Bristol Penguin Olympic Swimming Club

Guide to Competitions




What are the different types of swimming competition?

Parents are often confused by the terms used for swimming competitions.

A Gala is a team competition where swimmers are invited by a coach to swim for their team. Examples include, school galas, the Penguins House galas and also leagues such as the Cotswold League.

An Open Meet or often just called a meet, is literally a swimming meet that is open to anyone to enter, but is based on certain conditions. The swimmer chooses exactly what events that they want to enter and on what days. The main condition for entry is based on previous times swum. These competitions are split into four tiers with Level 4 being the lowest level, rising up to Level 1 which is the highest level.

A Championships is similar to an open meet, in that a swimmer may enter if they have met the entry requirement. A low-level example is the Penguins club championships, where there are no barriers to entry and the swimmer chooses a wide range of events to enter. The next level up is the Gloucester County Championships (held from Jan to March) and then the South West Regional Champs (held in April and May) where there are increasingly fast entry time requirements. As long as a swimmer has achieved these times, then they may choose to enter.

National Arena Swimming League (Oct-Dec)

The highest level of league competition available to clubs, this is a national competition open to Swim England affiliated clubs. The age groups for National League range from 11/u through to Opens (16/over), age being at 31st Dec in year of competition. Penguins enter one team in the Western Division in this fantastic National competition. More details can be found at

Penguins Winter League (Oct-Dec)

These take place on the same day as the National Arena, and are intended to provide a gala for people who do not get chosen for the National Arena. Hosting means we need to provide the referee, starter, chief timekeepers, recorders, announcer, refreshments, ticket sellers, raffle prizes … so when we host we are always looking for lots of volunteers.

Cotswold Series (Jan-May)

Running from January to May each year, the Cotswold Series was set up primarily for those clubs not large enough to have realistic ambitions of competing in National League. In order that there are enough teams to make the league viable, National League teams are permitted to enter but all teams have to adhere to ‘cut-off’ times so the fastest swimmers should not be selected. We were the first Bristol club to win the Cotswold final in 2014 and going on to win it for the second time in 2018.

Gloucester County Championships (Jan-Feb)

These take place in January and February. Swimmers must achieve qualifying times in order to enter. Swimmers will compete against swimmers from other clubs in the local area – from South Bristol up to Gloucester. Gaining a County Qualifying Times (QT) is part of our entry criteria for our Age Group and Youth County squads. Our goal is to increase the numbers gaining County QT’s year-on-year. More details can be found at
The highest performing swimmers in the county are selected and have the honour to represent the county at inter county events – the three counties gala (July) and inter county championships (October).

South West Regional Championships (April-May)

There are 8 regions throughout the country and we are affiliated to the South West Region which is one of the strongest in England (from Cornwall to Dorset to Wiltshire to Gloucestershire and everything in between). This is the level above County Championships. There are qualifying times for swimmers to achieve – these must be achieved at a licensed meet (level 3 or above). The Region runs a Short Course Winter Championships in November and Long Course Summer Championships in May.

National Arena Junior Swimming League (Apr-Jun)

The premier club competition for young swimmers, this takes place over three galas in April, May and June, with two qualifying galas and then a final including the strongest teams from across the region. Previously, Penguins competed in the Southern Junior League for the first time in 2013 and have finished 5th and 10th and 9th against some of the highest performing clubs in the South West of England. In September 2019, Penguins recorded their highest ever finish position of joint 4th place.

British, English and Welsh National Championships (July/Aug)

Nationals are the highest level of domestic swimming that can be achieved. Winter Nationals are swum Short Course in December. British Championships is swum in April every year and will often double up as Olympic or World trials. Summer Nationals are swum at the end of July and beginning of August. For Winter and British Champs there are qualifying times that have to be achieved at a licensed meet (level 1 or 2). For the Summer Championships there is a qualifying window – dates are set between April and May – for swimmers to swim a fast time and qualify. There are 2 championships – British Nationals and English Nationals. Swimmers with a top 24 ranked time in their age group at the end of the qualifying window will be invited to the British Summer Championships. The next top 20 ranked English swimmers in their age group will then be invited to the Swim England Summer Championships.

Club Championships (June/July and Dec)
This is a chance for all club members who can manage 25 metres plus to compete against each other for trophies, medals and other awards. We run the majority of the Club Championships over 2 weeks in June and July. Swimmers are able to take part in in 50, 100, 200 and 400 metre events over the championship and our youngest swimmers will be able to take part in 25 metre races on the Saturday. We expect ALL swimmers from the Development squads upwards to enter these championships and encourage swimmers to try out a range of different events not just their preferred ones. We run our 800m long distance club championships in December. See the club champs page for more details.

Open Meets
There are ‘Open Meets’ taking place at various locations most weekends of the year.  Some have qualifying times but, provided these times are met, any swimmer may enter in order to have a chance to win medals, trophies and other awards (sometimes even cold, hard cash!). There are four levels of Open Meet:

Level 4 – These are low level meets and are an ideal start point for a swimmers competitive journey.

Level 3 – These are low level meets which often don’t have any qualifying standard but have cut off times (you cannot enter if you are faster than the cut off time). These meets can be both short course (25m pool), or long course (50m pool). These are good meets for swimmers who are new to competitive swimming and/or are County standard or below. The City of Bristol Early Bird Open Meet in October is licensed to Level 3 and is a great opportunity for swimmers to achieve County QT’s.

Level 2 – These are high level Short Course (25m) meets with qualifying times. These meets are aimed at swimmers with multiple County QT’s, Regional and National level swimmers.

Level 1 – These are high level Long Course (50m) meets with qualifying times. These meets are aimed at swimmers with multiple County QT’s, Regional and National level swimmers.

Friendly Galas
Sometimes clubs arrange one-off friendly galas in order to give more experience to their swimmers. These present the ideal opportunity for swimmers to show what they can do and force their way into league team reckoning. Penguins run and compete in several novice and development galas every season. We also run two memorial trophy galas per season.

Schools competitions

Penguins take part in a partnership gala against Badminton School every autumn. We also run our own school gala series three times a year for local primary schools to enter. All of these are a good introduction to competitive swimming for our development squads. Also, there are higher level school events run by the English Schools’ Swimming Association which schools and individuals can enter. See

Competition Flow Chart

Level of Competition

Type of Competition


British Championships

Swim England Championships

Welsh National Championships

Level 1 (50m pool)


South West Regional Championships

Glos County Champsionships

Level 1 Open Meets

Level 1 (50m pool)


National Arena League

Level 2 Open Meets

Level 2 (25m pool)


Cotswold League

Club Championships

Level 3 Open Meets (50m or 25m pool)


Club Championships

ESSA School Galas

Level 4 Open Meets (25m pool)


Novice Galas

Penguins School Galas

House Galas