Going to your first swim meet can be a fairly nerve wracking event if you don’t know what to expect, especially if you’re flying solo as an unattached swimmer. I was an age-group swimmer back when I was a teenager so I’ve been to my fair share of swim meets, but I was still apprehensive about my first masters meet. Luckily swim meets aren’t that complicated. Plus masters swimming is an inherently friendly organization, so just about anyone on the pool deck can help you out if you need it.
I figured I would put together a quick reference guide for first time masters meet swimmers. Remember to have fun and don’t be scared to ask questions at any meet!
1. Join Masters
First things first, if you’re going to participate in a masters swim meet you have to be registered with masters. You can accomplish this online at usms.org and it only costs about $40 a year. When you register you’ll get your LMSC (Local Masters Swim Committee) assigned to you based on your physical address. The LMSC is the region within masters that you are attached to. For example, I live in the Southern half of California so I belong to South Pacific Masters. While registering you will be also able to attach yourself to your team. If you don’t have a team you can register yourself as unattached. There are plenty of unattached swimmers out there so don’t feel weird about it. If you want to start out unattached and then join a team later you can do so pretty easily. Once you are registered you will get a USMS number that you can use to enter meets. Make sure that you save the pdf of your USMS card so that you can print copies to mail in with meet entries in the future.
2. Find a Swim Meet and Pick Your Events
You can search through the USMS site for upcoming meets or check with your LMSC. I find my LMSC’s web site (Southern Pacific Masters – spma.net) to be the best source for Local meets. I have a list of every LMSC available here. Each swim meet should have meet info that you can print out. This will include the location, cost, start times, events, etc. This will also have contact info for the meet director who you can contact if you need help with signing up for the meet.
At a masters meet you are capped out at 5 events in a day. Choose the events you feel comfortable racing. Pay close attention to the order of events. You may not want to do back to back events because if the meet is small enough you might not get any rest in between!
3. Send in the Entry Card or Deck Enter
There are 3 main ways to sign up for a swim meet: mail in entry card, online entry, or deck entry.
With a mail in entry you fill out the form provided either on the meet info sheet or by the LMSC. Write in your personal info, the events you plan to swim, any other info requested and make sure you sign it. In most cases you’ll take the entry form, a copy of your USMS card, and a check to cover the entry fee and send it to the meet director. Some events have online entry available. This is the same principle as the mail in entry just electronic.
The last way to enter a meet is via deck entry. This means that you show up the day of the meet and enter on site. The meet info sheet will let you know if deck entries are allowed and by what time you need to be entered by. When you get to the pool find the check in entry table and the swim meet staff can help you get signed up. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your USMS Card! Typically you will pay an extra $5-$10 to deck enter.
4. Warm Up
Generally the pool will open up for warm up at least 1 hour prior to the start of the meet, sometimes a meet opens with a distance event in the morning and the rest of the meet starts in the early afternoon. This will be noted on the meet info sheet. Make sure you show up towards the beginning of whichever warm up time applies to you to get yourself situated.
Every pool has a different set up for racing and warm up/cool down. Listen for directions from the meet director or ask another swimmer where you can warm up if you can’t figure it out.
While warming up remember to circle swim if you’re sharing the lane with others. Warm ups can be a little chaotic because everyone is doing their own thing. Make sure you pay attention and be predictable in your movements so you don’t bump into another swimmer.
Most of the time there will be 1 or 2 lanes available for practicing starts. These are the only lanes you are allowed to dive in during warm up. In a start lane all traffic is one way. Dive in, swim to the other side and get out or swim back in another lane.
5. Watch for Heat Sheets to Be Posted
Keep an eye out for a bunch of sheets of paper taped to a board or a wall. If you don’t see this look for a huddle of swimmers pressed up against a wall, chances are the heat sheets are in there. On a heat sheet you are first looking for the event that you are in. Next look for your name. When you find your name you will see what heat and lane you have been assigned to.
6. Show Up To The Blocks
If according to the heat sheet you are in event 3, heat 2, lane 5, you need to make sure you are behind the blocks at that time. I usually move myself over towards the starting area during the event before mine. Keep track of what event and heat is going on and when it is your turn step up. A lot of the time no one will confirm that you are the right swimmer, if you’re not sure you’re in the right place ask the timer in your lane.
If you’ve never swam a race before pay attention to the heats before you to see how it works. When one heat finishes they are given a short amount of time to get out of the pool. This is announced with a whistle. Next there will be a whistle that signals for your heat to get on the blocks. There will be an announcement to take your marks, and then generally a horn or whistle will signal the start of the race.
7. Swim Your Brains Out
Self explanatory :)
8. Cool Down
Make sure you do a few laps in the designated warm up/cool down area after your race.
9. Watch for Results to be Posted
Posting official results can take a while so be patient. Results are normally posted in the same area as the heat sheets. When results for your event are posted you can find yourself by first finding your sex and age group on the sheet, then find your name. Your time and place within your age group will be posted here. Most meets I’ve been to give awards for the top 3 in each age group, some bigger meets give awards up to 10th. If you placed high enough for an award you can go get your award at the awards table.
If results aren’t posted before you need to leave don’t worry! All of this stuff gets posted online. Within a week your results should be available online at MyUSMS or your LMSC’s website.
10. Pick your next meet!
I think being able to participate in swim meets is the best part of being a member of United States Masters Swimming. It gives me a chance to hang out with other swimmers and test my training by racing. Plus it gives me a reason/excuse to travel!
If you’ve never gone to a swim meet I highly recommend it. In masters everyone is very friendly and anyone that can swim is welcome. Don’t worry if you think you’re not good enough or fast enough, anybody that can complete 50 yards or more can compete and have fun in masters swimming.