Top Tips for Competitive Swimming

Top tips for those new to competitive swimming!

Dealing with nerves

 If you are new to competing, it’s very likely that you’ll be nervous! All swimmers get nervous – from the youngest beginners to highly experienced international swimmers. Nerves are a natural part of racing, and learning to channel them into positivity rather than letting them turn into fear is a key aspect in the ‘learning-to-race’ journey. Keep busy, socialise with your team mates and don’t spend time thinking about your race until the last few minutes.


Swimmers should be encouraged to pack their own equipment for meets. Key items include:

Warm-up Costume/Trunks (and a spare)

Racing Costume (if required)
LCSC hat (to come!!)
Two pairs of goggles
Pool shoes
Two towels
Poolside clothing (T-shirt, Shorts/Tracksuit bottoms)
Plenty of drinks and healthy snacks (cereal/energy bars, rice cakes, fruit and raw vegetables etc).


  • Swimmers should be well rested – so going to bed early the night before is a very good idea.
  • As swimmers will be on a hot poolside for lengthy periods of time it is IMPERATIVE that they arrive well-hydrated, having eaten well the night before.
  • Swimmers should know what races they are competing in, and make themselves familiar with the programme BEFORE the event, so that they are aware of how the day will unfold.
  • If the meet is at an unfamiliar pool, please make sure that you know the route and leave plenty of time for the journey.
  • Please arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of the pool warm-up session. This may seem early, but it allows the poolside team to mark you as present, and report any withdrawals to the meet officials before the deadline. This time is also used for pre-pool before the warm-up. If you’re feeling particularly anxious about racing, arriving early will allow you to get used to your surroundings before masses of other swimmers arrive – it also means first choice of seating for spectators!
  • Any withdrawals on the day must be discussed with the coach immediately upon arrival at the meet.


Warm ups are not only essential to reduce the likelihood of injury, they are also essential to race performance.

During the warm up, swimmers should familiarise themselves with the pool’s diving blocks, the position of the backstroke flags and the distance of the floor ‘T’ to the end of the pool – it is surprising how much these things can differ from pool to pool and ‘knowing’ your environment may be the difference between swimming well or getting disqualified.

Warm-ups are strictly organised and swimmers must follow the instructions of the LCSC coaches and the meet officials. When instructed to leave the pool, swimmers should immediately dry off and change into their racing costume, t-shirt and track pants, and keep warm.

*Swimmers should not warm up in a racing suit, as it defeats the purpose of the fabric and will reduce their life*

 Swimmers should remain on poolside with their team mates throughout the meet session – we swim as individuals but we are a team above all. If a swimmer should need to leave the poolside they should always seek the permission of their coach or poolside manager. Please be aware that due to child welfare regulations, under no circumstances are parents to come onto poolside, unless sanctioned to do so.

Race preparation

Swimmers should listen carefully to any instructions from their coach, including race plans and areas of focus. Swimmers must also listen out for instructions to report to poolside stewards, also known as ‘whipping in’. The stewards will check you off and tell you which heat and lane you are swimming in. It is the swimmer’s responsibility to report to the steward for their event. As meets are run to very tight schedules, the stewards and Referees are not obliged to wait for a swimmer to arrive for their heat or to fit them into a later heat if they miss their designated heat.

Race starts for beginners

  • Competitors should leave their tracksuits, t-shirts etc., on until just before a race.
  • When approaching the starting blocks take care not to walk in front of the officials who may be checking the finish of a race, observing the turns or starting the preceding heat.
  • Put your hat on while in the whipping area (or before) and prepare your goggles just before the steward sends you to the blocks.
  • Once you get there, you should take your warm clothing off and put them on the chair or in the box if there’s one provided.
  • The referee blows a short series of whistles to signal that the swimmers should stand behind the starting block, and everyone else should be quiet.
  • When the referee blows a long blast on the whistle you should either: stand on the block, or drop into the water if it is a backstroke race.
  • It does not matter where on the block you stand but when the starter gives the command, "Take your marks", you must quickly take up a position with at least one foot at the front of the block with your toes wrapped over the edge and remain completely still, until the starting signal is given.
  • Ensure you know what that signal is – it could be a starting gun bang, a whistle or an electronic beep.
  • If a swimmer starts before, or is moving at the time the signal is given, and are deemed to have started before the start signal. A "one start rule" is applied, which means swimmers do not have a second chance - they are immediately disqualified (DQ’d).
  • At the end of a race swimmers must remain in the water until asked to leave by an official, usually the referee.


Swimmers can be disqualified for a variety of reasons, including: delaying the start, making a false start, faulty turn, faulty stroke, faulty finish, or leaving the water before being told to do so. If you are disqualified don’t be too upset - It happens to everyone at some point and is almost a rite of passage in the swimming world! Find out why you were DQ’d, discuss it with your coach, and try not to make the same mistake again.

*Make sure you practice good habits in training – i.e. – don’t do ‘lazy’ one-handed Breastroke turns in training as you may accidently do one in a race.*

After the event

When you’ve finished your swim, collect your warm clothes and go to see your coach for feedback about your swim. Discussion and analysis will help you to improve your technique and race tactics. Learn from the experience and stay positive. Try not to let a tough race in the morning get you down for the rest of the session/day/weekend.

‘On to the next one!’

Depending on facilities and when your next event is, you may be told to swim down, or to dry off and get your warm clothes back on.

Notes for the Younger ones… Learning is the name of the game for younger swimmers. Learning the rules, learning to think about their stroke technique while under pressure, learning the racing procedure and learning racing tactics – parents please encourage your children to enjoy the learning process and to not to focus on ‘results’.


At some events, particularly level 1 and 2 meets, there will be swim down facilities. Swim down protocol will be given to swimmers prior to these meets – JETs and JE please keep in your handbook. Where swim-down facilities are not available, coaches will encourage swimmers to perform a pool-side warm down.


Some events, particularly 800m and 1500m, may be heat declared (with results based solely on times achieved in the heats) but others have finals, with the fastest swimmers from the heats going forward. Finals are normally held at the end of the session, but do check. Swimmers are spearheaded, with the fastest swimmers in the centre lanes and the slowest in the outside lanes.

Advice for parents new to LCSC

Preparation is everything. Most take a cool bag with a large supply of drinks, snacks and healthy high carbohydrate lunch items – racing nutritional advice to follow. Take a pen to record times/splits etc, and something (a book, tablet, newspaper) to occupy you – there can be long waits between events.

Please offer your child reassurance and wish them luck prior to the meet, but please don’t offer any technical or tactical advice; congratulate them after their swim, and console them if they are disappointed with their performance, but without any well-meant analysis. Leave this to the coach, as mixed messages will only confuse the swimmer. Enjoy yourself and help them to appreciate the highs (and occasional lows) of the sport, and that sometimes losing, is the best way to learn how to win. Don’t expect them to achieve a personal best every time they race, as training is cyclical. This means that there will be times of the season were the main focus is base fitness and skills, and at these times, the swimmers' times will be inconsistent, and they may not be at top speed. Each squad has its main focus meets during the season. They will be prepared for these, and will hopefully swim personal bests at that point. The other meets are for practice and build-up competitions, to help teach the swimmers the pacing and skills necessary to perform at their best in the 'big one'!

As always, if you have any questions please come forward and ask your coaches.