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Swimming Terms Explained

New to Swimming guide cover cropped for hero image sizing

An easy way to start learning a new sport is to familiarize yourself with the lingo. Before your child even jumps in the pool, they can start to understand the swimming terms they'll need to succeed. 


Once the finalists are decided in a preliminary/finals meet, the swimmers with the next two fastest times are considered alternates. If a finalist can’t participate, the alternates are called to take their place.


The final swimmer in a relay.


The starting platforms located behind each lane. The minimum water depth for the use of starting blocks is four feet and can be either permanent or removable.


The distance for a swimming competition, which ties into the length of the pool. A long course is 50 meters, and a short course is 25 meters.


The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coaches.

Deck Seeding

Heat and lane assignments are posted after swimmers have checked in.


How far swimmers swim, often determined by lengths, meters, or yards.


A swimmer’s performance is not counted because of a rule infraction. Disqualifications are shown by an official raising their arm above their head with an open hand.

Diving Well

A separate pool, or a pool set off to the side of the competition pool. These have deeper water and diving boards/platforms.

False Start

When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn or gun sounds. While one false start will disqualify a swimmer or relay team, an official may disallow it due to unusual circumstances.

False Start Rope

A recall rope across the width of the racing pool for the purpose of stopping swimmers who were not aware of the false start.


Large rubber flipper-type devices that fit the swimmer’s feet. They’re used in swim practice but not allowed in competition.


Pennants that are suspended across the width of the pool, approximately 15 feet from both ends, indicating to the swimmers they are approaching the wall.


Glasses-type devices worn by swimmers to help them see underwater and protect their eyes.


These are groups of swimmers that compete against one another. The results are compiled by times swum once all heats are completed.


Done in a relay when the swimmer on the block jumps into the water before the team member in the pool touches the wall.

Kick Board

A flotation device used by swimmers during practice, but can’t be used during competitions.


An area the length of the pool that the swimmer must stay in during the race. Each swimmer is assigned a different lane (i.e. Lane 1, Lane 2, Lane 3, etc.).


The part of a relay event swum by a single member of the team.

Pace Clock

The electric clocks, or large clocks with highly visible numbers, located at the ends or sides of the pool so swimmers can read their times.


A swimming event in which four swimmers participate as a team. Each swimmer completes an equal distance of the race. There are two types of relays: 1.) Medley Relay - One swimmer swims Backstroke, one swimmer swims Breaststroke, one swimmer swims Butterfly, one swimmer swims Freestyle, in that order; 2.) Freestyle relay - Each swimmer swims Freestyle.


The style in which a competitor swims. There are four types of strokes: Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, and Freestyle.


These volunteers sit behind the starting blocks at the end of the pool and are responsible for getting watch times on events and activating the backup buttons for the timing system.


The session swimmers use to loosen up prior to their event.


The recovery swimming a swimmer does after a race when pool space is available.

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