Guide for those new to competition

Hitchin Swimming Club is a competitive swimming club. It follows that as swimmers progress through the club, they will be expected to compete in events and meets of various kinds. Competing is one aspect of developing a swimmer’s potential, and the progress that comes from competition is enormously rewarding.

By being involved in swim meets swimmers build up a record of Personal Best times (PBs) for a given stroke and distance. Once your swimmer has established a PB, the next time your child swims that event in a competition you will be able to see how he or she has progressed. The improvement in PBs helps your child and the coach measure progress.

Procedures for entry to competitions can, at first, seem confusing. Here we aim to explain the procedures and terminology.

There are various types of swimming competition; as follows:

  • Club Championships;
  • Team League Competitions;
  • Open Meets;
  • Championship Meets ranging from County to Regional and onto National.

Competitions – General Information


  1. Club championships
    These are held annually over two weekends usually in September. Club Championships are the first stage of competition and all swimmers should be encouraged to enter as many events as possible – it offers younger swimmers valuable experience in entering competitive events in a friendly and familiar environment.

  2. Team League Competitions
    Hitchin Swimming Club currently takes part in three team league competitions;
    Arena League;Peanuts League and Herts Major League (new for 2018)

    For Arena, the Club competes in the London League.  The competition consists of 3 galas in October, November and December.  Each gala includes individual races of either 50m or 100m (dependant on age) and age group relay races.

    The Peanuts League is run by the Hertfordshire Swimming League and is for swimmers aged 9 to 12.  Again, the competition consists of 3 galas in May, June and July.  Each gala includes individual races of either 25m or 50m (dependant on age) and age group relays.

    In all cases, attendance is by invitation. When picked to represent the Club, swimmers are expected to make themselves available. Parents are asked for their cooperation in helping to make their child available to compete. If however, your swimmer is unable to attend, it is important that you tell the organiser promptly so that an alternate swimmer can be invited.

  3. Open Meets
    These are licensed at various levels (ref to Glossory of Terms). In an open meet, a swimmer is usually swimming to improve their PB and to attain qualifying times for County, Regional or National events. The club enters many open meets throughout the year. If you are unsure which meets or events to enter, please ask the coach.

    We try to enter local meets, however, sometimes it is important to go further afield so our swimmers can compete against different swimmers.  Some meets, specifically Level 3, work on a first come first served basis – i.e. the meet can only accommodate a certain number of swimmers and those applying first are given preference over those applying later.  This is why we set application dates in advance of the meet closing date, to give our swimmers every chance of being accepted. When entering, parents need to remember open meets can be tiring and draining on swimmers (and parents watching!). Do not necessarily enter every event your child has qualified for but allow time for your swimmer to recover between events.

    Hitchin Swimming Club runs its own Level 3 open meet each November. We encourage all parents to put themselves forward to help, even if only for one session.

  4. Championship Meets
    Hertfordshire County Championships take place over three weekends in January/February, and are the first formal step on a ladder that runs through Regionals, Nationals to the World Championships and the Olympics.

    To qualify for the Herts County Championships, you must achieve the minimum entry times set by the County. These times must be recorded on the British Swimming database and must have been set between 1st June and mid-December. County championship medals are awarded for the top three in each event and age group, with finals being held for all 50m and 100m events.

    After Counties, the next step is the East Region Championships.  These are held over the two May bank holiday weekends at either the Luton Sports Village or the Norwich UEA Sportspark. Qualification is achieved by meeting minimum entry times in the 12 months prior to the current competition. Regional championship medals are awarded for the top three in each event and age group, with finals being held for all 50m, 100m and 200m events. These Championships are swum long course.

    The East Region also runs short course Winter Championships in November. Again swimmers must achieve a minimum qualifying standard to enter.

    For those swimmers who reach Regional level, their next challenge is to attain National qualifying times. The top tier at this level of competition is the British Summer Championships. Qualifying standards are not published. Instead, for each event and age group, the fastest 24 British swimmers are invited to compete. Beneath this tier are the Home Nation Championships; English, Scottish and Welsh. After eliminating those swimmers invited to the British Championships, the fastest English, Scottish and Welsh swimmers are invited to swim at their Home Nation Championships. These are held in July or August. All events are swum long course.

Frequently Asked Questions

What equipment should my swimmer take to a competition?

As a minimum your child should take the following to any gala:

  • Hitchin Swimming Club hat (plus a spare)
  • Goggles (and spare pair)
  • Racing Costume (and a spare)
  • Towels – minimum of 2 and maybe 3 if they are there all day – swimmers have a habit of getting towels soaked very quickly!
  • Other kit – wear a Hitchin Swimming club top, shorts / tracksuit bottoms and poolside shoes.  It is also advisable to have other clothes to change into as clothes can easily get wet and there are some pools where poolside temperatures can be cool. Footwear is important as swimmers will not be allowed off poolside without some form of footwear.

What food and drink should swimmers take to the gala?

The quantity of food depends on the duration / number of sessions you are competing in. We recommend a number of drinks (non-fizzy) as it is important to remain hydrated. It is best to take food that can be snacked upon during the day like sandwiches, cereal bars, pasta, rice, dried or fresh fruit. On the day it is not advisable to have heavy foods and crisps before racing.

Who is allowed poolside?

There will always be a coach and a chaperone with the swimmers. So if your child is not sure about something, please ask them to speak to either of them.

Parents are not allowed on poolside or into the changing rooms. Also we recommend that all the swimmers stay on poolside during the gala and do not sit with their parents in the spectating area.

How do I get there?

We do not provide transport for open meets however do encourage parents to team up and travel together where possible. Subject to parental consent, we can advise you of swimmers living local to you if this helps. For team events we may occasionally put on a coach and will advise parents of this once the event location is known and the team selection is made. The coach is primarily for swimmers and officials and parent space will be allocated on a first come first served basis. We encourage swimmers to go by coach to make sure everyone arrives at the same time and to build team spirit. Coaches usually leave from Hitchin Swimming Centre and we do charge a nominal fee of £5 per person to travel on the coach.

What time should I arrive?

All competitions publish a warm up and start time. Please try to arrive 15-30 minutes before warm up starts. This allows the coach to brief swimmers on what they are swimming and allows for sign in and withdrawals if required.

How does heat seeding work?

Swimmers are organised into heats based on their entry times. This can often mean your child will swim against a similar aged swimmer but this is not always the case. Hence later heats will always be faster than earlier heats. This will explain why we often hear young swimmers saying “why didn’t I get a medal when I won my race” – it is excellent news that they won their heat, however there may be swimmers of the same age who are faster and swim in a later heat. Competition programmes can be used by parents to gauge where their child is relative to other swimmers in a competition.

How do I know what age group my child will compete in?

The age category a swimmer competes in is defined by the competition rules. Generally, the age is determined by the last day of the competition or age at 31 December in the year of competition.

What should I do if I need to withdraw on the day of a competition?

We hope parents only have to withdraw swimmers in exceptional circumstances as the time and administration required to make changes, particularly at the last minute, is extensive. In all team league competitions, we have to submit team sheets in electronic format in advance. Just one withdrawal may result in the coach having to put swimmers in different age groups, different strokes, and even prevent a relay team from swimming if there are only 3 remaining swimmers in an age category. Please text the dedicated competition mobile as soon as possible on the day of the competition if you have to withdraw your child.  This phone will only be monitored on competition days.

Glossary of Common Terms

Long Course (LC) – a competition held where the pool length is 50metres.


Short Course (SC) – a competition held where the pool length is 25metres.


Open Meet – a competition open to any swimmer who meets the criteria for entry.

PB – personal best time – This is best time your child has set in a particular event and will be different for short and long course competition.  

DQ (disqualification) – competition referees apply the rules of swimming and a swimmer can be disqualified for a number of reasons.  Any infringement of the rules is reported on a British Swimming form which the coach can request to see.  If a swimmer does get disqualified, they shouldn’t get too down hearted (even swimmers in the Olympics get disqualified!) but speak to their coach to find out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

Masters – swimmers over the age of 18 are eligible to compete as masters swimmers (but do not have to and can continue to compete in mainstream swimming). Masters swimming operates different competition rules and a different swim season.

Licensed Meet – British Swimming use a Licensing method to grade the competitive ability of the meet, 4 being the lowest and 1 being the highest.  The license also dictates certain criteria such as qualifications and numbers of officials, pool format, and entry time criteria.  Level 4 licenced meets are aimed at inexperienced competitive swimmers and will have ’no faster than’ entry criteria.  A Level 3 meet is often aimed at development swimmers and usually has ‘no faster than’ entry criteria.  A Level 2 meet must be held in short course pool, whilst a Licensed 1 meet must be held in a long course format.  Regional qualifying times can only be achieved in a meet licensed at Level 3 or higher.  National qualifying times can only be achieved in Level 1 or 2 meets of the relevant length.

Competition Age – Every competition has an “age at date” which can be either the date of the competition or age at 31st December of the competition year.  A swimmer cannot enter an open meet until they reach the age of 9, and some competitions have other minimum age requirements for specific events.  Swimmers can compete in club championships before this age, as this is not a licensed meet.

Withdrawals – Once you have been entered and accepted into the gala, if there are any events you are unable to do on the day, please speak to your coach as they will need to withdraw you from the event.  It is becoming increasingly usual for swimmers to be fined for not withdrawing correctly – any fines may have to be paid by the parent before the swimmer can compete again in a competition.  This procedure is typical for Licensed 1 and 2 competitions and championships (County, Regional, National).   To withdraw on the day of competition, please text the dedicated completion mobile.  This phone is only monitored on competition days.

Signing in – Some Level 3 and 4 competitions operate a sign in procedure.   The swimmer must sign in for each race they have entered by a specified time (often no later than warm up start time).  If they do not sign in, they will not be allowed to compete in that event on the day.  If you are delayed or stuck in traffic when travelling to a gala, please call the coach on the competition mobile urgently, who may be able to sign you in.

Rankings Database – British Swimming keep a record of all times achieved at licensed meets – you can access this at Competition results are usually loaded within a few days of a competition. You should check your swimmer’s PB’s against this when entering new competitions.  Some competitions will require entry times to be retrieved automatically from the rankings database, and may apply a conversion (from short course to long course, or vice versa) to determine a swimmer’s fastest time.



Take enough food and drink for the whole competition

Have a spare hat and pair of goggles

Have at least two towels and costumes

Make sure that you know when your races are and go to the marshalling area in plenty of time

Talk to your coach before your race, and get feedback immediately after your race

Be polite to the officials and other helpers

Support your team mates once the race has started


Make noise when a race is about to start

Walk around the starting area after the referee has blown their whistle for the next race

Leave your lane at the end of a race until the referee asks you to, or the next race has started

Climb out over the timing pads

Leave the team area without letting a coach or team manager know where you are going

Take your phone on poolside

Leave rubbish around your seating area