GLOSSARY: Important Words and Terms in Stroke and Turn Officiating

  • ARM: that part of the body that extends from the shoulder to the wrist.
  • BACKSTROKE: This is the only stroke swum on the back and that starts in the water. Backstroke is done
    by bringing one arm up and over the head at a time. It’s paired with a freestyle (or flutter) kick.
    Backstroke is 2nd part of the IM and 1st leg of a medley relay.
  • BACKSTROKE FLAGS: Series of flags stretched out across the width of the pool at both ends to notify
    swimmers that they’re approaching a wall. Swimmers count their strokes from the flags to the wall to
    perform a flip turn or a finish.
  • BREASTSTROKE: The kick for the breaststroke looks like a frog kick as the heels come up together
    towards the buttocks and then push out/back in a single motion. The arms typically stay just under the
    water or right at the surface, depending on the swimmer. Breaststroke is the 3rd part of the IM and the
    2nd leg of a medley relay.
  • BODY: the torso, including shoulders and hips.
  • BUTTERFLY: In this stroke, the legs stay together and form a kick much like a dolphin. The arms swing
    forward over the water together. The butterfly is the 1st part of the IM and the 3rd leg of a medley
  • DISQUALIFICATION: Occurs if a competitor impedes or obstructs the progress of another swimmer,
    appears late at the starting blocks, fails to follow instructions, walks on the floor of the pool (except in a
    freestyle event), uses aids to get ahead, finishes in a lane other than their own or uses foul language.
  • DOLPHIN KICK: Used underwater in a streamline position when coming off the walls for all strokes
    except breaststroke. Breaststroke is allowed one dolphin kick during the pullout. Also known as the ‘fifth
  • END OF COURSE: designated wall for racing turns and finishes.
  • EVENT: any race or series of races in a given stroke and/or distance. For competitive limits, one event is
    inclusive of preliminary heat(s) plus its related final(s), or one timed final, or one time trial.
  • FINISH: the instant that a swimmer touches the wall at the end of the prescribed distance.
  • FLIP TURN: Used in competition for backstroke and freestyle, and some turns in the IM. Swimmers
    approach the wall from their stomachs (backstrokers will roll from their back to their front) and
    completed a forward roll.
  • FORWARD START: an entry made while facing the course.
  • FOUL: an instance of obstruction, interference, collision, or equipment malfunction which prevents the
    successful completion of a race
  • FREESTYLE: Also known as a front or forward crawl. Freestyle is the most common stroke for beginners
    to learn. It is always last in the IM and medley relay.
  • GOGGLES: Goggles are a piece of equipment that goes over the eyes to help swimmers see better
    underwater and help keep chlorine from irritating their eyes.
  • HORIZONTAL: parallel to the surface of the water.
  • INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (IM): The IM is more of a race than a stroke. Swimmers will swim all four strokes in
    a set order. The order for IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
  • INITIAL DISTANCE: that first portion of a race for which an official time may be recorded but which is not
    in itself a completed event.
  • LANE: Place in the pool where a swimmer trains, warms up/cools down, or competes in a heat. Two lane
    lines or a lane line and a wall can make up a lane.
  • LANE DIVIDER: continuous floating markers attached to a line stretched from the starting end to the
    turning end of the course for the purpose of separating each lane.
  • LAP: Swimming down and back the length of the pool.
  • LENGTH: extent of the course from end to end.
  • MANUAL START: the start of any timing device by an individual in response to the same starting signal
    given to the swimmer(s).
  • MAY: permissive, not mandatory.
  • ON THE BACK: position of the body when the shoulders are at or past vertical towards the back.
  • ON THE BREAST: position of the body when the shoulders are at or past vertical towards the breast.
  • PAST VERTICAL TOWARD THE BREAST: Consider a line running through the swimmer’s two shoulders.
    This line makes an angle with the horizontal surface of the water. Looking at the acute angle, if the line
    has the breast facing the water the swimmer is “past vertical toward the breast”.
  • PAST VERTICAL TOWARD THE BACK: Consider a line running through the swimmer’s two shoulders. This
    line makes an angle with the horizontal surface of the water. Looking at the acute angle, if the line has
    the breast facing the water the swimmer is “past vertical toward the back”.
  • PROPULSIVE: having power to propel or move the body.
  • RELAY: a race in which four eligible team members each swim a specified portion of the course.
  • RELAY LEG: the part of a relay event that is swum by a single team member.
  • SCISSOR KICK: use of the top of the instep of one foot and the bottom of the other foot in the propulsive
    part of the kick.
  • SCRATCH (from an event): withdraw an entry from competition.
  • SHALL: mandatory.
  • SHOULD: recommended but not mandatory.
  • SIMULTANEOUSLY: occurring at the same time.
  • TOUCH: contact with the end of the course.
  • TURN: a point where the swimmers reverse or change direction.
  • VERTICAL: perpendicular to the water surface.
  • WALL: vertical portion of the pool, contiguous surfaces of the deck and overflow gutter, the front
    portion of the starting block or platform, or the touchpad at the end of the course.
  • WARNING SIGNAL: a bell, whistle, air horn, or other appropriate audible device.

Other Important Words and Terms in Competitive Swimming:

  • AGGREGATE TIME: times achieved by four individuals in separate starts which are added together to
    arrive at a relay time for entry purposes.
  • AMATEUR SPORTS ACT: the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (1998) (or as applicable, the
    Amateur Sports Act of 1978), as amended from time to time.
  • APPROVAL: a permit issued by an LSC for meets conducted in conformance with USA Swimming
    technical rules in which both members and non-members may compete.
  • CAP: silicone, latex, or  lycra  material that covers the head to help increase efficiency in the water and
    reduce drag. Swim caps can keep hair out of a swimmer’s face and can help prevent chlorine damage to
    hair. Caps can be used by male or female swimmers.
  • COMPETITION CATEGORY: stated as male or female for the purpose of athlete swimming eligibility,
    competition, selection and records. An athlete’s stated competition category shall be referred to as
  • CONFORMING TIME: time achieved in a course that corresponds to the meet competition course.
  • COURSE: designated distance over which the competition is conducted. (LONG COURSE: 50 meters.
  • SHORT COURSE: 25 yards or 25 meters.)
  • DECK: The area surrounding the pool. The deck surface is usually made of concrete, tile, or other solid
    materials. It can be slippery when wet, so be sure not to run around on it! Most pools do not allow swim
    parents on deck during practice or swim meets.
  • DECK CHANGE: changing, in whole or in part, into or out of a swimsuit when wearing just one suit in an
    area other than a permanent or temporary locker room, bathroom, changing room or other space
    designated for changing purposes.
  • DRAW: random selection by chance.
  • DUAL COMPETITION: competition between two teams.
  • FINALS: a session of a meet in which the concluding heats of an event are contested which may include
    championship, consolation, or bonus finals.
  • FIRST DAY OF MEET: day on which the first competitive swimming event is conducted.
  • HEATS: a division of an event in which there are too many swimmers to compete at one time. (See
    Preliminary Heats and Timed Final Heats).
  • INTRA-SQUAD MEET – a competition exclusively among members of a single club.
  • OPEN COMPETITION: competition that is not otherwise defined as a closed competition in which any
    qualified club, organization or individual may enter.
  • OPEN EVENT: an event in which any qualified individual may compete, regardless of age.
  • OPEN TURN (two-hand turn): Used in competition for breaststroke, butterfly, and some transition turns
    in the IM. Swimmers must use both hands to complete the turn. For a legal turn, you must touch the
    wall with both hands at the same time before turning. In this turn, you do not flip (like in the flip turn),
    but rather, pivot on the wall.
  • PLACE JUDGE: official assigned to record the order of finish of all swimmers by lane in each heat.
  • PRELIMINARY HEATS OR PRELIMINARIES: competition in which a number of heats are swum to qualify
    the fastest swimmers for the Finals.
  • PROGRAM: the order of events, including starting times and intermissions in a meet or portion thereof
    (See Session), sequentially listed by class of competition, sex, age group, distance, and stroke as set forth
    in the meet announcement.
  • SEED: to distribute the swimmers among the required number of heats and/or lanes, according to their
    submitted or preliminary times. DECK-SEED: swimmers are required to check in for their events on the
    day of the meet. After scratches are determined, events are seeded. PRE-SEED: all entrants are seeded
    prior to the day of competition.
  • SESSION: any portion of a meet distinctly separated from other portions by locale, time, or type of
    competition, i.e., preliminaries and finals; morning and evening; Senior and Age Group, etc.
  • SPORTS ORGANIZATION: a corporation, club, federation, union, association, or other group organized in
    the United States which sponsors or conducts any athletic competition.
  • STREAMLINE: The action of pushing off the wall or starting from the block with both arms extended and
    pressed tightly against each side of the head.
  • TAPPER: Personal Assistant who uses a pole with a soft-tipped end to tap a blind or visually impaired
    swimmer as notification of turns and finish.
  • TEXTILE MATERIALS: natural and/or synthetic, individual and non-consolidating yarns used to constitute
    a fabric by weaving, knitting, and/or braiding, or as further defined under current FINA swimwear rules.
  • TIME STANDARD: the time a swimmer must have previously achieved in order to compete in that event
    at a designated competition.
  • TIME TRIAL: an event conducted within or independently of a meet where the swimmer races against
    the clock to establish an official time.
  • TIMED FINAL HEATS OR TIMED FINALS: competition in which only heats are swum and final placings are
    determined by the times achieved in the heats.
  • VENUE: the area located on the sides and ends of the pool, spectator area, team areas within the pool
    facility (e.g., portion of the building designated for teams and swimmers, or fenced area around an
    outdoor pool), locker rooms, and such other areas as may be specifically designated by the host club or
    organization, meet director, or referee. In open water competition, the geographical area and environs
    where the meet is conducted.
  • VIRTUAL MEET – a competition held at multiple venues.