Common Swim Team Terms

As a new swim parent or swim fan you may find yourself occasionally wondering whyconfused-woman-420x0 the people around you seem to be speaking gibberish. Your swimmer, coach, or fellow swim parent start talking and your eyes start to glaze over with confusion…  Cuts, seeds, tapers, psych sheets, heat sheet…. and what exactly is a split and how on earth can they be negative?   So today I’d like to go over common swimming terms so that you too can speak the mysterious language of swimming.


Heat Sheet: The meet program which lists the swimmers in the meet by event, heat, and lanes.  This allows you to figure out when and where your kid is swimming.  I have a whole post talking about How to Read a Heatsheet.

Psych Sheet: These have swimmers listed in events organized fastest to slowest.  Unlike heat sheets they do not list the swimmers heat and lane assignments.  Psych sheets allow you to quickly see how a swimmer stacks up against the competition.

Seed Time: This is usually the best time your team has on record for you from your previous swims.  Usually when you enter a meet your previous best time will be reported so that they can have swimmers of similar speed/ability level swim against each other in a heat.  Or if you had to qualify for the meet from another meet, or a preliminary session, your seed time will be the time you swam to qualify, which may not be your overall best time.

NT – Sometimes in a heat sheet or psych sheet you will see an NT listed next to your swimmer’s name where the seed time normally would go.  This stands for “No Time”, meaning the team that entered you had no seed time reported for you.  This is common when you’ve not swum the event before, recently switched teams, deck entered the event, or there was simply an error in the entry for some reason.

IM – Individual Medley, a race that consists of a leg of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle (in that order).  You’ll see these swum as 100 IMs (25s of each stroke), 200 IMs (50s of each stroke), and 400 IMs (100s of each stroke)

Leg – This refers to a part of a race.  In a relay each swimmer’s part is referred to a a “leg” of the relay. You also sometimes hear this in reference to the IM, someone may reference the “breaststroke leg” which of course refers to the breaststroke portion of the race.

Medley Relay – A relay where each swimmer does a different stroke. This is not swum in IM order, so that backstrokers can safely start without interrupting the race.  The order is: backstroke. breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle.

Split – This is a time for a part of your race.  This may refer to the time for one swimmers leg of a relay, or the time for part of your individual race.  For example, in a 100 yard race the time for your first 50 yards would be your “50 split”.

Negative Split – This refers to a race where the early splits of your race were swum slower than your final splits.  This is unusual and is usually caused by the swimmer either making a mistake in his/her pacing, or there being a really exciting/close finish to the race that inspired the swimmer to push themselves extra at the end of the race to try to win.

Prelims/Finals– Some meets are done in prelim-finals format.  In prelims your swimmer is swimming with a goal of making finals.  They will take the top swimmers from the preliminary heats (the number depends on the meet rules) and they will swim for points and awards later in finals.  Sometimes finals are swum later that day, or for larger more prestigious meets they are sometimes swum the next day.

Timed Finals:  If the competition is timed finals your swimmer will only swim each event once.  The swimmers with the fastest times score points and earn awards based on that swim.

Time Standards: Some meets require you to have a certain seed time in order to qualify for the meet. These are also sometimes called “cut times”.  In most cases you need to have a faster seed time than the standard (cut) in order to qualify to swim in.  In some cases you need to be slower than the standard because the meet is intended for slower swimmers.

 Technical Suit: These are very expensive suits like Olympians wear that provide a competitive advantage.  These are usually only worn by experienced swimmers for very important meets. Check out my post about Technical suits for more info.

Taper: This is a practice technique used before the biggest meet of the season.  Coaches will reduce the number of yards and change the intensity of practices in the weeks leading up to the meet they are tapering for in order to produce the fastest swims possible. After swimmers have spent many months doing exhausting and difficult practices the taper allows the body to rest and store up energy for fast swimming.  There is a lot of science around a good taper, and coaches handle it in different ways, but when done effectively swimmers drop incredible amounts of time at their championship meets.

 Clerk of Course:  At some meets they will have a designated area for lining swimmers up for their races.  This is often done in chairs or bleachers and is most often used for younger swimmers who might get confused trying to find their correct heat and lanes.

Scorers Table:  This is the area where the people running the timing system sit.  Usually someone will be in charge of a computer which tracks the results of races, another person will be in charge of the score board, and there will also often be an announcer, and some officials at the table.

Scratch: If you are signed up to swim an event but decide not to swim they will “scratch” you from the event.

Deck Entry:  At most meets you have to sign up to swim your events days or even weeks in advance.  Many meets will offer deck entries which allow you to sign up for an event the day of the meet. The downside of deck entering is usually you’ll be seeded as a  no time, they are more expensive than a regular entry, and usually the meet will only fill empty lanes, and won’t create new heats to accommodate deck entries, so you may not get into the events you want.

DQ: This is short for disqualification.  There are many things a swimmer can do to be disqualified including improper stroke technique, false starts, swimming the wrong stroke, or not following some other rule.  If you’re disqualified from a race the swim will not count.

False Start:  If a swimmer jumps in before the start of a race it is considered a false start and the swimmer is often disqualified (DQed).  It is also considered a false start if a swimmer moves after they take their mark but before the start of the race.

Swim-off: Occasionally when there is a tie there will be a swim off where the tied swimmers race again the break the tie.  This is often done in prelims finals meets where a tie needs to be broken to determine who gets to move on to finals.


So what am I forgetting?…leave a comment with other swim terms that confuse the new guys.

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4 Responses

  1. Christina Colvin
    Christina Colvin at | | Reply

    What does an “s” or a “y” mean next to a swimmers time?

  2. Aditya
    Aditya at | | Reply

    What does “RE” Stand for at swim meet

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