Introduction to Competitive Swimming

Competitive swimming goes from the grassroots to the highest levels in the Olympic programme. There are two types of pool swimming competitions: long course and short course.

Long course (LC) events are held in a 50m pool while short course (SC) events are held in a 25m pool. At Seagulls our home pool of Two Riversmeet is a 25m pool, but we do arrange LC training sessions throughout the year for our Age and Youth squads at various locations.

The Olympic Games are always held in a 50m pool but there are international competitions held in both LC and SC venues. The major difference is that a swimmer will turn more often in SC competitions and will therefore create more momentum from powering off the wall of the pool. There are relatively complicated formulae to convert from a SC time to LC time and vice-versa. We’ve taken the pain out of the process by doing this for you when displaying swim times on our website.

There are a range of events in the swimming programme. Typically this will be 50m, 100m and 200m races in each of the strokes, namely backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. With freestyle there is also the 400m, 800m and 1500m events. 100m single stroke events are usually not recommended for swimmers 10 and under. There are also 100m (SC only), 200m and 400m individual medley races for both men and women, where the swimmer completes lengths using backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. There are male and female relays swum over 4x200m (freestyle only), 4x100m and in SC meets 4x50m and 4x25m. Junior swimmers all aim to peak at County and Regional Championships, Swim England National Youth and Age Group Championships held every year.

There are also Open Meet competitions run by other swimming clubs where swimmers from different clubs compete as individuals. These are events licensed by Swim England. The minimum entry age for an Open Meet is 9, but some meets may set this higher. There are 4 levels of licence available, Level 4 being the lowest and 1 the highest. The higher the level the faster the swimmers it is aimed at. If a meet is licensed, times obtained will be registered with Swim England rankings.

Seagulls Swimming Club runs a yearly Club Championship programme licensed at Level 4. This is swum in our home pool at Two Riversmeet – all swimmers are encouraged to enter. While it can seem a little daunting for younger swimmers to enter, these events are great fun and a way to meet swimmers in other squads and to learn the format of a swimming meet. It is also a way for parents to meet other parents and also to get involved by volunteering.

Competition Targets

The focus of a competitive swimmer at the start of a given swim season should be to target a competition that best fits their experience and level. You should discuss which competition is appropriate for your swimmer.


Galas Explained

At a Gala, swimming clubs compete against each other with a team of swimmers. These tend to be unlicensed so times do not get posted to Swim England rankings. This means that you are unable to use times recorded at galas as entry times for open meets and county and regional championships for example.

Swimmers are selected by the coach to represent their club. Seagulls Swimming Club competes in five leagues, which are listed below in order of hierarchy. 

  • West Hants Novice League.

  • Dorset Novice League.

  • Southern Junior League.

  • Intermediate League.

  • National Arena League – This is a high profile national competition and takes place over three rounds of competition in October, November and December. The National Arena League is split into seven areas, namely:

    • East Midlands

    • London

    • North East

    • North West

    • South

    • Western

    • West Midlands

Seagulls are in the WESTERN area. This is divided into three divisions: Premier Division, Division One, Division Two. Seagulls sit in Division One.


Open Meets Explained

Always pay careful attention to the qualifying times and other criteria for meet entry as these vary considerably. Two meets of the same level may have different qualifying standards.  Some will require swimmers to have recorded a qualifying time within a certain timefram (for example, in the last 12 months). During the Event signup process, TeamUnify will indicate if you have recorded a time within the meet criteria and eligible events will be shown in black and ineligible event will show in red.

In all cases, the minimum age for entering an open meet is 9 on the last day of the Meet. Some will set this higher, some meets are not suitable for Masters, some meets will set the swimmer age at the end of the calendar year – please check meet entry criteria. For Club Championships there is no minimum age (except for all 100m single stroke events, 400 freestyle and 400IM). Swimmers are not expected to enter all meets. As a club we target a number of meets throughout the year giving swimmers different options and hopefully between them covering the needs of all our swimmers. If in doubt, please speak to the coach for advice on which meets to enter.


Licensed Swimming Meets.

Swim England operates a system of licencing to ensure that appropriate competition is offered to all abilities. There are presently four licence levels (1-4), Level 1 being the highest. Each level has different organisational requirements, such as entry time limits, provision of electronic timing, qualification of officials, swim down facilities, etc. For competitors, the more significant differences are the level of ability at which they are targeted and the way in which entries may be limited.

  • Level 1 – For swimmers seeking up to National and Regional qualification. Lower limit times only (the swimmer must be faster than a specified time). Swim England sets a minimum standard for the lower qualification time. Held in long course pools (50m) only. The meet may not be specified as ‘first come first served’ for entries.

  • Level 2 – For swimmers seeking up to National and Regional qualification. Lower limit times only (the swimmer must be faster than a specified time). Swim England sets a minimum standard for the lower qualification time. Held in short course pools (25m) only. The meet may not be specified as ‘first come first served’ for entries.

  • Level 3 – For swimmers seeking up to Regional Qualification or also for entry to Level 1 & 2 open meets. Upper and lower limit entry qualifying times apply (the swimmer must be within a specified time band). Qualification times vary widely and may be dependent on the date that the competition is held within the season but may not be faster than National Qualifying times. Held in short course (25m) or long course (50m) pools. Entries may be on a ‘first come first served’ basis. Some L3 meets will allow you to enter events for which you have yet to set a time.

  • Level 4 – For swimmers seeking County Qualification, inexperienced swimmers, or for Club events. No time limit restrictions mandated but may be restricted by the organising club to ensure safety regarding entry numbers.


Suitable Meets.

It may be possible to look at the level of a meet to ascertain if it is suitable for a particular swimmer. However, as swimmers develop at varying rates they may change from being a ‘Level 3 swimmer’ to a ‘Level 2 or 1 swimmer’ (or the converse) in a short period. Swimmers may drop a Level as they pass a birthday, moving from the top of one age group to the bottom of the next. If you are in any doubt about the level of competition you should enter your swimmer, talk to the coach.


Restriction of Entries.

Open meets are often oversubscribed (there is a limit to the number of entries a club may accept given pool time and licensing requirements). It is not possible to predict which meets will be oversubscribed, but the outcome is that not all entries can be accepted.

There are two ways of restricting numbers; they are by rejection of the slowest entries and by accepting on a ‘first-come-first-served’ basis. Level 1 & 2 meets cannot operate on a first come first served basis and will generally only reject invalid entries, or if greatly oversubscribed, those at the lower end of the qualification times. See below.


Rejection of Slower Entries.

All valid entries are accepted up to the closing date. All are subsequently considered against the available pool time. If there are more entries than time allows, the slowest entries are rejected (entry fees will be refunded). Rejections are generally spread across the entire entry list, on a pro-rata basis, with an approximately equal percentage from each event. This system ensures the best swimmers are accepted, so the level of competition is as high as it can be. The downside is that there is no guarantee of acceptance and swimmers may not know if their entry has been accepted until just before the event.


First Come First Served.

All valid entries are accepted until the available competition time is filled. Slower swimmers may be accepted before faster ones due to the timing of entry, potentially compromising the level of competition. This is the reason this method is not allowed at Levels 1 and 2. The advantage being, provided entries are submitted early, acceptance is almost guaranteed.


Competition Hierarchy

Individual Swimmer


  1. Olympic Games

  2. World Championships

  3. Commonwealth Games

  4. European Championships

  5. National Championships

  6. Regional Championships

  7. County Championships

  8. Seagulls Club Championships

  9. County Development Meet

  10. County Graded Meet

Seagulls Team Events


  1. Arena League (Team event)

  2. Southern Junior League (Team event)

  3. Dorset Novice League (Team event)

  4. West Hants Novice League (Team event)