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Your First Swim Meet

Swim meets can be confusing for new swimmers and families.  Read below for a description of what will happen, what you need to bring/should do, and how swim meets work!  Meets held at Sabino Vista Hills or other teams' facilities are called Dual or Tri Meets.  There is an additional section that discusses Invitational and Championship meets.

Common Terms

Just like in other sports, there are quite a few terms unique to swimming that are good to know!  There are many jobs at a swim meet - if you see a volunteer referenced on this page who is not in the glossary below, check the Meet Jobs page for a description of the job and its duties.

  • Age Group - Swimmers are divided into age groups so that they can compete fairly against their peers.  The most often used age groups are:  6 & under, 8 & under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, and 15-18.  Swimmer age in SAAA is set as their age on June 1st of the year.  E.g. a swimmer born on May 30, 2010 or even June 1, 2010 would be 13 years old.  A swimmer born on June 2, 2010 (or later) would be 12 years old.  Some swimmers may be asked to practice in a different age group based on ability, however, swimmers may only compete at swim meets in their correct age group (relay teams may sometimes have one or two swimmers from a younger age group, which is called "swimming up").

  • Blocks - Starting platforms located at the end of each lane of the pool.

  • Event - An event in swimming is usually a particular stroke for a particular age group and gender.  E.g. "Boys 9-10 50-meter Freestyle" would be a single event.

  • Flags - Also known as "backstroke flags".  A line covered in flags suspended in the air above the lanes at each end of the pool.  These lines are safety equipment that cue swimmers who are swimming backstroke that the end of the lane is approaching.

  • Heat - Many pools don't have enough lanes for every swimmer in an age group to swim at the same time.  Swimmers are broken down into Heats based on their best swim time in that stroke.  

  • Meet Director - This person is responsible for ensuring the swim meet has adequate volunteers and officials, and coordinates the various moving parts (officials, coaches, swimmers, volunteers) that are required to hold a swim meet.  The meet director is a great person to ask about specific meet jobs or other opportunities to pitch in and help the team out.

  • Official - A term generally used for trained volunteers who enforce some portion (or all) of the rules governing swim meets, swim strokes, and other details.  Officials are usually dressed in white shirts.

  • Referee - The Referee is the top official who oversees the conduct of the meet.  At Invitational or Championship meets, the Referee will be the person wearing a whistle.  At dual meets, the Starter usually whistles the swimmers to the blocks.  

  • Relay - Coaches form teams of four swimmers to compete together cooperatively - each swimmer will swim a certain stroke for a certain distance, and upon touching the wall the next teammate will dive off the blocks.  The two relay types are Freestyle and Medley Relay.  In a Medley Relay, each swimmer swims one of the four swimming strokes in a certain order.  All four swimmers may swim any stroke they prefer in a freestyle relay, however, most often all four will swim the "crawl" (what you'd normally think of as freestyle) since it is the fastest of the four strokes.

  • SAAA - The Southern Arizona Aquatics Association.  This is the local recreational swimming league in which Sabino Vista Hills Swim Team participates.

  • Starter - The official "in charge" of starting swimmers.  

  • Stroke - There are four basic strokes in swimming - Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle.  Swimmers can also compete in the "Individual Medley", where all four strokes are swum in the above order in a single event.

  • Timer - A volunteer who helps to record swimmers' times to establish results.

What is a swim meet?

Swim meets allow your swimmers to compete against their teammates and swimmers on other teams.  Meets are a great opportunity for swimmers to show off what they've learned to families and friends and help them to gauge their progress and fitness over time.  SVH has one Saturday, and eight Tuesday/Thursday evening swim meets, all held in June.  These are called Dual (two team) or Tri (three team) Meets.  Swimmers may also optionally participate in an Invitational meet in early-mid June, and in the league championship meet in early to mid-July.  Invitationals and Championships are a great opportunity for swimmers to test themselves against swimmers from all over Tucson, many of whom they may not swim against at local dual/tri meets during the season.

Dual or Tri Meets involve two or three teams meeting at the pool to compete against each other.  Most often, half of the meet will be held on Tuesday at one team's pool, and then the remaining events are held on Thursday at the other team's pool.  Most dual meets award swimmers a ribbon based on their placement in their specific Heat (see the Definitions section).

Invitationals and Championships involve swimmers from most of the SAAA teams in Tucson getting together on a weekend morning (or mornings) and competing against each other.  Invitationals are in a "Timed Finals" format, and Championships are held in a "Prelim-Finals" format (see the Meet Types section below).

What do I bring?

All SAAA meets are held outdoors during the summer.  Generally, the team tries to provide shade tents for families and swimmers where needed.  Common items you'll need include:​

  • A cooler with ice and non-alcoholic drinks - focus on water and drinks with simple carbohydrates (such as sugar or fructose - which will help with a quick recovery for the next event) and electrolytes.  Bring enough cold water for the entire family.

  • Enough towels for the swimmer's events.  Swimmers may swim up to four or five times in a single meet - make sure you have enough dry towels depending on weather conditions.

  • Sun Hat(s) - A full-brimmed sun hat and sunglasses are important.

  • Sunscreen

  • Portable Chairs - One for each member of the family, including the swimmer.

  • Swim Cap (have an extra cap or two - they sometimes break at the worst time)

  • Goggles (have a spare set or two)

  • Non-fatty, high carb snacks.

  • A debit/credit card, or for away meets, cash for snacks and meet programs (some teams also require you to purchase the meet program if you don't want to reference a shared copy posted on a wall).

  • Competition Legal Swimsuit - This is a one piece swimsuit with no zippers or external ties.  For boys - the suit must start below the naval and end above the knees.  For girls, the suit may not cover the neck or arms, and must end above the knees.  For swimmers under 12, "technical suits" (these are expensive) are not allowed unless specifically designed approved and marked for under 12 use by FINA / World Aquatics.  If your swimmer has a religious, modesty, medical, or other reason for wearing a non-standard swimsuit - please talk to and get approval from a Coach before the first swim meet.  Swimmers in illegal swimwear may not be allowed to compete.  This includes rash-guards, "YMCA suits", etc.

Meet Types / Awards

  • Heat Placement
    Most Dual/Tri Meets rank swimmers' results based on their order of finish in their Heat.  Ribbons are usually awarded to all swimmers based on that finish.

  • Timed Finals
    Invitationals, and some teams' Dual/Tri Meets are conducted in a Timed Finals format.  This means swimmers are divided into Heats, but their order of finish is based on their time when compared against all of the other swimmers in their gender and age group (the "event").  Awards are usually given only to the top X number of swimmers in their age group for a particular stroke (X varies depending on the meet and number of swimmers competing).

  • Prelim/Finals
    The only meet in SAAA which uses the Prelim/Finals format is Championships.  In this format, swimmers in a gender/age group compete in heats and their times are all compared against each other.  The top X swimmers by time then compete again in a "Final" to place against each other and score points for their team.  The number of swimmers is determined by the pool size and whether or not the meet also has a "consolation" and "bonus" final.  Swimmers who qualify for the Final are expected to "scratch" by telling a coach if they are unable to compete in the Final prior to a certain time - this is important so that there are not empty places in the finals heats.

Arriving at the Meet

  • Prior to the meet, the Coaches will announce when warmups will occur.  ALL swimmers must appear at the pool at the correct time to warm up - even if they are not swimming until later in the meet.  Warm-ups are a time to loosen up muscles, to gain the correct mindset to swim, and for the Coaches to provide last minute instructions.  Most venues at SAAA do not have a separate warm-up area, which precludes swimmers from warming up at a later time.

  • When arriving, find the team's sitting area. Swimmers generally are encouraged to sit together in a specific area (especially 8 & under swimmers who need to be in a findable location so that they can be assembled and escorted to the blocks).  Parents and spectators generally also gather together.

  • Get your swimmer ready for warmup in time for warmups to start.  Remove extra clothing, apply sunscreen, and put on their cap and goggles.

  • It's best to have a sharpie for your swimmer to mark their swims on their arm.  This can be the difference between a missed swim, or a timer or good shepherd quickly understanding where your swimmer is supposed to be and getting them to the correct lane on time.  Missed swims generally will NOT be made up later.  Mark the Event Number, Heat Number, and Lane Number for each swim in a row on their arm in columns - some parents/swimmers like to add the stroke too. For example:

    35   4    2   50Fr  - This means Event 35, Heat 4, Lane 2, and the event is the 50yd Freestyle.

    Ask a fellow swim parent if you need help with this.  This information can be found in a meet program - which is usually posted on a wall at the pool and/or emailed prior to the meet.  


Meet Officials are trained volunteers who ensure the rules of swimming are being followed so that the swimmers are ensured a fair competition.  SAAA generally follows the USA Swimming rules (who in turn adopt rules and procedures from World Aquatics) - these are the same rules you'll see at a national competition or even the Olympics!  Meet Officials with SAAA usually wear white shirts with dark blue pants.  Sometimes at Dual Meets you'll see trained parent volunteers who are less formally dressed acting as officials.

The three most common officials you'll see are:

  • Referee
    The Referee oversees the rules for the entire meet - everything from safety and procedural rules, down to individual swimmers' strokes.  The Referee has jurisdiction over anyone who is at the facility, including parents and spectators.  The Referee makes the actual decision to disqualify swimmers for stroke related rules either by personal observation or based on recommendations from a Stroke and Turn Judge or Starter, and also adjudicates any appeals of those decisions from Coaches.  The Referee is most often found in "the box" - an area located between the flags and the blocks at the end of the pool with the starting blocks (the "start end").  If the Referee personally observes an infraction, they will raise their hand straight up in the air to signal coaches and spectators that there has been a rules violation.

  • Starter
    The Starter's role is to ensure the swimmers have a fair opportunity to start their race together.  The Starter watches the swimmers' reactions to his/her commands, and will either start the race or possibly request that the swimmers stand back up.  If after starting the swimmers, the Starter (or Referee) believes that the swimmers did not get a fair start, they may initiate the recall signal (a series of fast starting tone sounds) to notify the swimmers that they should stop racing and return to the blocks.  The Starter and Referee work as a team to identify swimmers who may have started early (recorded as a "False Start" disqualification).  The Starter also is usually found in "The Box" (see Referee above).

  • Stroke and Turn Judge
    Stroke and Turn Judges ensure a fair swim by ensuring that each swimmer is swimming a particular stroke in a "legal" manner.  When a swimmer is observed violating a stroke related rule, the Stroke and Turn Judge will raise their arm straight into the air and report the infraction to the Referee - who will either accept or decline the recommendation based on the information provided by the Stroke and Turn Judge.  Stroke and Turn Judges will either observe from the ends of the pool, or sometimes will walk alongside the swimmers on the edge of the pool.  Timers, spectators and swimmers should ensure they remain clear of the Stroke and Turn Judges and the areas they are moving in - the Judge has the right of way at all times.

There are a few other officials that will work larger meets, however, they're not often seen at the SAAA due to the relatively small sizes of the meets.  Responsibilities usually covered by those officials are usually overseen by the Referee in this league.

If you're interested in learning more about becoming an Official, please speak to a Meet Director.

You can view and download the USA Swimming rulebook here:  USA Swimming Rules and Policies

Conduct / Sportsmanship

USA Swimming, the Southern Arizona Aquatics Association, and Sabino Vista Hills take swimmer and spectator sportsmanship and conduct very seriously.  Our decks are places where swimmers are cheered for doing their best, whether they're on our team or a competitor's.  Our Officials are parent volunteers who do this out of their love for their children and/or the sport.  Swimmers or spectators who are unsportsmanlike to each other, Coaches, or Officials will be asked to leave. 


Youth sport is supposed to be fun and a place for our children to learn valuable life skills!  Please stay positive and supportive.

Disqualifications (DQs)

Like other sports, there are rules in swimming which are designed to ensure a fair field of competition for swimmers.  At some point your swimmer will get a DQ, or disqualification.  This means an Official noticed in infraction - whether it's taking off too soon in a relay, turning over towards their stomach during backstroke, or even having their feet propelling them incorrectly during breaststroke.  When an Official notices this, they will raise their arm and note the swimmer's infraction - which will nullify their time in that event.

DQs aren't a punishment - they're a learning opportunity and are used by our Coaches as a tool to help teach swimmers better form and / or conduct.  While swimmers under nine years old are allowed some leeway at dual meets (see above), at Invitational and Championship meets, the rules are applied strictly  at all age levels as it is a higher level of competition. 


When your swimmer gets DQ'd, first of all, have them talk to a coach.  The coach will provide guidance and will follow up with the swimmer during practice to fix the problem.  Secondly, congratulate your swimmer on a great swim and tell them to listen to coach and keep working hard at practice.  After the meet, take them to Dairy Queen (DQ!) or their favorite place for a treat - this is an opportunity for them to grow as an athlete and a person.

Still Confused?

That's ok!  Like any new sport, there are a lot of things to learn.  Feel free to reach out to the parents around you at practice or meets and ask lots of questions.  Make sure to grab a few phone numbers so you can text if you're lost on the way to the pool of have a last minute question!  If there's a topic you'd like to see covered on this page, please reach out to us via the Contact Us page and we'll look at getting it added to the page.

Don't forget to click around the web site and check out the Meet Info page for more information on meets at SVH.

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