.  The coaches will determine which competition a swimmer can go to by age, by time standards, and by level attained.  Go to the Time Standards Page for to see qualifying times.

There are different federations that govern swimming at all the different levels:
Our regional league is governed by the Association de natation de Lac Saint-Louis (ANLSL).
Our provincial governing body is the Fédération de natation du Québec or FNQ.
The governing body for swimming in Canada is SWIMMING CANADA.
The international governing body for swimming (and all aquatics disciplines) is World Aquatics (previously FINA).

Here is an overview of some of the terms you will hear bandied about on pool decks regarding all these swimming levels:

REGIONAL:  these meets are for swimmers who are either 10 years old or younger or if they are over 11 years old have not attained their Provincial A time standards.  Most swimmers will start out at the regional level. 
PROVINCIAL DEVELOPMENT:  these are competitions for swimmers who are 10 years old or younger who have attained the minimum requirements for Provincial Development time standards.
PROVINCIAL Invitations:  Any swimmer who is  11 years old or older and is an affiliated member in good standing 
Coupe Des Regions:  These are special meets that take place twice a year. The criteria for this meet will be decided in the fall.  These will be local regional meets
Coupe du Quebec Junior:  Open to 17 years and younger swimmers who have attained at least one time standard Junior coupe standard.  This event is held once a year.
Coupe du Quebec Senior:  This is open to all swimmers who have attained one of the required times.  This event is held twice a year, in late fall and late winter. 
Provincial Championships:  The top level of provincial swimming. This meet is open to all ages who have attained at least one championships standard. 

Junior NATIONAL:  The time standards to attend this meet can be attained by any female athlete between the ages of 11 and 17 years old and by any male athlete between the ages of 11 and 18 years old.  The junior National meet takes place every July in a different Canadian city each year. 
EASTERN NATIONAL:  The time standards to attend this meet can be attained in two age categories for each gender:  female athletes in the category 15 and older and the category under 15 years of age;  male athletes in the category 16 and older and in the category under 16 years of age.  Athletes who have attained the minimum standards for their age category may attend the Eastern National Championship in February in a different Eastern Canadian city each year. 
SENIOR NATIONAL/ Trials:  These time standards can be attained by any athlete at any age.  They are difficult to attain but there are so far no age restrictions to meets so long as the times are attained. These time standards help swimmers gain access to all national level competitions including try-outs for Canadian Teams.  These are the benchmark times for swimmers to access international level competition as well as to compete on most university teams. 

Swimming is a technical sport.

Here are some basics of the technical aspects of what you will be seeing in the water.

FREESTYLE:  Also commonly referred to as “free”.  This is usually “front crawl” and is pretty much the first stroke that most people master. Swimmers start from a dive and swim any style they like provided they don’t pull on the lane ropes or walk on the bottom of the pool.
BACKSTROKE: Also commonly referred to as “back”.  Swimmers start in the water usually pushing off after holding the backstroke supports that hang down from the starting blocks.  Swimmers have to stay on their backs the entire race except for a brief moment when they initiate their turns.  These turns can be tricky and are judged strictly.
BREASTSTROKE:  Also commonly referred to as “breast”.  Swimmers start from a dive and must swim strictly judged strokes and turns throughout their race.  This is one event some swimmers have difficulty with at the beginning. 
BUTTERFLY:  Also commonly referred to as “fly”.  Swimmers start from a dive and must swim strictly judged strokes and turns throughout their race.  This is another stroke that many swimmers have difficulty with in the beginning.  
INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY:  Also commonly referred to as “IM”.  This is an even that starts from the a dive.  The swimmer begins with butterfly over a prescribed distance, then swims backstroke for the same distance, continuing with breaststroke for the same distance and finally ending in an equal distance of freestyle (in this case it must only be front crawl or something like it…it cannot resemble any of the strokes that preceded it).  At the end of each stroke the swimmer must “finish” that stroke as they would if they were only racing that stroke before they start the next stroke.  This means that in the transitions between the strokes, judges will be watching for that “finish” to be done correctly.
FREESTYLE RELAY: This type of relay generally consists of four swimmers (although there have been longer relay teams for fun in some meets).  The first swimmer starts from a dive and when they have finished the prescribed distance (touching the wall) the next swimmer dives in and so on.  Judges watch that the takeovers between swimmers are done fairly. Relays may be all girls, all boys or mixed.
MEDLEY RELAY: This type of relay is always four swimmers:  all girls, all boys or mixed.  The first swimmer starts in the water and swims backstroke. When they touch the wall, the second swimmer dives from the blocks and swims butterfly.  When they touch, the third swimmer dives from the blocks and swims breaststroke.  When that swimmer has completed their portion the final swimmer dives in and swims freestyle.  They must swim something resembling front crawl and cannot swim any stroke resembling the three previous strokes.  As in the freestyle relay, judges make sure that the relay takeovers are fairly achieved.

Winter swimming is different then summer swimming

Summer swim team is a non-competitive community team, whereas winter swimming is considered more competitive. The CSLA team focuses on improving performance with the goal of progressing in the four strokes from competition to competition.

During winter swim team, coaches prepare targeted workouts. Sometimes this targets technique, speed or endurance. With a more targeted approach, swimmers are encouraged to participate at all the scheduled workouts, during the entirety of the season (September to June). As a swimmer advances within the swim team, there will be more and more emphasis on participation and improvement.

During the season, you can expect to participate in two to four competitions every month. Each of these competitions has a registration fee associated to them which varies depending on the type of meet. Some of these meets require travel outside of Montreal. You can find more information in the Parent Survival Guide found on the home page. Swim meet participation is highly encouraged and help to form a stronger team bond.

Swimming requires an army of volunteers.

Swim meets require a lot of people. A typical swim meet will have as many as 60 volunteers on deck just to make sure everything runs smoothly and fairly. So to be sure that your kids have a great meet, the best way to do that is to get trained and get on deck to help out.  Check out our Officials Page for more information. Anyone in your family can take the courses and learn more about this great sport!
The judges and other officials on deck are there to make sure that the rules of swimming are adhered to during the races.  There are a lot of rules that govern swimming and the judges have been trained in the rules. You will recognize the officials on deck because they will be wearing white tops with black pants.  At national meets they will wear red tops with black pants.

Swim meets last a long time.

Swim meets are long.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Here are some typical swim meets and how long they last:

THE ONE DAY MEET:  This is typical of most regional level competitions.  It may be one session or two sessions, each session lasting about 4 hours.
THE TWO DAY MEET:  This is typical of most provincial development competitions as well as some  provincial invitational competitions.  It may be one or two sessions per day and again, each session will last about 4 hours.
THE THREE OR MORE DAYS MEET:  These are typically large Invitationals, Provincial Championships, national and international competitions.  Generally there will be preliminaries in the morning session on each day and then finals in the evenings.  Some meets will even have semi-finals.  Generally relays will happen during the finals portion of the competition. These meets will usually be between 4 to 5 hours per session.

To make the most of your hours at a swim meet, purchase a program (it helps support the host club!) and look at the schedule. An even better way to while away the hours of a swim meet: working on the deck as an official or volunteer! Everyone should offer to work at least one session of every swim meet that their child attends.

Swim meet results are posted in a lot of places.

The results from swim meets can be posted in a lot of places and you don’t need to look too far.
At the meet you will find the results posted in sheets on a wall or bulletin board, usually in a common area and often near the change rooms.
During the meet, many meet managers will ensure that results are posted to the web directly and these can be found in two places:  on the website of the host club either on their landing page or a page they have created especially for the meet or on a great smart phone application called “Splash Me“.  This application can be purchased from the App Store for iPhone and iPad and Google Play for Android and is a great way to keep on top of the action whether you are able to attend the meet or not. Most meets in Quebec get posted on Splash Me.
Finally after all is said and done, the meet manager will ensure that the results are posted within one week from the end of the meet on the Swimming Canada website:  Swimming Results Simply follow the instructions and input the desired information to find results from recently attended swim meets.

Swimming has its own lingo.

Age Group:  This term generally refers to swimmers who are 11 years old or older. 
Back:  See description above under the technical aspects for Backstroke.
Bell Lap:
  In a long distance race such as an 800 or 1500 meter, the bell will be rung to advise the swimmer they have one lap remaining in their race.  In a long course race this will take place when there are 100 meters remaining, and in a short course race, when there are 50 meters remaining.
Blocks:  These are the small platforms at the end of each lane where the swimmers ascend for dive starts.
Breast:  See description above under the technical aspects for Breaststroke.
  This refers to “swimming camps” that are offered by the club, regional association, provincial federation or national governing body.  Camps may take place over a weekend or week-long holiday period so that swimmers may participate in extended hours of training with more than one practice session per day. 
Circle Swimming: this is the standard procedure for swim practices whereby each swimmer follows one behind the other keeping to the right of the lane at all times such that when they turn to go back to the start end they will keep right going in the return direction.
Cool Down: The recovery swimming a swimmer does after a race when pool space is available.
Deck:  The area around the swimming pool. During a meet, only ‘authorised people’ may be on deck. This includes swimmers, coaches and officials.
Deck Entries: These are registrations to a competition that are done on the first day of a competition or after a competition is already in progress.
Disqualification:  Also referred to as a DQ (not Dairy Queen), this refers to the situation whereby a swimmers’ race will not count in the meet (an official time will not be recorded) due to an infraction committed by the swimmer during their race.
Distance Events:   these are events that take place either in pools or in open water.  In pools the events are 800 meters and 1500 meters.  In open water the distances range from as little as 1 km to as long as 10 km.
Double-ended:  This refers to the pool configuration for a swim meet that is being run in a “long course” pool (50 meters) that has been divided into two short course (25 meters) swimming basins with portions of the competition running in both basins (usually divided by gender, but sometimes by swimming level or age group).
Dryland:  These are conditioning exercises (weight-training, running, stretching, yoga) that are done by swimmers outside of the water.
Entry Time:  This is the time that is submitted by a coach for a swimmer in a particular event at a meet.  This time will be used to assign the swimmer to a particular heat and lane.
Even splittingthe act of completing both the first half and last half of a set distance at equal speeds.
Event:  This will be a race for a particular stroke usually consisting of heats of racers of the same gender or age group and covering the same distance.
Fifties:  this refers to any stroke that is swum covering the distance of 50 meters.
Finals: This refers to the final race of an event in a given meet especially in competitions where a score is calculated:  the score shall be calculated based on the results from Finals races.
Fins:  these are swimming fins that are placed on the feet to help swimmers improve their kicking technique.
Flags: These are suspended over the width of each end of the pool approximately 5 metres from the wall, they allow backstroke swimmers to determine where the end of the pool is.
Flip Turn:  Used in freestyle swimming, similar to a somersault under the water upon reaching the pool wall. Is faster than ‘touch and go’ once technique is mastered.
Free:  See description above under the technical aspects for Freestyle.
IM:  See description above under the technical aspects for Individual Medley.
A competition organised by a club and requiring participating clubs to request an invitation to attend.
Interval: the time given to complete a certain drill. A 2:00 interval for 100 meters means that if you can swim 100 meters in 1:40 minutes, you will have 20 seconds of rest before repeating the next one.
Heat:  All the swimmers in a meet are divided into heats or groups of swimmers who are swimming a particular event at the same time in a race whereby each swimmer will occupy one lane during the race and they will start simultaneously.
Heat Sheets:  These are documents that timers use to record the times of swimmers who have been assigned to swim in their lane.  Also the document that is used for the programs that are distributed or sold to spectators at a competition.
Hundreds:  this refers to any stroke that is swum covering a distance of 100 meters.
Invitation:  Also known as the Meet Package (see below).
Kick Board:  A flotation device used by swimmers during practice.
Lane ropes: The dividers used to set out the lanes in a pool. These are made of individual finned disks strung on a cable, that turn on the cable when hit by a wave, dissipating the wave.
Lap: distance swum up and back in any given pool.
Lap counter: The large numbered cards (or the person turning the cards) used during the freestyle events 800 meters or longer. Counting is done from the non-starting end.
Long course: a 50-meter pool where two lengths or one lap equals 100 meters. Also referred to as Olympic distance.
Meet Package:  this is a document that contains preliminary information pertaining to a meet and is also known as the “Invitation” to the meet.  The meet structure will be outlined (what events will be offered), a preliminary schedule, the time standards required to attend, accommodation recommendations for out of town teams and any other pertinent information that might be required by teams who will be registering to the meet.
Pace Clock: The electronic clocks or large clocks with highly visible numbers and second hands, positioned at the ends or sides of a swimming pool so the swimmers can read their times during warm-ups or swim practice.
Paddle: Colored plastic devices worn on the swimmers hands during swim practice.
Performance Suits:  These are the fancy suits made of FINA approved technical fabrics that compress the muscles and keep the swimmer hydro-dynamic.  They are pricey but there are a variety of price ranges and as your swimmer progresses to higher level Age Group swimming, they will want one or the coach may recommend it.  For girls the rule is “shoulders to knee” for the maximum length of performance suit.  For boys the rule is “waist to knee” for the maximum length of the suit.
Positive Check In:  The procedure required before a swimmer swims an event in a deck seeded or pre seeded meet. The swimmer or coach must indicate the swimmer is present and will compete.
Preliminaries:  Also known as Prelims.  A session of a Prelims/Finals meet in which the qualification heats are conducted.
Provincial Development:  Also known as P Dev.   This is a level of swimming for athletes ages 10 and under who have at least three provincial development level standards in different events. 
Psych Sheet:  An entry sheet showing all swimmers entered into each individual event. Sometimes referred to as a “Heat Sheet” or meet program. However, a “heat sheet” would show not only every swimmer in an event, but also what heat and lane they are swimming in.
Pull: A drill during which you swim using your arms only. A Pull Buoy is often used to keep a swimmers legs together while they pull
Pull Buoy: A flotation device used for pulling by swimmers in practice.
Short Course:  A 25 meter pool  or a long course pool (50 meters pool) that has been divided into two 25 meters basins such that two lengths or one lap equals 50 meters.  Most competitions run in the autumn and early winter (January) are run “short course”.  Some championships such as Team Champs run preliminaries “short course” and run finals “long course”.
Split: A portion of an event that is shorter than the total distance and is timed. (i.e.) A swimmer’s first 50 time is taken as the swimmer swims the 100 race. It is common to take multiple splits for the longer distances.
Swim-off: In a Prelims/Finals type competition, a race after the scheduled event to break a tie. The only circumstance that warrants a swim-off is to determine which swimmer makes finals or an alternate, otherwise ties stand
Taper: The resting phase of a swimmer at the end of a training period leading up to a championship meet.
Technical Bulletin:  This document is sent out to officials and coaches just before the start of a competition.  It will have a more accurate schedule for the competition based on the entries, detailed information about specific rules for the meet, warm-up procedures including warm-up schedules and lane assignments for each team as required, procedures for the meet in terms of scratches, finals etc.  It often will have details regarding on-site parking and other services that might be available.  This document is not always available until the very last minute.
Timed Finals: Competition in which only heats are swum and final placings are determined by those times.
Time Standard: A time set by meet management for a competition, or by the provincial or national governing body, to determine times that a swimmer must achieve for qualification or recognition.
Touch Pad: The removable plate (on the end of pools) that is connected to an automatic timing system. A swimmer must properly touch the touchpad to register an official time in a race.
Vominator:  A particularly difficult practice familiar to Elite swimmers of CSLA and created for their special enjoyment by Coach Mike Calcutt.
Warm-up: The practice and “loosening-up” session a swimmer does before the meet or before their event is swum.