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A Parent and Swimmer's Guide to Galas, Open Meets and Championships


  • To give parents and swimmers an insight into the various type of competition available to our swimmers
  • To explain different levels of competitive swimming
  • To describe the differences between open meets and galas

Every swimmer must have the opportunity to swim in appropriate, quality competition to enable them to achieve their true potential. (“Success is long term” – Swim England)

What are the benefits for children taking part in competitions?

Children from the age of five compare skills they have with others and, when they get to age eight or nine, start to understand competitive play.

The benefits of children taking part in competitions are:

  • Children become competitive, as they refine and practice their skills, developing co-ordination and cognitive abilities
  • It helps to develop healthy attitudes about winning and losing
  • Children learn about their abilities and limitations
  • Children learn to participate in team events as well as individually
  • Children learn about rules of sport
  • It can encourage growth and push children to excel

The Structure of Competitions

Novice / Fun Galas

These allow swimmers new to competitive swimming to have an insight into the sport and are normally restricted to members of Learn to Swim, Academy, Foundation and the lower end of Development. They will be held between members of a small number of other clubs and are held at various local pools.

Club Championships

This is an annual competition for the members of the club only. Swimmers of all ages are eligible and are strongly encouraged to participate, where they will compete against swimmers of similar ages and abilities.

League and Cup Galas

The club enters an ‘A’ team into the Arena National Swimming League, which is the top swimming league for clubs. This is the most important league that the club competes in and requires maximum support from all swimmers if we are to be successful in this competition.

Age for competition

Swim England, Leagues and the promoters of championships and open meets use a variety of rules and regulations to set ages at which swimmers may compete - these must always be checked carefully prior to making any entries.

For events restricted to members of one club there is no minimum age, for example our own Club Championships and novice / fun galas – the bottom age is normally 8 years and under, but this may be changed to suit the requirements of the club / organiser of the event.

For Arena League, the minimum age is normally 9 years.

For open meets and championships (including County Championships) the minimum age is 9 years, with the exception of Regional and National Championships for which the minimum ages are 10 and 11 years respectively.

Different rules apply to swimmers competing in relay events for Regional and National Championships.

How is age determined?

There are several ways in which this is done:

  • Age of the swimmer as at 31 December
  • Age of the swimmer on the day of the event, except where a competition runs over more than one day where the age will usually be as at the last day of competition
  • For events that are swum over multiple rounds rounds several weeks or maybe months apart, the age will usually be as at the date of the second round of competition

Details on determination of age will form part of the promoter's conditions for every meet, gala and championships, so should always be checked carefully.


How do I get selected?

The coaching staff will select a team suitable for the level of expected competition and take account of current times, attendance and performance at training. Swimmers will be expected to swim any event they are selected for, this will not always be the swimmers best or favourite stroke. On some occasions, it will be necessary to select some swimmers to swim in relays only - the coach will always try to ensure that all swimmers swim an individual event and one relay, this will not always be possible.

Sometimes swimmers will be competing against swimmers that will be older. Again, the coach will try to keep this to a minimum but it is not always possible.

How do I get to an away gala?

If the venue is more than an hour away the club may provide a coach, with the time of departure from Fareham Leisure Centre being provided on the team sheet in Team Unify. If provided, all swimmers are expected to travel on the coach; if this is not possible you should inform the Team Manager/Coach as soon as possible so that the seat can be released to someone else that wishes to go and support the team. The cost is usually between £5 and £10 depending upon the distance. If not returning on the coach, please let the Team Manager/Coach know.

If the gala is local, parents and swimmers should make their own travel arrangements, arriving at the venue no less than 15 minutes prior to the start of the warm up. This information will be on the team sheet that is displayed on Team Unify.

Open Meets

An open meet is a competition that is not limited to members of any one club; in other words, it is open to all swimmers who are members of a Swim England affiliated club. They allow swimmers to swim events of their choice, although the coaches may ask a swimmer to enter specific events.

Why should I enter?

It gives the swimmer the opportunity to compete against those of a similar standard. Swimmers are entered in order of their entry time and therefore you should not ordinarily be swimming against anyone much faster or slower than yourself.

Which Open Meets should I enter

Open Meets are licensed by Swim England and the license level gives an indication of the expected standard of swimmers who will be entering them. As a guide, the levels and the squads who would be expected to enter are as follows:

  • Level 1 is aimed at National qualifiers – all swimmers that are close to achieving a National Time or are of Regional Standard
  • Level 2 is aimed at Regional qualifiers – the more experienced swimmers from all Squads.
  • Level 3 is aimed at all Club swimmers
  • Level 4 is a lower level competition for the less experienced swimmers from all squads, subject to the entry times

Inevitably the levels above will overlap and some squad swimmers may be able to compete in levels different to those recommended. Most Open Meets will have entry time restrictions that swimmers must achieve to be able to compete.

All Open Meets and championships are governed by certain restrictions, entry times etc. These are in the ‘Promoters Conditions’ and MUST be read by all (boring or not)!!

The club will support numerous open meets through the swimming season, with details being provided by the coaching team, in Club newsletters and on Team Unify from time-to-time. Please keep an eye out for these so you can submit any entries in a timely manner to avoid disappointment. Additionally, if qualifying times are achieved, swimmers may be able to enter the following championships that are held every year:

  • Hampshire County Championships: Usually held in January and February in 50m pools. You must achieve the qualifying times. If you have a qualifying time, you should enter even if it is only for one event.
  • South East Regional Championships: Usually held in April and May, these are the next step up from the County Championships and follow a similar format.
  • Hampshire Development Meet: This is a Level 3 meet held over two weekends in June and July. You can enter the Development Meet as long as you did not win an award in the County Championships. Also make sure you are not too fast.
  • National Championships: Held at Sheffield in a 50m pool during July and August. This event follows a similar format to the Regional Championships.

Many of these meets have swimming entry time restrictions to ensure that the standard of the event falls within the aims of Swim England to provide opportunities for swimmers of all abilities to compete. There are usually two times for each event: the 'lower qualifying time' and the 'upper qualifying time'. To enable your swimmer to compete, their personal best time must fall somewhere between these times. If you enter a time outside these limits you will almost certainly not be allowed to compete. Sometimes if the meet is oversubscribed then even if your time is between the limits you may be rejected if it is very near the slowest time.

How many Open Meets should I enter?

You should aim to enter at least two-to-four open meets per year. This may differ from swimmer to swimmer and squad to squad. Entry forms will be available from Squad Coaches, Squad Reps, and Committee members and to download from the Club’s website.

Your Squad Coach may advise you on what events they would like you to enter. If you want to enter additional events / meets you may do so. This will help you to enjoy your swimming and help your coach with team selection etc. Ask your coach if you need advice. Check on the Club website under competitions then calendar for the galas and Open Meets, or view the 'Coming Up' section of the Club newsletters.

Time Trials and Club Championships

The results from these provide you with entry times that may be used to enter some Open Meets or championships, so please take these opportunities to try hard and swim your fastest times. The times also go on the Club computer and these times are important to help you get chosen for galas too!

What if I do not know my times?

If you have swum the event while a member of Fareham Nomads we will almost certainly have a record of that time. All times will be on your personal Team Unify page.

If you have not been competing very long then you may not have a recorded time for a particular distance then you can estimate entry times out in the following way:

  • For a 50m time double your 25m time and add 4 seconds
  • For a 100m time double your 50m time and add 12 seconds
  • For a 200m time double your 100m time and add 20 seconds

This may not be very accurate, especially for breaststroke and butterfly, or if you are very young so ask your coach for advice. Also ask for help in working out 400m, 800m or 1,500m times. If you have any doubts please ask your coach.

If you do not fill in an entry time you will swim in the slowest heat and may also not be accepted due to your time being too slow.

What food and drink should I take with me?

The most important points to remember are:

  • Take plenty to drink; preferably squash but, if not, water. DO NOT TAKE FIZZY DRINKS! Make sure you drink throughout the day. Usually you will be able to refill your bottles at the pool.
  • Take plenty to eat and keep it with you - don’t leave it with your parents! You will need to snack / eat regularly throughout the day.
  • The rule is: high carbohydrate, low fat. You also need a certain amount of sugar. Pasta, sandwiches, buns, bananas, cereal bars are ideal. Fruit is fine but avoid apples which are hard to digest. DO NOT BRING CRISPS OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT IS VERY SALTY.
  • Eat just after you have swum, not just before.
  • Keep your food in a container. There is often very limited room on poolside and bags have to be piled on top of each other. People then climb over them, move them, sit on them, etc. Food that is not in a container will inevitably get squashed.

What else do I need to take?

At least one costume. You may want a dry one for each session if you do not want to put on a wet one. You can wear any costume – not necessarily black. You should have at least one racing costume, do not wear this for warm up, but change into it after the warm up.

A club hat. This is helpful (though not compulsory) for boys as well as girls. If you do not wear a club hat, the coach may not see you swim and not get your time and most important of all will not be able to tell you about your race.

Goggles. Make sure they are properly adjusted; you should also take a spare pair.

Track suit or Club top.  Compulsory for presentations. You will not be allowed to a presentation in jeans etc. You are representing the club, should be proud to do so and look smart at the same time. Wearing a club top/tracksuit will prevent you from getting cold on poolside.

Two towels. Make sure you use these. Do not put your tracksuit/top on without drying yourself!

Pool shoes / flip flops. You will not be allowed off pool side without these.

Things to do. It is often a long day and you may have to wait a long time between swims. Card games like Top Trumps are good, or a book to read. You may bring MP3 players, iPods etc. but at your own risk. (Do not bring these types of items to league meets).

Swimmers should be aware that these items are your responsibility to look after; the club, coaches etc. will not be held responsible for any loss or damage however caused.

Once I have entered will I definitely be swimming?

If you have entered County, Regional or National Championships then the answer is 'yes', providing you have completed the entry form correctly and times are within the limits and have been accepted, as per the entry conditions.

For all other competitions, you will have to wait to see if you are accepted for all the events you have entered. If a meet is oversubscribed those with the slowest times, or the latest entries received, will be refused. Sometimes you will be refused for some events but accepted for others. A few weeks before the meet, you will be informed of your accepted entry or the events for which you have been accepted. If your entry (or some events) are refused, your money will be refunded in due course.

What will happen when I get there?

Make sure you arrive in good time. There will probably be a lot of people about so find out if the swimmers have already gone in. Don’t stand in a queue of spectators. The first thing you need to do is sign in or let the organisers know of events you do not wish to swim but have entered, unless this is a meet with neither of these systems in operation. Make sure your coach knows you are there too.

There are 3 different systems –

With cards. Very rarely used, however if you have been given your cards beforehand you will need to find the boxes to post them. There may be a different box for each event or it may be just a girls’ box and a boys’ box. The boxes are clearly labelled so it is quite easy. Post your cards yourself so that when the coach asks you if you have posted your cards you can say ‘Yes’. Don’t leave it to your parents! Don’t forget your cards. If you do, tell your coach straight away so that he/she can sort it out for you. It causes a lot of inconvenience so don’t expect to be popular! If your card is not posted you may not be allowed to swim.

Without cards. You will need to find the signing in desk and sign for each event that you have entered. If you do not do so you will not be allowed to swim. If for any reason you decide that you do not want to swim in an event failing to post your card or to sign in will automatically withdraw you from that race. Make sure you discuss this with your coach first.

Without cards or a signing in procedure. If you are unable to attend because you are ill or injured or if for some reason you decide not to compete in an event that you entered, make sure you let your coach know in good time so he/she can inform the organisers that you will not be swimming. If they do not know you will be allocated a lane which will then be empty. This is annoying for other swimmers and the promoters as it slows up the meet and may mean that swimmers do not get adequate competition.

Once you have signed in or posted your cards go and get changed and go on poolside. A coach should be there unless you are very early or arriving between sessions. If you are early sit and wait – the coach will not be long.

If you arrive between sessions the coaches will probably be at lunch. Look for the club bags and wait there or with your parents until people come back.

What about Mum, Dad, Uncle, Auntie and anyone else that comes to watch me?

Don’t worry, they’ll be fine!! Usually you will not be able to sit with them but you can go to see them for a few minutes so long as you are dry, wearing shoes and a top and you return to poolside as soon as possible.

Once you have finished your races for the session you can get dressed and go. You do not need to stay until the end unless you have a final to swim or a medal to collect. Tell your coach/team manager before you leave and ensure that you have a parent or nominated adult to collect you. Please return to the team manager and let them know if you cannot find them.

Parents or a nominated adult must be present at the end of each session to look after children between sessions or to be responsible for them if they have finished racing for the day. It is not the responsibility of the coach or team managers to look after children between sessions as they also need to have a break.

When do I swim/warm up?

Each session begins with a warm up. Your coach will tell you when and where to go. Never dive at the start of warm up and make sure you are going the right way round the lane. You may be in a lane with swimmers from other clubs. Make sure you keep swimming. Always begin with front crawl unless your coach tells you otherwise. After about 10 minutes there will be an announcement that some lanes are now ‘Sprint lanes’.

If you are swimming in one of these lanes you need to move out as quickly as possible. The people in this lane will be swimming one length of any stroke as fast as possible. You may now dive. Your coach may tell you which lanes to use and assist you by starting and possible timing you.

Indicate to him/her that you are ready and then go. There are lots of things to do at an open meet so the coach may not be able to do this. In this case you can still use the sprint lane to practice. There is only a short time allowed for sprints so don’t hold things up by waiting a long time on the blocks.

The other lanes will continue with normal warm up. You can swim in any of these lanes if you prefer unless your coach tells you differently. If you are young and swimming in the first event your coach may tell you to get out early.

Swimmers should not waste valuable warm up time by queuing to do a couple of sprints unless told to do so by the coach. More information about Why and How to Warm Up is on the club website.

Swimmers Call / Marshalling / Reporting Area (sometimes called ‘Whipping Area’)

When it is time for you to swim you will be told to go to the marshalling area. Make sure you know where this is – if you don’t ask. In the marshalling area it is usually chaotic! Somebody will be reading out the names of the swimmers in your event. Listen carefully and speak up when your name is read out. You will then be told your heat and lane number and told where to stand or sit.

Stay there until told to move. You will gradually move towards the front. When it is your turn you will be told to go to your lane, there is not a club lane like at a gala.

After your swim

After your race, go and ‘swim down’ this means swimming at least 200m easy front crawl or backstroke, when finished towel down and go and speak to your coach.

When you get out make sure you dry yourself well before putting on your Club top. You will get very cold sitting in a soaking wet top...

What happens between sessions?

Please do not leave poolside until you have asked your coach/team manager. Your parents will need to make arrangements for you between sessions. There may be a change of coaches/team manager or the coach/team manager may go to lunch so you will be unsupervised. If your parents are not there they will need to make arrangements for you to be with someone else.

Hopefully this has covered most things and you will be able to arrive at Open Meets well prepared. Swim well and enjoy it!

In Summary:

Please enter Open Meets and championship events promoted by the Club relative to your level of ability/experience. Please make a particular effort to enter and support our own Club meets.

Know your official and unofficial personal best times, official times will be required to enter County, Regional and National competitions. Some Open Meets will also require official times; these can be found via Team Unify and the Swim England Rankings.