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New to Swimming

If you are new to the sport of swimming, here are some key vocabulary to help you and your swimmer!

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Swim Vocabulary

Vocabulary of Swim Terms


Division of swimmers according to age. The NVSL age group divisions are: 8 & under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-18. In addition, WFDL adds a 6 & under age group for B meets.


The swimmer who swims the final leg in a relay.


The flags suspended over the water near each end of the pool. They aid swimmers in timing the turn and finish in backstroke. Usually, a swimmer counts how many strokes it takes them to reach the wall once they see the flags.


In Backstroke (“Back”), like freestyle, almost anything goes, as long as the swimmer stays on their back. Older swimmers will learn the backstroke flip turn, which is the only time a swimmer may turn onto their front. A swimmer starts a backstroke race in the water with feet planted against the wall, and hanging on to either another swimmer’s legs or the lip on the pool awaiting the starter’s signal then pushing off on their back. One common DQ occurs when a swimmer turns onto their front (even if just a roll to being slightly more on their front than back), often right before they touch the wall at the end of a race. Another common DQ occurs when older swimmers do not execute the flip turn legally.


Breaststroke (“Breast”) is swum chest down, starting in the streamline position. Breaststroke is required to be swum as a cyclical stroke, with the arm pull and kick in an alternating sequence. First, the hands pull out and back simultaneously in the same horizontal plane and then come together in front of the chest and not beyond the hipline. The head comes out of the water for the breath. As the hands push back forward to the initial position, the kick is started. The kick is a “frog” kick with the toes pointed outward during the propulsive part of the kick and with the legs moving simultaneous to each other. Once the arms are at full extension, the swimmer finishes the kick with legs together. Turns and finishes require simultaneous two-hand touch at the wall. It is a difficult stroke to master and most DQs happen in breaststroke, often for illegal kick (scissor or flutter, instead of frog) and non-simultaneous touch or one hand touch at the wall.


Butterfly (“Fly”) is swum chest down, starting in the streamline position. There are two components of the fly: the arm pull and the kick, but with is no requirement to alternate arm pulls and kicks. Both arms are pulled back underwater and then brought forward over the water simultaneously. The kick is a dolphin kick with both legs and feet moving simultaneously. Turns and finishes require simultaneous two-hand touch at the wall. Fly can be hard to perform and common DQs are for alternating kick movement and arms that are not simultaneous or do not come out of the water.


The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coaches.


Short for “disqualification”. A swimmer disqualifies themselves when they do not swim within the rules of the race. A DQ is given whenever the swimmer commits an infraction either at the start, while performing the stroke, at the turn (if applicable), or at the touch at the end of the race. A DQ is a learning experience as it lets the swimmer and the coach know what needs correction. The Team Rep is the only person allowed to discuss or dispute a DQ with the referee.


A scored “A” meet between two teams where the team with the highest point total is declared the winner.


A race of a stroke over a given distance. One event may consist of multiple heats or races, especially in a B meet.


A false start occurs when a swimmer moves after the starter has asked for swimmers to take their mark or when a swimmer anticipates the start horn and dives in ahead of the start. A false start results in a disqualification.


The turn a swimmer performs at one end of the pool when swimming 50 meters in backstroke and freestyle. The swimmer approaches the wall on their front, tucks, does a forward flip, and pushes off the wall with their feet.


Freestyle (“Free”) is defined as any means of swimming across the pool. Any stroke and kick are acceptable. The most common technique is the front crawl with a traditional alternating arm stroke, flutter kick, and side breathing. While there are not many rules to break, the swimmer may not walk or push off on the bottom of the pool or pull themselves along using the lane lines. The swimmer also must touch the opposite wall (the “turn”) in a 50-meter race before returning to the starting end.


One race of many in the same event. Since there are only so many lanes, multiple heats of the same event may be held, especially in B meets and Divisional. If there are 24 swimmers in an event and six lanes are used, then four heats must be held. A swimmer may finish first in their heat and but still not place in the event because swimmers in other heats have faster times.


The individual medley (“IM”) is an event in which the swimmer swims each of the four strokes in the sequence: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. The IM event in the NVSL is a 100-meter IM, which means that 25 meters, or one pool length, of each stroke is swum. In a 100-meter IM, every turn is a stroke change and stroke finish rules apply. This means no backstroke flip turns are permitted since a swimmer must finish backstroke on their back.


The list of swimmers ordered from fastest to slowest in each event. The ladder is kept by the coaches and team reps to help determine how to place swimmers into individual and relay events for A meets, Relay Carnival, and Divisional. Parents may request to see the ladder to help them decide what events their swimmers should swim in B meets.


Continuous floating markers attached to a cable dividing the lanes.


One length of the pool. In almost all NVSL pools this equals 25 meters.


The part of a relay event swum by a single team member. Also, a single stroke in the IM.


A swimmer whose lower legs serve as a handholds for a fellow swimmer at the start of a backstroke race.


A swim competition against another team or group of swimmers.


Northern Virginia Swim League. The league that Brookfield Breakers competes in for A meets, Relay Carnival, and Divisionals.


The turn a swimmer does at one end of the pool when swimming 50 meters in breaststroke and butterfly. The swimmer approaches the wall on their front, touches the wall with two hands, turns around, and pushes off the wall.


A swimmer’s best time in an event. Setting a personal best is a great goal for an event or a meet.


Coming in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in a given event.


There are two kinds of relays: the freestyle relay and the medley relay. Both involve a team of four swimmers, each swimming one quarter of the total distance, which is 100 meters or 200 meters in the NVSL, depending on the age group. In the freestyle relay, each swimmer swims the freestyle. In the medley relay, the sequence is backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle. In all relays, each swimmer must wait until the previous swimmer touches the wall prior to leaving the deck. Running starts or pushes from teammates are not allowed.


What position a swimmer has in an event based on their fastest time in that event. Lane assignments are determined by seed time.


Backstroke (back), breaststroke (breast), freestyle (free), butterfly (fly).


The moment the swimmers are lined up in their respective lanes ready for the race to start.

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