Guide to Competitions

An absolute beginner's guide to Entering Swimming Meets at Colchester Swimming Club.

As Transitions Manager, I get lots of questions about swimming meets so I have put together a guide to help first time parents/carers to competitive swimming navigate the complicated process of entering a swimming meet. It’s worth noting that all swimming clubs are different. This is only based on my experience here at Colchester SC and is just a guide to help you find your own way. It is also aimed at those who have joined the club from Academy or directly to the swim squads with little to no experience of the process.

Firstly, there are lots of types of swimming meets but generally they seem to follow a development pathway.

This is only an overview of entering meets and each one can be slightly different so please do message me (Laura Rowe - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or our Competitions Secretary (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), if you have any questions. You can always pop over and chat if you see us poolside at any time.

Transitions Support Manager
Laura Rowe
Competitions Secretary
Different Types of Open Meets
These are the lowest level meets (level 4) and just for the swimmers in that one club to compete against the other swimmers in the club. These can be great fun and less daunting for young newly competitive swimmers as they will be familiar with the pool, the judges, officials and timekeepers. They will also know the other swimmers and have an opportunity to record legitimate times that can be used for entering other meets (level 3) later on. In Colchester, the Club Champs are usually held between October-December.
These are the next level (usually level 3, although they can also be other levels) where one club ‘hosts’ the meet and invites other clubs to come along and race. Some club meets will ask the swimmer to have a minimum time that they will need to enter a certain race and some club meets will set an upper limit time which means the swimmer cannot enter the race if they swim faster than that time. This is great for younger swimmers as it gives those who are not necessarily the quickest a chance to develop.

Essex Swimming ( hold a couple of meets throughout the year as a pathway to more advanced swimming competitions. One of these is held in January/February and you will hear it referred to as ‘The Counties’. This is either level 1 or 2, depending on if it is held in a long or short course pool (more about that later). Essex used to hold their 50m races in the London Aquatics Centre (LAC) in Stratford, London. It’s an incredible venue where the Olympic Games were held. However, more recently all events have been held at Basildon Sporting Village. We are optimistic for a return to the LAC in the future. Essex releases a table with lower limit consideration times. This means they need to swim quicker than this time to enter this meet (although your place is not guaranteed at this time). There are usually lots of local swimming meets between September (the start of the season) and December (the deadline for the Counties) so that as many swimmers as possible have the opportunity to achieve these times.

There is another Essex meet usually in October called the Essex Winter Champs. This is really for more established swimmers.

I won’t go into too much detail here as this guide is aimed at young, newly competitive swimmers but ultimately the next steps on the pathway are the ‘Regionals’ (Colchester is in the East Region (, and then ‘Nationals’, run by British Swimming/Swim England, and so on… These have specific entry requirements and times have to be achieved under strict conditions. They are Level 1 if swam long course (50m) and level 2 if swam short course (25m).
What are Levels all about?

Swim England imposes conditions on licensed meets, such as how many officials are required in order to make the meet ‘official’. Licensed meets are split into four categories (1-4).

Level 1 Meets: These meets are long course (LC) only (differences between long and short course are below). These competitions have qualifying times to enter and the times achieved at these competitions can be used to qualify for Regional and National Championships.

Level 2 Meets: These meets are short course (SC) only. These competitions have qualifying times and they can be used to qualify for Regional and National Championships.

Level 3 Meets: These meets can be held in both LC and SC formats. These competitions will generally use qualifying times and also upper limit times (not faster than). This is to ensure that the meet stays as a development meet for up and coming and younger swimmers.

Level 4 Meets: These meets are usually run as a one club entry, for example Club Championships. This is to allow swimmers to achieve officialtimes for the other level meets listed above. Qualifying times are not used.

Long and Short Course

This is just about how long the pool is. Long course is a 50m pool and short course is a 25m pool.

We have two swim meet seasons in the UK.  The short course season runs from September to December and the long course season runs from January to August.

Recorded Times

When your swimmer competes in a licensed meet their times will be recorded by official time keepers and after the meet has finished the times are sent to Swim England to be recorded on a central database. These times are then official and can be used to enter meets in the future. Using this website, search for your swimmer using your family name and click on the membership number link. Once you have an official time it will be recorded here.

Their personal best time will be on the main page but every time they do the race the time is recorded against it. You can click on the race to see the full history. Note though that disqualifications in races are not recorded (more on DQ’s later).

Entering an Open Meet

Before I go into any detail it’s important to know that as long as your details are up to date with the club you will receive emails for ALL meets. Some will be relevant and some will not. You need to work that out by looking through the details. The information below should help but if you are not receiving anything, check your junk mail and contact our Membership Secretary if there are any concerns (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the information that comes through so this is just my way. You may find a better way that works for you. 

1.      Date & Location. The most important thing to look for first of all is the date and location of the meet. Can you make that weekend? Is it one day or a whole weekend? Is the gala accessible for you. If these are fine then next I would look at the conditions of the meet. These are usually provided in the form of a ‘pack’ and will include details such as the entry age of the swimmer and the qualifying time conditions.

2.      Age Groups. Some meets refer to age groups such ‘age on [date]’. If, for example, this is 15 March and your swimmer is 10 years old on 15 March, it means your swimmer will swim against all other swimmers who are also 10 years old on 15 March. Some meets will be listed as ‘age on 31 December…’ this means that whatever age your child is on 31 December of that year is the age group they will swim in. This is really important as you need to know what age group they are swimming in, in order to see what qualifying times they need to have achieved to enter.

3.      Race Selection. The club will not tell you what races you should enter; it is for you and your swimmer to decide. When first starting out it’s best to consider entering all four 50m races (if they are happy to do so). This will give you a good idea of what they like doing. If they are keen then you could always enter some 100m races too, or even 200m and IM’s (individual medleys - when all four strokes are swam in one race). This is completely your choice but be wary on taking on too much for the first time.

4.      Schedules. The schedule/programme supplied in the entry pack often plays a key role in deciding what races to do. For example, if the meet is for a whole weekend and there is one 50m race in each session, spread over both days, this will mean being around for the whole weekend for just a few quick races. This is a lot of waiting around. You might find it easier to enter just one day out of the two, or maybe just one session per day. Some children are very happy to sit around with their swim friends so it might be fine to enter the whole meet. This is completely your decision.

5.      Qualifying Tables. Once you have a clear idea on what races your swimmer might like to do you need to check this against whether your swimmer actually qualifies to enter the races. The pack will have a qualifying table often showing either upper or lower qualifying times for each race and gender, but sometimes both. As mentioned earlier (in the ‘Different Types of Meets’ section), lower limit times means the swimmer must swim faster than the time shown and upper limit times means they must swim slower than the time shown. You can obtain your child’s personal best (PB) times from the Swim England website ( and if they do not have times they should contact the Head Coach (Michelle Young) who will provide them. If the times for the races sit within the qualifying times then you are free to enter that race. 

You may find you go backwards and forwards for a bit, deciding on what races to swim, working out whether they qualify and if the session times work for you. It’s all a bit trial and error I’m afraid but once you have done one or two meets it gets easier and you will have a better idea of what works well.

Entry Process

So, that’s the basics. The actual entry is quite straightforward. You may be asked to complete a form with a cheque, payable to Colchester Swimming Club, and pop it in the black box (a small box located just to the left of the double doors at the spectator entrance to the fitness pool at Leisure World), with a fixed deadline date. For these entries ensure you write the swimmers name on the back of the cheque. I often take a photo of the entry form too so I have a record of what I have entered. It is sometimes possible to pay directly to the Club rather than writing a cheque but if it’s not indicated in the email you are sent and you need to pay this way you should drop an email to our Competitions Secretary, who can confirm (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). For some meets you will need to enter directly online with the meet organiser (the email you receive with the meet details and pack will advise you how to enter). In these cases, if it’s a club level meet, the quicker you enter the better as they can be first come, first served. When the meet is full the inviting club will shut the meet early, sometimes weeks before the closing deadline, so look out for these.

In all cases look out for the additional club admin fee. This is usually a minimal amount to cover coach poolside passes and will be clearly indicated on the entry pack and email.

Once you have entered, you should receive an email confirming the accepted and rejected entries (usually much nearer to the date of the meet). On occasion a meet may have to reject entries when too many entries have been received or if there is a mistake or error in the entry. Additionally, you will receive emails detailing the warm up times, spectator information etc.

Process for entering UNSUPPORTED Meets

The purpose of this note is to give you guidance about the process for entering unsupported meets, and to help us manage the expectations of other clubs that are hosting those meets.

If you are thinking about entering a meet then, in the first instance, please check with your coach so that they can advise you as to whether you can/should make an individual entry directly to the hosting club (typical for unsupported meets) or whether our club will make a group entry (typical for meets that are supported by the club).

This distinction is important for the reasons explained below.

Firstly (and most importantly), safeguarding considerations differ between supported and unsupported meets.

In particular, for unsupported meets, you assume responsibility for the safeguarding of your swimmer. The hosting club will usually set out their expectations regarding the supervision of swimmers. For example, they will typically require a team manager to present and may require coaches to attend when the number of swimmers exceeds a certain minimum.

Consequently, the onus is upon you (and not the club) to ensure that you can satisfy the necessary requirements to attend the meet (for example, because you have the appropriate accreditation to supervise your swimmer poolside, or are aware that a team manager from our club will be present and that you agree/have their agreement for them to supervise your swimmer).

In particular, you should not assume that the club will provide the appropriate supervision for unsupported meets.

(For supported meets, the club assumes responsibility for the safeguarding of swimmers in accordance with the supervision guidelines issued by Swim England.)

Secondly, the conditions of most swimming meets will specify the maximum number of individual entries that will be accepted by the hosting club and that, beyond this, visiting clubs are instead expected to submit a single electronic file for the entries of their swimmers. Sometimes the host club will not accept any individual entries (the expectation being that entries will be supported by attending clubs).

For meets where it is appropriate for you to make an individual entry, you should email the meet promotor of the hosting club in the first instance to confirm that your entry can be accepted. We recommend that you attach the completed entry form to your request, but that you refrain from making payment until you receive confirmation that your entry can be accepted (This avoids burdening the host club with the need to process refunds in the event that your entry is rejected).

In some cases, the meet promoter of the hosting club may give you some guidance or have some questions about your entry, which you might need to refer to the club and, occasionally, entries may need to be restricted or withdrawn.


If your swimmer is ill or can no longer attend there are usually processes in place to withdraw from certain races or the whole meet entirely. Some meets operate a fining system for the club/swimmer if the withdrawal process is not followed so please read the pack guide for more information. It is essential you keep an eye on your mailbox so you don’t miss anything.

On the Day of the Meet

On the day of the meet, it’s important to turn up with plenty of time before the listed warm up time and with a huge amount of snacks, drinks, spare club hats, goggles, costumes, towels, a locker coin and if possible, things to do poolside. It can be a long, hot day but lots of fun too and a real time for team bonding. You will be leaving your child with the Colchester Coaches and Team Managers poolside as soon as they arrive and until they finish their races/sessions so it can feel pretty daunting the first few times but a great experience. You should be able to spectate from the gallery but when you are more familiar there are always volunteering opportunities you may wish to take up to get more involved in all the action. For more information on this speak to our volunteer’s coordinator (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Signing in

Some meets operate a signing in process where the swimmer needs to cross their name off of a list of swimmers attending each race in that session in order to be considered present. This can be a bit of a scramble, with the swimmers all bundled together looking for their names on sheets of paper by an entrance table. Since COVID, and the need to limit contact, the signing in process seems to be phasing out and replaced more with withdrawals on the day. The confirmed entry details email you receive will advise if they are operating signing in sheets. If you are still unsure the coach on the day can advise.


One thing that always comes up with young swimmers is how the heats operate at a meet. All swimmers are ranked according to their speed (entrance time) and not their age. Heats are then split up depending on how many lanes the pool has. Usually, the slowest swimmers start first and the last heats are the fastest swimmers. This means that more often than not they will be swimming with children that are not the same age as them. This is really important as it means that winning their heat does not mean they have come 1st. There may be children in faster heats the same age as your swimmer. It also means that your 9 year old swimmer may come last in their heat but actually get a medal if they are the fastest 9 year old racing in a heat against 10/11 year olds with similar entry times. This can really confuse swimmers (and spectators alike), and it’s only when the results sheets are displayed that you can know their actual official time and position. 

Heat Declared Winners (HDW) and Finals

Some meets will state that certain races have HDW. This means that the swimmers’ positions (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc.) are decided from the time they achieved in the heat and no additional ‘Final’ race is being run. Alternatively, certain meets, usually bigger Championships, have Finals for the top 8 or 10 swimmers (depending on how many lanes there are in the pool) by age group. This will be indicated clearly in the entry pack.

Disqualifications or infractions as they are now known as

It’s natural that at some point your child may be disqualified for a technical reason during their race. There are a huge list of disqualification reasons and the coaches at Colchester work hard to ensure that the children know the rules. When there is a disqualification the referee’s decision is final. If a reason is not given on the results sheet you should ask the coach poolside to explain so your swimmer is aware of what happened. It’s never nice but actually can be pretty helpful in honing in on what needs to be worked on in the future. The Lithuanian Danas Rapsys was disqualified after coming first place at the World Championships in 2019 so it happens to the best swimmers too. It’s worth noting though that whatever time your child got, if it’s a DQ then it won’t be recorded on their record, so you won’t be able to use it for future meets.

Finally, here are a few other questions that you might have heard people talking about and are curious to know more…

What are the ‘leagues’ I have heard people talking about?

Colchester SC participate in two leagues throughout the year. The Essex Mini League for the younger swimmers and the National Arena League for the older swimmers. Swimmers in these leagues are selected by the Head Coach only and are held over a number of weekends in various venues. You will be notified by email if your swimmer is selected. They can be incredibly fun and a real achievement when chosen to participate so it’s important to respond back very quickly to confirm if your swimmer can or can’t attend. 

What is ‘spearheading’ and ‘over the top starts’?

Spearheading is where each heat is arranged so the fastest swimmers in that heat swim in the centre lanes and slower swimmers on the outer lanes (like an arrow).

Over the top starts are where the swimmers who have just finished a heat stay in the water while the next heat starts with the swimmers diving off the blocks over their heads.

What does whipping/marshalling mean?

During a session the swimmers will be told to go to a marshalling area. (This used to be called the whipping area - some people still use the name but for obvious reasons it’s now called marshalling). This is where an official will group the swimmers together in their heats and position them in lane order so that when they walk out behind the blocks they are already in the correct lanes for swimming in. 

What is the Competitive Start Award?

Some pools can be very shallow at one end and in order to ensure the safety of the swimmers there may be a requirement for the swimmer to have the ‘Competitive Start Award’ in order to dive from the block into the shallow water. Usually, the club will dedicate a number of regular swimming sessions to the young/new swimmers to ensure they achieve this award and can dive off of the blocks comfortably in a swimming meet. If they have not achieved this they can still compete but will need to start in the pool instead. If you are unsure if your child has the Competitive Start Award please speak to the coach at the start or end of a training session and they will confirm.

When I leave my swimmer at a meet what if they feel nervous, need the toilet or don’t feel well during the meet session?

Unless you are volunteering, you will not be able to stay poolside with your swimmer but there will always be at least one coach or volunteer from the club poolside during every session. It’s advisable to provide your child with a list of their races before you leave home so they know what they are doing and when so they can factor toilet breaks in the waiting time. If they have any worries they can speak to the coach or team manager on the day. The first few meets are always a little daunting but the poolside team will be able to reassure them at any time. Of course, the best view in the house is that of the officials, time keepers, team managers or volunteers. The club are always looking for parents and carers who want to get more involved so please do contact our volunteer’s coordinator if you would like more information (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Would you like to join our club?

If you would like to get involved please contact our Club Membership Secretary using our online Contact Form?