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High School Swimming 101

If you are new to High School swimming you will find it is different from club or summer league swimming. 

High School competition pools are short course pools, either 25 yards or 25 meters.

There are eleven events per meet.  One heat is held for each event; one for girls, one for boys, for a total of twenty-two events.  There are no second heats in any event with the exception of multi-team championship meets.  The eleven events (described below) are:

200 Medley Relay
200 Freestyle
200 IM
50 Freestyle
100 Butterfly
100 Freestyle
500 Freestyle
200 Free Relay
100 Backstroke
100 Breaststroke
400 Free Relay

During the season most meets will be dual meets against another school.  These are usually schools within our conference and division.  There may be an occasional meet that is with a school outside our division.  These meets do not count toward conference / division standing.  At the end of the season there are conference championships where the teams with the best records in their divisions compete.  The divisional and conference meet format is in flux so the format may change this year.

There are other meets also.  There is a Morris County Championship meet which is for all high schools in Morris County.  At the end of the season all teams in the state are seeding into the state championship meets.  That process is discussed below.   

You will also hear about the "B" meets.  Since a meet only has so many events and heats not every swimmer gets an opportunity to swim in every meet.  The "B" meets are intended to give the swimmers who do not swim frequently a chance to swim in events that might not get to swim in during the regular season.

Here is how a meet is run and scored.  To start each event, swimmers are called to the starting position by the starter (usually a whistle) who visually checks that all swimmers are motionless. When all swimmers are set, the starting horn or gun is sounded to start the race. If the starter feels that one of the swimmers has moved, left early or achieved an unfair advantage, the guilty swimmer may be disqualified after the race for a false start. Should a swimmer inadvertently enter the water before the starting signal, they may be disqualified at the discretion of the officials.

Scoring is for the team with points awarded by finish place in each event.  Point values are:

  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Individual events scoring 6 4 3 2 1
Relay events scoring 8 4 2 - -

In dual meets (two teams head-to-head) there are 14 points available for each of the three relays for 42 points.  Each of the eight individual events has 16 points available for 128 points.  The total meet has 170 points available.  The first team with more than 85 points is the winner.  Be aware that only a few school have scoreboards in their pool areas that display the current score.  The NJSIAA updated their rules to recommend that meet officials announce the score after each event.  Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen.  Ties do occur.  We had one in a boys finals meet during the 2008-2009 season.  The NJSIAA has a complicated tie breaking system.

If you are interested in keeping score yourself you can download a PDF score sheet to print and bring with you or an Excel sheet that you can use on a Smartphone or PDA.  Both downloads are available below.

Scoring in multi-team events, such as the county championships, is much more complex.  First, their are multiple heats per event.  Swimmers are seeded in advance by meeting qualifying times.  Swimmers are place in heats from highest qualifying time to lowest.  The fastest swimmers swimming last.  The lowest event times determine the finish order.  In multi-team meets the top twelve finishers receive points.  The points system shown in the table below:

Place 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th
Individual Events 16 13 12 11 10 9 7 5 4 3 2 1
Relay Events 32 26 24 22 20 18 14 10 8 6 4 2

Each of the three relays is worth 93 points and each of the eight individual events is worth 186 points.  The total meet has 1,767 points available.  The team with the largest number of points is the winner.  Trophies are awarded to the top two girls teams and top two boys teams.  Medals are awarded to the top six finishers in individual events and to all members of the top three relay teams.

You may also hear Power Points mentioned.  Power Points are determined for each swimmer in each event based on their finish time (either yards or meters).  The NJSIAA has charts of Power Points for boys and girls on the Swimming page of their web site (see Resource/Links page).  Power Points are tallied throughout the meet and are also tracked for individual swimmers for the season by the coaches.  Power Points are one of the tie breaking criteria.

Powerpoints also come into play for qualification into the quarterfinals for the State Championship meets.  For more information about the state championship process click on the page for State Tournament Info.


PDF Scoring Sheet (print and take with you)
Excel Scoring Sheet with running totals (use on Smartphone, laptop, or PDA)



In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke, but the fastest is what is often called the crawl, which is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the water surface and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick. On turns and finishes, some part of the swimmer must touch the wall. Most swimmers do a flip turn.


Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick while on the back. On turns, swimmers may turn onto the stomach and do a flip turn (they cannot glide into the wall and then turn). Some part of the swimmer must touch the wall at the turn. The swimmer must finish on the back.


The breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pushed forward from the breast. In the return of the arms, the hand cannot go part the waist. The kick is a simultaneous somewhat circular motion similar to the action of a frog. On turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously. One of the hardest parts of the breaststroke is the start. After the dive, while still underwater, the swimmer can (but doesn’t have to) do one arm pull where the hands can go past the waist, one dolphin kick, and then another arm pull-with a breaststroke kick - to bring them to the surface.


Some consider the butterfly to be the most beautiful of the strokes. It features a simultaneous movement of the arms over the water combined with an undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together and may not flutter, scissor or breaststroke kick. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish.


The individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four strokes. In the IM, the swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after one fourth of the race to backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle. The rules of each stroke apply to that leg of the IM.


In the medley relay, all four strokes are swum. The first swimmer swims backstroke, the second breaststroke, the third butterfly, and the final swimmer anchors the relay with freestyle.


The freestyle relay events consist of four swimmers, each swimming one quarter of the total distance of the event.