A few words of wisdom for our resident poolside parent Gary Forrow on rules for junior swimming gala’s. He’s dedicated much of the last decade to guiding his own son and daughter through the ranks of his local swimming club academy…

The Basic Strokes

Competitive pool swimming focuses on four main strokes, butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle. Each of the strokes has its own particular rule set for competition.

Butterfly – The swimmer must remain on the breast at all times with synchronised arm and leg movements. Arms must recover clear of the water and enter the water together In front of the swimmer. Legs must remain together throughout the stroke and only vertical motion is permitted. Any separation of the legs or horizontal movement is considered illegal and thus subjects the swimmer to disqualification.

At the start of a race, swimmers dive in, and are permitted as many fly leg kicks as they want, subject to the head breaking the surface of the pool before the 15m point. At the turns and at the end of the race, swimmers must touch the pool wall or timing pad with both hands simultaneously.

Breaststroke – here arms and legs follow a circular motion and must remain synchronous at all times. Swimmers must remain on the breast at all times and must stay flat in the water. If the body twists slightly, this will throw the legs off of a horizontal plane, resulting in what is termed a screw kick, resulting in a disqualification. At turns and the finish, a touch must be made with both hands, at the same time.

Backstroke – swimmers must remain on their back at all times, except for when performing a turn. Here the swimmer may turn to their breast and initiate a turn immediately, leaving the wall on their back. Any time spent on the breast heading towards the wall is not allowed and if spotted by the turn judge will result in a disqualification.

As with butterfly, swimmers must break the surface of the water before the 15m mark. At the finish, it is normal for the swimmers to duck under the water to gain an advantage. This is acceptable, providing a part of the body is above the water at the time of touching the wall.

Freestyle – this stroke is generally considered the fastest stroke, although for some stronger swimmers, butterfly may be quicker. Freestyle is pretty much anything goes and there is nothing to prevent swimmers performing backstroke or butterfly during a freestyle race, as long as the whole race uses the same stroke. Swimmers must touch the wall at the turns and the finish, with the most common rule infringements being not touching the wall, or coming up in the wrong lane from the turn.

One additional event for the swimmer is the individual medley event. Here four strokes are swum in order, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. Each stroke will be swum for 25% of the race with the freestyle stroke being anything that hasn’t already been swum. At the end of each stroke, it is important to perform the finish for that stroke, so for instance at the end of the butterfly stroke, a two handed touch must be made before starting the backstroke. A common error is to perform a tumble turn between strokes, thus not satisfying the finish for the stroke, resulting in a disqualification.

Event Officials.

At swimming events, there will be a multitude of officials present to ensure that the event is swum in accordance with the rules of the ASA and to ensure fairness for all swimmers.

Typical officials include;

Referee – the person responsible for the meet. They are the only official that can disqualify a swimmer, and it is their responsibility for getting the swimmers ready and on the blocks prior to handing over to the starter.

Starter – quite often referred to as the most important official at the meet. Once control of the swimmers has been handed to them by the referee, it is imperative that the starter can start the event ensuring fairness to all swimmers. They are the only official that you will hear at an event, with the words “Take your marks”. Once all swimmers are on their marks, at a random time, the start signal is given.

If the starter is unhappy, they will instruct the swimmers to stand down, and hand control over to the referee to commence the procedure again. Should any swimmer move at the start prior to the signal, then the starter will report this infringement to the referee. Once the swimmers are in the water, the starters role is over for that event.

Stroke judge – these judges you will see walking up and down the pool observing the swimmers. They will be looking for infringements in the strokes, such as alternating legs in butterfly or swimmers not surfacing before the 15m mark. Any infringements are reported to the referee.

Turn judge – this judge observes the turns of the swimmers, ensuring that the stroke turn requirements are met, such as the two handed touch in breaststroke. Any infringements are reported to the referee.

Place judge – the sole role of this judge is to write down the finish order of the race, in case there are any issues with the timing system. For galas where all timing is manual, this judge should correlate with the timing information.

Timekeepers – take manual times for each event. If electronic timing is being utilised, there will one timekeeper on the lane, operating their own stopwatch and the backup button for the electronic timing. If the event is being timed manually, there will be two or possibly three timekeepers on the lane, with the swimmers time being the average of the manual times. Sometimes a suitably qualified timekeeper may also judge turns and finishes for the longer races.

Chief timekeeper – responsible for obtaining any manual times that may be required if the electronic timing fails, usually for younger swimmers who don’t touch the timing pad hard enough. For a manually timed gala, the chief timekeeper will collect all of the manual timing cards, sort them into order, collect the result for the place judge and hand everything to the referee.

At some galas there will also be a chief inspector of turns. In order to prevent delays where turn infringements are made, individual turn judges will report to the chief inspector, who in turn will report to the referee.

It is quite normal to have more than one referee per event in order to commence the following event, whilst the referee for the preceding event is completing any paperwork.

All infringements are reported to the referee on official forms, citing the lane number, event with a description of the infringement and the code number for the infringement. Quite often the referee will request a description of exactly what was witnessed, for example in breaststroke with a one handed touch at the turn, which hand touched?

Swimming clubs that operate a training regime in order to be able to compete, will have a head coach and numerous other coaches at each session. The head coach will set the training pattern for the season, with specific areas of training at certain times. For example, early in the season, training will concentrate on endurance training, before moving to sprint training and technique before an event, such as the county championships. It is not unknown for swimmers to swim 4 to 5 km in a 90 minute session and would be expected to train a minimum of 5 times a week.

Training requirements will depend on the age of the swimmers and their natural ability. Some swimming clubs are also more set up as performance clubs, where training is much harder, with more and longer sessions.

Competition levels vary from local club galas, club championships, county championships, regional championships and national championships.

I hope you are able to take your own kids along to your local swimming club, so they can also enjoy the real health benefits of swim training and competitions. Seriously useful if they want to become Triathletes!

Gary Forrow,
The Poolside Parent.