West Dorset Swimming Club

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First Timer's Guide to Swimming Gala’s

Both parents and children may be very nervous at the prospect of swimming for the first time at a gala, most likely because they do not know what to expect. With luck, this quick guide may help to answer some of the most common questions and settle some of the nerves.

Swimming kit to bring on the day

Two towels - one for poolside & one to get changed with

Goggles that do not leak (a spare pair is good in case of emergency)

WDSC hat and WDSC t-bag (quick-drying T-Shirt for wearing between races) if you have one

At least one drink for poolside. Please remind your swimmer to keep hydrated and a packed lunch/snacks for in-between sessions


For most galas, swimmers need to let their coach or team manager that they have arrived. Please allow plenty of time for arrival as it is very stressful for a child to arrive late and worry about missing their race. 

If parents wish to take pictures, they must sign a declaration before doing so and this is usually located at the entry to the spectator area.

There is often an entry fee is payable for adults and programmes are usually sold. There is generally a raffle table at most galas, the proceeds of which are often used to host future galas.


Coaches or officials will inform the swimmers if there is a warm up and when it is time for their allocated warm-up and which lane to swim in. The children are normally split into gender and age groups.

The time allowed for warm-up varies between galas so please tell your swimmer to listen for instructions.

Race time

The swimmers will be called to a marshalling area by a steward for each individual race; they are often called up a few races in advance to ensure continuity between races. They are placed into order based on the lane they will be swimming in. As each race is run, the swimmers move round getting closer to the blocks to start.

Once they reach the starting blocks they are ready for the starter to sound the signal.

Silence is requested to ensure that all the swimmers can clearly hear instructions and the starter’s signal.

They are off and the results of all the hours of hard work and training can be seen in the pool. Feel free to cheer all the swimmers on and create a fun environment.

During the race, judges are watching for correct stroke technique, correctly executed turns and false starts. Incorrect technique or a mistake in any of these areas may result in disqualification. Should this happen to your child, it is not the end of the world and is a very normal part of learning to race. Even the best swimmers in the world can be disqualified. 

When the results are issued a code will be placed against the disqualified swimmers name denoting the reason. The best way to learn and move forward though, is to ask a coach. They will be very supportive and explain what to do next time.

Race over

Once the race is over there is some time to wait before results are issued. Your child may have performed well in a heat but some of his or her age group may have raced in another heat. For this reason, times are compared to identify the results for each age category. The timekeepers stationed at the end of the pool diligently record the times for each swimmer and these are checked by the chief timekeeper and passed to the recording table. Electronic timing may also be used to ensure fair results.

When the results are printed and displayed on the wall poolside, there may be a medal, ribbon or badge to collect from the medal table by the swimmer.

Parents can record the gala name, date, stroke and distance with the all-important time achieved by the swimmer. Results and times are displayed on a wall near the spectator area as soon as possible following races and are normally available from the club's website within a few days of the event.

When entering future galas, the organisers are likely to request the swimmer’s personal best (PB) time for that stroke so that they can put swimmers with similar times into the same heat.

A big thank you is required for all the officials, timekeepers, helpers and coaches who volunteer their time generously to put on the event.

Most of all, both parents and swimmers must remember to enjoy the day and look out for dates of future galas to do it all again!