A Brief Overview Of Swim Meets

Swim meets might seem simple on their surface but to new swimmers and families, they’re anything but. Even to seasoned swimmers, swim meets can be confusing.

So what do you need to know about swim meets? 

We’ve compiled a brief overview of swim meets to help get you started. From swim meet etiquette to what you should pack for a swim meet. And all that falls in between.

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What is a Swim Meet? 

If you’re new to swimming, there’s a chance you’ve heard the word ‘swim meet’ tossed around the pool a few times. So what is a swim meet?

More Content for You: What are Swim Meets Really Like?

The most literal, broad stroke definition of a swim meet is “an opportunity for a swimmer to compete in various strokes and distances. All while attempting to drop time and win an event.”

Swim meets are the only time that a swimmer can qualify for certain cuts (such as National Cuts or Olympic Trial Cuts), and earn spots on select teams. 

Swim meets are never referred to as a match, competition, or game. They’re only ever called:

  • A swim meet
  • A meet

But if we’re honest, it’s more than that. 

Swim meets are complex and the definition varies by who you ask. For a more in-depth definition of a swim meet, be sure to read our article: What is a Swim Meet?

Are Swim Meets Important?

And do swimmers need to go to swim meets?

We hear this question a lot and although we’re biased, we believe that yes, swim meets are important and swimmers should attend them. 

Swim meets provide swimmers with a chance to set goals and then chase after them. They’re also the only place where swimmers can officially drop times and earn cuts.

More Content for You: Top 11 Questions About Swim Meets

Meets also give swimmers a chance to put everything they’ve accomplished in practice to the test. To show themselves what they can do and what to keep striving for. 

Most importantly, swim meets are a great chance to build self-confidence and leadership skills. Swimmers also tend to inspire other swimmers without even realizing it. Swim meets can help them put their best foot forward by showcasing good sportsmanship.

Quick Swim Meet Terminology

There are dozens of swim meet terms that you should know. We cover more swim meet terms in our other article Easy Swim Meet Terms for Success. 

For this brief overview, we’ll only cover a handful of the more important ones:

  • Event: Name and number of the race
  • Heat: Separates swimmers in an event and is composed of 6-10 swimmers (based upon how many lanes are available). 
  • Lane: Place where a swimmer will compete in their event and heat. A lane can change throughout the meet
  • Time Standards: Minimum qualifying time that’s needed to enter a meet. As a swimmer improves and drops time, they’ll move up to the next time standard.
  • Heat Sheet: A packet (or a few sheets) that tell swimmers, coaches, and parents what event, heat, and lane a swimmer is in. Can also be found online at MeetMobile

Related articles: How to Read a Heat Sheet and What is a Heat Sheet?

How Much Do Swim Meets Cost?

If you’re new to swimming, you probably didn’t realize that swim meets cost money. This extra expense can provide a bit of a sticker shock to some.

Related article: True Cost of Swim Meets

A few expenses that you might encounter at a swim meet are:

  • Entry fees: These cover the cost of each event that a swimmer will compete in, including relay events
  • Suits: Swimmers can compete in some expensive tech suits, based on the type of meet and a swimmers age
  • Apparel: Some teams require that swimmers wear a team warm-up at meets. And based on how you regulate body heat, you might need a parka to help stay warm
  • Travel: Whether the meet is local or an away meet, travel expenses can easily eat into a family budget. Fuel, lodging, or travel expenses add up quickly

This varies greatly on the type of swim team, swim meet, and location. But swim meets can cost anywhere from $50 to $1000 or more.

Before you start to panic over this list, we do want to stress that not all of these items apply to everyone. Teams will cover some or parts of these expenses for swimmers on a summer league team or a high school swim team.

Typically, most of these expenses will apply to year-round club swimmers. And even then, it varies greatly based on different factors.

If you’re concerned about the financial aspect of swim meets, we highly encourage you to speak with the coach. The team may offer some financial assistance or have suggestions for you.

We also have a few articles on swimming costs and how to save money while swimming that may help. Check them out here: How to Save Money at Away Swim Meets, Swimming on a Budget, and What is the Cost of Competitive Swimming?

Do Swimmers Compete in Special Gear?

Yes and no. It comes down to a swimmer’s personal preference.

Some swimmers have caps and goggles specific for competition. However, other swimmers are fine with racing in their everyday practice cap and goggles. 

Related article: How to Pick the Right Swim Goggles

When it comes to swimsuits for meets, it’s a bit more complex.

While it’s also dependent on a personal preference, it can also vary by the type of meet and age.

Beginner and younger swimmers typically don’t compete in elite-level tech suits. USA Swimming just released guidelines for swimmers 12 & under that prohibit them from wearing elite-level tech suits.

Read their statement and guidelines here

You can find legal and approved 12 and under tech suits at SwimOutlet, where they have a separate section for the approved suits

Related article: 15 Ways to Extend the Life of Your Tech Suit

Swimmers can compete in a practice suit if they desire. At the same time, some swimmers will always wear a type of tech suit to every meet they compete at.

Ultimately, what a swimmer competes in at a swim meet comes down to what they prefer. And what works best for them. 🙂

How to Prepare for a Swim Meet

Everyone prepares for swim meets in their own way. Some swimmers have certain habits they follow leading up to a meet. While others wing it.

And that’s okay!

With time, you’ll end up developing a system that works best for you. 

There are some things to consider though as you prepare for your next swim meet. One of which is making sure that you keep training. 

It’s tempting to want to pull back as a meet gets closer. But there’s a difference between resting for a meet and taking time off. Most swimmers will keep training up to the day before a meet. 

The intensity and distance might be less but they’re still training.

This helps keep your body familiar with the motions. It also helps keep your endurance, strength, and speed where it needs to be. 

Swim Meet Etiquette

You’ll find several set rules listed in the swim meet information. Such as parents not being allowed on deck and no flash photography. 

But there are several unspoken rules swimmers (and parents) should follow to have a smooth meet.

Most forms of swim meet etiquette come down simply to respect. 

  • Respect the belongings of others
  • Be mindful of other swimmers in the pool
  • Practice good sportsmanship
  • Thank officials, times, volunteers, and your coach
  • Clean up after yourself

You can also practice good swim meet etiquette by being aware of your surroundings. 

Swim meets are often busy and chaotic. With everyone scrambling all over the place in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s important not to get in someone’s way.

Try not to stand in the middle of the deck space. And don’t sit on the wall. You don’t want to accidentally cause someone to miss their race because you blocked their way.

For more information and other suggestions, check out: Best Advice for Swim Meet Etiquette

How to Have a Better Swim Meet 

Every swimmer wants to have a better swim meet

But while there’s no magic formula or secret to success, certain habits that swimmers develop can help increase their chances at a better swim meet. 

Related articles: 

One habit to get into is warming up and cooling down properly before each race. It’s something most swimmers struggle with. And it’s tempting to skip it in favor of hanging out more with friends.

But you prime your body for your next race when you warm up properly. And a long cool-down can help you prepare for your next race. 

Another way to have a better swim meet is to make sure you stay warm. You don’t race well when you’re cold and shivering.

Not sure how to stay warm at a swim meet? 

We recommend looking at warm clothes, such as parkas and warm-ups to stay warm. For a list of options, head over to Best Warm Clothes for Swim Meets to find what can work best for you!

What Should You Bring to a Swim Meet?

Sometimes the answer feels like ‘everything’. 🙂

Joking aside, there are several things to consider when you’re packing for a swim meet. Some are obvious, such as goggles, caps, suits, and towels.

For those newer to swimming and going to their first swim meet, we’ll also mention that you should bring extras of these items. Because if it can break or get lost, it’ll happen at a swim meet.

Related article: What to Pack for a Swim Meet

You’ll also want to remember to pack food and a water bottle. As nutrition and hydration are important if you want to have a good swim meet.

Some other items to consider packing are hygiene products, warm apparel, and glasses/contacts if you need them.

If you’re going to an overnight swim meet, it’s important that you remember to pack a few extra items. Such as extra clothes, toiletries, and chargers for your phone.

Related article: What to Pack for an Overnight Swim Meet

Swim Meet Nutrition

A common swimming myth is that you shouldn’t eat right before swimming. And to some extent, that’s correct. Eating something heavy, such as fast food or a large meal before getting into the pool can cause issues.

However, during swim meets, you need to eat if you want to have the energy to race. 

What and when you should eat varies by the swimmer. And it might take some time to find what foods work best for you.

It’s also important that you’re eating something healthy, too. When you eat junky food, you typically don’t perform well.

We recommend healthy snacks for swim meets, such as fruit, pasta, and salt-free pretzels. 

Just as eating right during a swim meet is important, so too is eating properly before and after a swim meet.

Before a swim meet, most swimmers will load up on carbs. But it’s also important to also include vegetables and protein to help keep your body fueled. 

Following a swim meet, your body needs to recover. Protein drinks or chocolate milk can help your muscles start to recover faster. Eating shortly after a swim meet ends is also an ideal way to start the recovery process.

Best of luck to you at your next swim meet!