What To Expect at Swim Team Tryouts

Getting ready to join a swim team? Chances are, you’ll probably have to try out first! Nearly every swimmer from novice up to the Olympic level had to complete tryouts at one point in their life. 

Trying to prepare for and knowing what to expect at swim team tryouts though causes some anxiety among new swimmers. 

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What’s expected at swim team tryouts varies by the team. Here are a few things that you can expect to encounter at your next swim team tryout.

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Why Do You Need to Try Out?

Whether you’re joining your high school team or local club team, you’ll probably have to try out first. But why do you need to try out for a team?

Tryouts help the coach assess your abilities and swimming level. In turn, they can place you in the correct level or team that best fits your abilities.

This helps you develop at your specific level and ensures you get the best training. You won’t do well swimming with faster swimmers if you can’t keep it. The same goes for if you’re too fast for a specific level.

Related article: 5 Things to Know Before Joining a Swim Team

Both will only leave you and others feeling frustrated.

Tryouts help avoid this and get you placed in the right place. You should try to take these tryouts seriously. But don’t feel that you’ve failed if you can’t do everything asked of you. Everyone has room to grow and develop!

It’s important that before tryouts, you train as much as you can. And you take the time to prepare yourself in other areas of the sport. This can help give you an advantage when it comes time to make the team.

What To Expect at Swim Team Tryouts

In a brief nutshell, most swim team tryouts run much like a swim practice and only last for a short period.

The coach will test each swimmer’s ability in the water and will either have the swimmer swim each stroke or have them complete a series of small sets.

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This depends upon each swim team and coach. We would highly encourage swimmers to ask their coach what exactly they can expect at swim team tryouts if they want to best prepare. 


You can expect the coach to ask you some questions. Both about yourself and your swimming experience.

This will help the coach get a better understanding of what they might expect once you get in the water. And the coach knows what they can ask of you during the tryout.

You can expect questions such as:

  • How long have you been swimming?
  • Have you been on a team before?
  • Do you know how to swim?

Answer the questions as honestly as you can. This is for your safety and helps the coach get a basic understanding of what you can do.

Remember that for most swim teams, you already need to know how to swim at a minimum.

A swim team isn’t a place to learn how to swim. If you don’t know how to swim, you should consider taking lessons first with a qualified instructor or coach.

Related article: How to Join a Swim Team

Some teams offer inhouse lessons that you can take. If you don’t know how to swim, check to see if this is an option with the team.


A tryout isn’t a tryout if you don’t get in the water!

The coach will have you get into the pool after they’ve had a chance to talk to you. Don’t get into the water until they tell you to do so. 

This is for everyone’s safety, so please be sure to listen to all instructions the coach gives you. If you’re not sure, ask for clarification.

Related article: Swim Practice Etiquette

Once in the water, the coach will ask you to swim as far as you can (preferably the other end of the pool) in a specific stroke. 

Based upon your age, the coach might ask you to swim a 50 (down and back) of the same stroke. 

Typically, you can expect to complete all four strokes at your tryouts. There are four strokes in swimming and no, doggy paddle isn’t one of them 😉 The four strokes are butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

You’ll want to complete each stroke as best you can. Remember that the coach isn’t looking for absolute perfection. You’ll learn proper stroke technique later. Seeing where you’re at with each stroke helps set a guideline for where you’re currently at.


Swimming has two types of turns that you can execute when you reach a wall. A flip turn and an open hand turn.

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Both turns can be used only on specific strokes. Doing so otherwise will get you disqualified in a meet. When you’re swimming freestyle or backstroke, you’ll perform a flip turn when you reach the wall. You’ll use an open hand term when swimming breaststroke or butterfly.

Each has their own set rules that you’ll learn if you’re not familiar with them. As a rule of thumb though, you should always use both hands when doing an open hand turn. 

Most new swimmers will grab the wall when they reach it and spin around before swimming again. And that’s okay! Everyone started this way. Turns aren’t the easiest to learn if you’ve never had coaching on it.

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Some coaches will ask to see your start and others might not. This can also vary by age and your experience. 

I’ll admit that the blocks can be intimidating if you’ve never seen one. Or if you’ve ever stood on one!

Starting blocks average from about a foot to a few feet in height. You’ll find yourself standing tall when you’re standing on one. 

For some, this experience is terrifying. Especially for those new to swimming.

If you find yourself scared when you’re one the block, let the coach know. They’ll either coach you through a start or they’ll have you climb back down.

Some swimmers start from the side of the pool next to the block. It’s actually how most new swimmers are taught before using the block itself!

Will you belly flop the first few times? We won’t lie, you probably will. It takes practice to perfect your start. And even the best of swimmers can mess up. I know I’ve had my fair share of painful starts!

So if you find that your start is less than graceful, don’t worry. Again, your coach isn’t looking for perfect. 


How much can you swim? 

While most tryouts don’t last more than a couple minutes, the coach will still try to determine your swimming endurance.

Can you make it down the pool without stopping? Or do you need a breather every so often?

This might not seem important compared to knowing the strokes themselves. But experienced swimmers can swim for minutes at a time without stopping. 

Related article: How to Train for Swim Team Tryouts

A coach probably won’t have you swim anything longer than a 50 based upon your skillset. If you’re trying out for a higher level team or your high school varsity team though, they might ask for a bit longer distance.

Swim what you can. Don’t push yourself to complete another lap if you truly can’t. This will only increase the risk of you getting hurt.

Set Criteria

Some teams already have set criteria for what they expect swimmers to do in tryouts. As an example, a team might expect swimmers to swim a 50 free in a predetermined time. Or can a swimmer complete a 100 IM legally?

These set criteria might be the deciding factor in making the junior varsity team vs the varsity team.

Because of this, we highly encourage swimmers to know these predetermined factors before looking to join a new team.

Doing so gives you time to prepare and train for tryouts. And also helps you understand what you can expect at tryouts.


While knowing and training to make the team help give you an edge, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make the team. Or that you’ll make the specific group/level that you wanted.

Not everyone can make the swim team. Whether that’s a high school team or club swimming. 

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You should go into tryouts with the understanding that you might not make the team. Don’t expect to be handed a spot. 

For some, it’s possible that trying out means you automatically make the team. For others, the team will have to turn swimmers away.

Don’t take this as a sign that you should give up entirely. Ask the coach what you need to work on and listen to them. The coach knows what they’re looking for on their team.

Once you know what you need to improve on, get out there, and start improving! Look for a personal coach if you can. If you couldn’t make the high school team, see about joining a local club team to help your technique and endurance.

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It’s hard when you don’t make the swim team. The next step though is what you do with yourself. Whether you give up and admit defeat. Or whether you push forward and try to better yourself.

In Closing

It’s hard to know exactly what you can expect at swim team tryouts. 

But with the right preparation and training, you don’t have to worry so much about them. While knowing what to expect won’t guarantee that you’ll make the swim team, it can help ease your mind some.

Now that you have an idea of what to expect at your tryout get out there and start swimming! That’s truly the best step to take.

Best of luck to you and as always, happy swimming!


Bonus Content:

What to Look for in a Swim Team: How do you find the best swim team? When it comes time to look for a swim team, choosing the right swim depends mainly on: what do you want?

10 Reasons to Start Competitive Swimming: Swimming provides more than just health benefits and lifesaving skills. Here are 10 benefits to swimming and why you should start competitive swimming.

Want to Improve at the Pool?

Join swimmers and swim parents to receive my free newsletter and receive a free Swimming Glossary e-book as a thanks!

Every month you’ll receive tips and coaching to help you find success at the pool.

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