How To Survive Your First Invitational Swim Meet

14348895556_9e8ce68ac6_nGoing to your first invitational meet is fun, exciting, and slightly terrifying for new parents.  I’m not going to lie to you, at first it is going to be stressful but never fear if you prepare properly and embrace the experience you’ll be an old pro at this meet stuff in no time.  So today I’d like to try and give you some ideas of what to expect at these meets, and how to prepare yourself & your swimmer to have a fun and successful experience.                                                                                

Meet Packets:

First be sure to read over the meet packet.  Almost all invitational style meets have meet9237786653_5c7e7b0a81_m packets which tell you everything you need to know about the meet, including start times, locations, event options, whether the meet is prelim/finals or timed final format, if there will be clerk of course, what you can expect in awards, scoring etc… Always read over the meet packet before you sign your swimmer up for the meet.  Signing up for a meet without going over the meet packet is like signing a contract without reading it first!


A word of swim parent to swim parent advice concerning meet stress:

6115510699_504f843a3e_mWhen you arrive, before you get out of the car, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun.  Make a silent promise to yourself that no matter what happens you will not flip out and ruin this for your swimmer.  The fact is there will be things that irritate you at the meet, you’ll be particularly on edge because being new is stressful.  I’ve seen more parents than I’d care to count complain non-stop, flip out over stupid things, and single handedly ruin the experience for their child. Most times the parents are so wrapped up in their own drama that they don’t even notice the heart broken look on their swimmer’s face as their day is being ruined with every passing word out of their parent’s mouth.  Remember you are setting the example here, if you freak out so will your swimmer, if you cry or stress, so will they, then the last thing they will be thinking about is swimming well and having fun.  Instead give your swimmer the gift of calmness, even if it takes an Oscar worthy performance on your part.  The fact is you are there for your child, not you.  If the lines are long, the guy next to you is a jerk, the coach is 10 minutes late, the prices are too high, or the stands are too crowded/hot/uncomfortable…you’ll get over it, and by the next week you won’t even remember what you were irritated about.  However, if you embarrass, stress out, or otherwise ruin the meet for your child by being a Deloris Drama or Constance Complainerton your child will forever remember hating their first swim meet.

So sit back and check out the rest of this article so you can prepare properly for your upcoming meet, then make it a point to focus on the positives on the big day.  Trust me, there are always far more positive things at meets than negatives…you just need to have the right perspective.

So now on to how these meet things work…

Swimmer Location:
At some meets swimmers will stay on deck between events, and other times they have gyms or other areas specially designated for swimmers to hang out in when they aren’t swimming.
If swimmers are housed on deck most likely you will not be able to go there with them.  So be sure to send their necessary stuff with them and remind them to pay attention to which event is in the water so they know when to line up for their events.  Writing their heat and lane assignments on their hand is also a good idea.  Make sure to pre-plan a location where you will meet after the meet, and possibly at certain points during the meet.  Otherwise the crowds can be over whelming and needlessly stressful when you’re trying to find your favorite swimmer after a meet.
3044118740_3a850f9932_mIf there is a gym or other swimmer area often parents are welcome to stay there with their child. Usually your teams will all sit/camp out together in a certain portion of the room.  Be warned, this area is always chaotic…anytime you put that many excited kids, and stressed parents into one room it’s going to be a little crazy.  Don’t let it get to you…just remember, your child will get to swim, the swim meet will eventually start AND end,  and most likely your child will have fun. So take a deep breath and enjoy watching the kids have fun…even if it is a little (or a lot) noisy.  Through the chaos be sure to help your swimmer pay attention to what events are coming up.  Often meets will have white boards to announce what events are on call, while other meets do things like make announcements either through a sound system or with a person walking around shouting events, still others have more creative ways of handling communicating when the kids should line up for their events.  The key is to figure out what the system is, and pay attention to it.
 5821341057_194797cc44_mAt many meets, younger kids will report to “Clerk of Course” to line up for their events.  Here adults will assist them in lining up in swim event/heat/lane order in chairs or bleachers, then they help them get behind the blocks for their events.  Make sure to send caps and goggles with them when they head to Clerk of Course.   Older swimmers are usually expected to get themselves behind the blocks before their events. When their event is “on call” that is when they should go behind the blocks in their suits, with cap & goggles ready to swim.   If you or your swimmer are confused tell them to ask their coach for help.

What to Bring:

8907263414_99ba35935f_mSwim meets are long days, there is just no getting around that….welcome to the world of being a swim parent! Complaining about it won’t change this fact.  However properly preparing yourself for the day will make things go more smoothly and reduce your stress level. Here’s a list of things you may want to consider bringing for your swimmer to help make the day easier. (Don’t forget to put names on everything!)

  • Team suit
  • Team Cap
  • Goggles ( and back ups…goggles always break at the worst times!)
  • 2 towels
  • Flip-flops/deck shoes- if the swimmer leaves the deck for some reason they’ll need something for their feet.  
  • Deck clothes – These are clothes to wear over your suit between events.  My kids like to wear athletic shorts or pants, and a t-shirt. A sweatshirt might be a good idea as well especially if you are in a gym between events.
  • Warm clothes to go home in –  Your deck clothes will be too wet to wear home by the end of the meet.
  • Blanket – If swimmers are housed in a gym between events a lot of them like to bring a blanket to sit or lay on.
  • Entertainment- There will be down time between events, many swimmers bring small things they can do while sitting between events, cards, books, hand held video games, I’ve even seen older kids have heated games of Risk or Monopoly etc…just make sure they know that they are responsible for taking care of them.
  • Drinks– water bottle, sports drink, etc. Not pop or energy drinks. No Glass! Broken glass and hundreds of barefooted swimmers do not mix!!
  • Snacks/Lunch -Meets are long, and kids will get hungry. Pack some healthy snacks…fruit, crackers, a sandwich etc. No candy, pop, energy drinks, or other sugary stuff. (sugar and swimming do not mix!) Often there are concession stands but they may not offer great choices, and it’s pricey.  BTW the whole “no eating for 30 minutes before you swim” thing is a myth…competitive swimmers eat all the time at meets…just don’t eat heavy things or junk food.

Things Parents May want to bring:

  • Cool clothes– It gets hot!  Especially if you are working on the deck or sitting in the stands.  Some parents bring shorts and t-shirts. (this is particularly important if you’re a timer, your feet and legs will likely get wet).
  • Bleacher seat – If you’re not volunteering or hanging out in the gym you’ll be in the bleachers and a nice cushion with back support is often appreciated as the meet goes on.
  • Camping type chairs if you plan to sit in the gym.  Trust me, you won’t want to sit on the floor.
  • Pens/markers – Pen or marker to write your kids events on their arms or hands (Event #, Heat, Lane, stroke & distance) Or get these convenient temporary event tattoos so your kid doesn’t have to go to school the next day with sharpie all over their hands. 
  • Highlighter- To highlight races/swimmers in the heat sheet that you want to see. It’s a long day, it’s even longer if you are only interested in your own kid(s). Cheer for their teammates and friends!  Honestly after all these years I am almost as excited to see my kids’ friends do well as I am for my own kids.  Plus by watching the more experienced swimmers you’ll learn about the sport.  Other parents will start to cheer for your swimmers too…they might even congratulate you or your child on a time drop…don’t worry they are not stalking you or your swimmer, people just like to see kids do well
  • Snacks- you’ll get hungry & thirsty too!
  • Book/Magazine/tablet –You’ll want entertainment between events just like the kids.  


Always get to a meet at least 15-30 minutes before warm-ups, depending on how long it takes your swimmer to get ready.  For some really big meets you may want to get there even earlier.  When my son swam at the High School State Championships people literally camped outside of the building …in Ohio… in February… for HOURS…just to get good seats. I’ll give you a minute to let that craziness sink in…4346960820_3a8e34f6fd_m Fortunately,  age group meets don’t tend to get this crazy, but still don’t show up 2 minutes before the meet starts then be shocked that there are no good seats left.

Heat/Psych Sheets:
Most meets sell heat sheets or psych sheets at the door for a few extra dollars. Be sure to check out our guide to reading these here!


  • There will usually be more than one heat of each event, this is because there are more kids  entered into an event than there are lanes available to swim in.
  • If the meet is timed finals kids will usually swim in heats slowest to fastest by seed time.  If it is a prelim/finals meet they will circle seed the swimmers mixing up swimmers with fast seed times with slower seeded swimmers in each heat.
  • Since there is more than one heat of each event keep in mind that even if your swimmer wins their heat, they may have not won the event.  So be sure to check the results (usually posted in the hallway or Gym) to see exactly where they placed.  

For some of you this is the first big meet you’ve been to, and possibly even the first meet your child has ever swum in.  I’d like to offer some advice on how to make this a positive experience for your child.
  • Let the coaches do the coaching.  Your job is to be supportive, say “good job” give high fives etc…Let the coaches correct strokes and give swimming critiques.
  • If you freak out, so will your swimmer!!  I had a mom tell me one time that she sat down and cried with her swimmer before her events at her first meet because she didn’t feel her swimmer could do an good start.  BAD IDEA! There are two phrases every swim parent needs to know and use frequently “You’ll be fine, just do the best you can” and “Good job!” Again,  If they see you upset/stressed/crying, then they feel that way too.  If yo4339070947_80244e46bf_mu take the approach of encouraging them to just do the best they can and keep it light and positive you’ll give them the best opportunity to be successful and learn.  
  • The world will not end with the letters DQ!  Every swimmer gets disqualified (DQed) at some point or another, even Olympians get DQed…it’s just part of competitive swimming like yellow flags are a part of football.  If your swimmer gets DQed encourage them to look at it as a learning experience.  Find out why they got DQed, tell your swimmer they can work on correcting it at practice, then move on, there is no need to dwell on it or let it ruin the rest of your meet.  BTW, usually the coaches or officials will tell the swimmer why the got DQed, if they don’t ask your coach. 
  • Remember this is a swim meet, not brain surgery.  If someone makes a mistake …whether it’s your swimmer, you, a meet worker, or a coach we will all still live to see our kids swim another day. No need to make a scene that will only serve to embarrass your swimmer and make everyone upset. 


 I hope I haven’t scared you, that really wasn’t my intent. Swim meets are actually lots of fun for both swimmers and parents.  Especially once you know what to expect.  Most swim parents are truly awesome people and you won’t mind spending the majority of your weekend sitting in the stands with them.  Just make sure not to let the few Cringe worthy parents ruffle your feathers.

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