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. 

Yet no one will tell you what exactly it is and how a swim meet works. In fact, most beginner swimmers don’t know a lot about swim meets on the day of their first meet! 

Let’s change that 😉

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background of a pool with black text in a white box that reads 'what is a swim meet?' Another black box with white text reads '3 definitions for you'

What is a swim meet?

The dictionary definition of a swim meet is ‘a swimming competition between two or more teams’.

Well that’s helpful! 😀

While the dictionary didn’t lie, it only provided a shortened version of what a swim meet actually is. In reality, it’s much more broad and complex.

What’s a better definition? In a brief nut shell:

A swim meet is an opportunity for a swimmer to compete in various different strokes and distances, while attempting to drop time. Swim meets are the only time that a swimmer can qualify for certain cuts (such as National or Olympic Trials), and earn spots on select teams. 

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It’s a time for high school swimmers to show their skills to college coaches for recruiting. And it’s a chance for swimmers to push themselves to see what they can accomplish.

Swim meets take all the hours spent training in practice and allow swimmers that moment to show off their hard work. A meet is to swimmers what a basketball game is to basketball players.

However, it’s never referred to as a match, competition, or a game. It’s only ever:

  • A swim meet
  • A meet

And that’s it! That’s the most literal, broad stroke definition of what a swim meet is. 

What is a swim meet, really?

A swim meet is long and can run from 2 hours up to 6 hours. Or longer. The time varies upon the number, age, and times of the competitors, and whether the meet is prelim/finals or timed finals.

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They can also stretch from a single day to several days, based upon the meet itself. It’s one of the reasons most swim meets start so early!

Swim meets are also hot. Even during the summer, an indoor facility will keep the pool area slightly warm to accommodate the swimmers. For coaches and spectators though, it can turn into a sweat box. 

And swim meets can be very loud. When you pack in hundreds of parents, swimmers, and coaches into a single area, the noise turns deafening. Especially during close races or when someone is chasing a cut or record.

But that’s not all it is. 

The Swimmer’s Definition

It’s an early morning wake up that involves jumping into a cold pool for an extremely crowded warm up. A swim meet means sitting around for hours while waiting to race in an event that’s over in either seconds or minutes.

But it’s more than that.

It’s the burn in our lungs and muscles. The race of our heart and the flutter in our stomach as we approach the block. From the first breath we take at the flight of the start to the very last fight of breath at the end of the race. 

Knowing that the hours spent training come down to a moment in time. A chance to prove yourself. 

That victory and defeat comes faster than the blink of an eye. But that victory isn’t just measured in first places. Rather it’s the victory against the clock, against the swimmer next to us. 

Success is measured not in wins but in time dropped. Cuts earned.

And defeat comes from more than just a loss. It’s the faintest wiggle on the start or a missed wall.  Defeat is letting anxiety overtake the body and telling us we can’t do it. Second guessing and self-doubting ourselves. 

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A meet is the time to race. To put the naysayers to rest, even if that naysayer is us. We celebrate victory in what we’ve achieved and reflect on what we lost. 

A swim meet is stressful and painful. It’s hard and we can face more defeats than wins. But it’s overcoming the pain and the odds as we show ourselves what exactly we can do. 

The Parent’s Definition

It’s the early morning and late nights filled with the defeat of loss and the thrill of victory. It means hours sitting in a tightly packed seating area and leaving with a headache from the smell of chlorine and the near constant yelling.

And if that’s all you get out of a meet, then you’re doing it wrong.

A swim meet is watching as your child chases down a dream. Feeling your heart pound alongside them as they swim. The touch of anxiety as they take to the blocks and that catch in your throat when they dive in.

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Because it all comes down to this. All the hours they spent honing their skills at practice. Trying to better themselves and in doing so, maturing before your eyes. 

Hear the cheer in your voice as you encourage them along – even knowing that they can’t hear you. And feel the full body motions – even though they can’t see you. All peaking as you lean forward in your seat as their hand touches the wall.

Then that second pause as you look to the scoreboard for their time and place. 

That moment when you realize they’re going to win their race or get that cut. The pride you feel that swells in your chest at that moment when you both realize what just happened. Followed by the relief that they achieved what they sought.

Yet it’s also the bitter taste of sorrow when that opportunity just slips from their grasp. Watching as it happens and knowing that you can’t be there to make it better. But comforting them once they reach you.

There are tears of happiness and ones of sorrow. And even when you want to cry alongside them, you remain their steadfast pillar of support.

You’re their biggest fan and supporter. Their rock in the storm. The one they look for in the crowd. 

And though we won’t tell them ourselves, they’re our inspiration.

To a swim parent, a swim meet is more than just watching. It’s a celebration of all that your child has worked towards. Seeing how far they’ve come and knowing how far they can go. It’s pride and it’s heart every time they get on the block.

Because it’s their time to shine.

Caption of: "Nothing says love like sitting through a 4 hour swim meet for two races"

The Coach’s Definition

A swim meet starts early and can end late. It can begin on Friday and run through the weekend. It tests the patience and endurance of any seasoned coach. Meets mean standing for long hours while sweating under hot lights and trying to keep track of dozens of swimmers.

The free food is nice. That’s not why we do it though.

We do it because we believe in these swimmers. In these individuals chasing after something bigger than themselves. A desire to showcase their hard work, strength, courage, determination, and skills before everyone. 

Only coaches and teammates see the hard work a swimmer puts in at practice. But at a swim meet? Now it’s time for everyone to see what we’ve already seen.

It’s watching a swimmer grow before your eyes and better themselves along the way. You blink and suddenly, it’s their last race with you. 

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It’s watching swimmers push past their fears and pain to reach the next level. To step up to the challenge and find courage in the face of a storm. That’s a swim meet.

It means encouraging from the side of the pool. The random signals and whistles that we give in hopes that our swimmer understands.

For a coach, a swim meet is about anticipation and growth. Seeing what the swimmer has accomplished and knowing what they can still achieve. Encouraging and having confidence in them, even when they don’t have it in themselves.

A swim meet isn’t about us as the coach. It’s about the swimmer. In the end, that’s all it comes down to. Always.

In Closing

When you ask someone ‘what is a swim meet?’ chances are, you won’t get the same answer from another person. While the overall meaning remains the same, it still varies by each individual. 

It’s stress, anxiety, fear, and anticipation all rolled into one. Yet it’s also heart, courage, and pride that shines and goes on display for all to see. 

A swim meet is more than just its literal definition. It’s something different to everyone 

As always, to happy swimming!

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Bonus Content:

How to Stay Warm at Swim Meets: Not staying warm at swim meets can lead to bad times and races. Try some of these options to help you stay warm at swim meets and race faster.

How to Have a Better Swim Meet: Not dropping time at swim meets? it’s time to look into making a change! Certain habits can help increase your chances at having a better swim meet.


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