This page will provide you an introduction to the sport of swimming

The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke
and butterfly. The combination of all four strokes is called individual medley.


Each swim meet offers a variety of events and distances, depending on the age
group and classification. Each swimmer will have a limit to the number of events
he or she may swim each day, depending on the meet rules.

freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most
commonly used is sometimes called the crawl, which is characterized by the
alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water surface and an
alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick. On turns and finishes, some part of the
swimmer must touch the wall. Most swimmers do a flip turn.

Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick
while on the back. On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a
flip turn and some part of the swimmer must touch the wall. The swimmer must
finish on the back.

breaststroke, which is the oldest stroke dating back hundreds of years,
requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane.
The hands are pressed out from in front of the breast in a heart shaped pattern
and recovered under or on the surface of the water. The kick is a simultaneous
somewhat circular motion similar to the action of a frog. On turns and at the
finish, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously at,
above or below the water surface.

Some consider the
butterfly to be the most beautiful of the strokes. It features
a simultaneous recovery of the arms over the water combined with an
undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together
and may not flutter, scissors or use the breaststroke kick. Both hands must
touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish. (The butterfly is the
newest stroke and was developed in the early 1950s as a variation of the
breaststroke. It became an Olympic stroke in 1956 in Melbourne.)

individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four
strokes. In the IM, the swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after
one-fourth of the race to backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle.

In the
medley relay, all four strokes are swum. The first swimmer swims
backstroke, the second breaststroke, the third butterfly, and the final swimmer
anchors the relay with freestyle.

freestyle relay events consist of four freestylers, each swimming one
quarter of the total distance of the event.

Starts: In the start, the swimmer is called to the starting position by the starter
who visually checks that all swimmers are motionless. When all swimmers are
set, the starting horn is sounded to start the race. If the starter feels that one of
the swimmers has moved, left early or gotten an unfair advantage, the guilty
swimmer may be disqualified after the race for a false start. Under USA
Swimming rules, one false start disqualifies the swimmer.


The technical rules of swimming are designed to provide fair and equitable
conditions of competition and to promote uniformity in the sport. Each swimming
stroke has specific rules designed to ensure that no swimmer gets an unfair
competitive advantage over another swimmer.

The Course

Competition pools may be short course (25 yards or 25 meters), or long course
(50 meters). The international standard (as used in the Olympics) is 50 meters.
World records are accomplished in 25 and 50 meter pools. USA Swimming
maintains records for 25 yard, 25 meter and 50 meter pools.


USA Swimming is made up of approximately 2,800 teams from all over the
country. Of these clubs, nearly half have 80 swimmers or less, and a handful of
teams have over 500 swimmers. A team may be comprised of any number of
swimmers, parents and coaches.

Participants compete in different age groups and meets depending on their
achievement level and how old they are on the first day of the meet.
Traditionally recognized age groups are 10 and under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16,
17-18. Many local meets feature 8 and under, single age groups, or senior
events. Team practice groups are usually determined by age and/or ability.


Officials are present at all competitions to enforce the technical rules of
swimming so the competition is fair and equitable. Officials attend clinics, pass a
written test and work meets before being certified. All parents are encouraged
to get involved with some form of officiating.
P.O. Box 6445, Alexandria, VA 22306     |     |     703-627-4796
Fort Belvoir Swim Team