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Your First Swim Meet

Swim meets can be confusing for new swimmers and families.  Read below for a description of what will happen, what you need to bring/should do, and how swim meets work!  Meets held at Sabino Vista Hills or other teams' facilities are called Dual or Tri Meets.  There is an additional section at the bottom that discusses Invitational and Championship meets.

Common Terms

Just like in other sports, there are quite a few terms unique to swimming that are good to know!  There are many jobs at a swim meet - if you see a volunteer referenced on this page who is not in the glossary below, check the Meet Jobs page for a description of the job and its duties.

  • Age Group - Swimmers are divided into age groups so that they can compete fairly against their peers.  The most often used age groups are:  6 & under, 8 & under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-18.  Swimmer age in SAAA is their age on June 1st of the year.  E.g. a swimmer born on May 30, 2010 or even June 1, 2010 would be 13 years old.  A swimmer born on June 2, 2010 (or later) would be 12 years old.  Some swimmers may be asked to practice in a different age group based on ability, however, swimmers may only compete at swim meets in their correct age group (relay teams may sometimes have one or two swimmers from a younger age group).

  • Blocks - Starting platforms located at the end of each lane of the pool.

  • Event - An event in swimming is usually a particular stroke for a particular age group and gender.  E.g. "Boys 9-10 50 meter Freestyle" would be a single event.

  • Flags - A line covered in flags is located in the air across the water at each end of the pool.  These lines are safety equipment that cues swimmers who are swimming backstroke that the end of the lane is approaching.

  • Heat - Many pools don't have enough lanes for every swimmer in an age group to swim at the same time.  Swimmers are broken down into Heats based on their best swim time in that stroke.  

  • Official - A term generally used for trained volunteers who enforce some portion (or all) of the rules governing swim meets, swim strokes, and other details.  Officials are usually dressed in white shirts.

  • Referee - The Referee is the top official who oversees the conduct of the meet. 

  • Relay - Coaches form teams of four swimmers to compete as a team - each swimmer will swim a certain stroke for a certain distance, and upon touching the wall the next teammate will dive off the blocks.  The two relay types are Freestyle and Medley Relay.  In a Medley Relay, each swimmer swims one of the four swimming strokes.

  • SAAA - The Southern Arizona Aquatics Association.  This is the local recreational swimming league in which Sabino Vista Hills Swim Team participates.

  • Starter - The official "in charge" of starting swimmers.  

  • Stroke - There are four basic strokes in swimming - Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle.  Swimmers also compete in the "Individual Medley", where all four strokes are swum in the above order in a single event.

  • Timer - A volunteer who helps to record swimmers' times to establish results.

What is it?

Swim meets allow your swimmers to compete against their teammates and swimmers on other teams.  They are a great opportunity to show off what they've learned to families and friends.  SVH has one Saturday, and eight Tuesday/Thursday evening swim meets, all held in June.  These are Dual or Tri Meets.  Swimmers may also optionally participate in an Invitational meet in mid June, and in the league championship meet in early July.  Invitationals and Championships are a great opportunity for swimmers to test themselves against swimmers from all over Tucson, many of whom they may not swim at the local dual meets during the season.

Dual or Tri Meets involve two or three teams meeting at the pool to compete against each other.  Most often, half of the meet will be held on Tuesday at one team's pool, and then the remaining events are held on Thursday at the other team's pool.  Most dual meets award swimmers a ribbon based on their placement in their specific Heat (see the Definitions section).

Invitationals and Championships involve swimmers from all of the SAAA teams in Tucson getting together on a weekend morning (or mornings) and competing against each other.  Invitationals are in a "Timed Finals" format, and Championships are held in a Prelim-Finals format (see the Meet Types section below).

What do I bring?

All SAAA meets are held outdoors during the summer.  Generally, the team tries to provide shade tents for families and swimmers where needed.  Common items you'll need include:​

  • A cooler with ice and non-alcoholic drinks - focus on water and drinks with electrolytes.  Bring enough cold water for the entire family.

  • Enough towels for the swimmer's events.  Swimmers may swim up to four or five times in a single meet - make sure you have enough dry towels depending on weather conditions.

  • Sun Hat(s) - If you're volunteering, a full-brimmed sun hat and sunglasses can be crucial.

  • Sunscreen

  • Portable Chairs - One for each member of the family, including the swimmer.

  • Swim Cap (have an extra cap or two)

  • Goggles (have a spare set or two)

  • Non-fatty, high carb snacks.

  • Competition Legal Swimsuit - This is a one piece swimsuit with no zippers or external ties.  For boys - the suit must start below the naval and end above the knees.  For girls, the suit may not cover the neck or arms, and must end above the knees.  For swimmers under 12, "technical suits" (these are expensive) are not allowed unless specifically designed approved and marked by FINA / World Aquatics.  If your swimmer has a religious, modesty, medical, or other reason for wearing a non-standard suit - please talk to and get approval from a Coach before the first swim meet.  Swimmers in illegal swimwear will not be allowed to compete.  This includes rash-guards.

Meet Types / Awards

  • Heat Placement
    Most Dual/Tri Meets rank swimmers' results based on their order of finish in their Heat.  Ribbons are usually awarded to all swimmers based on that finish.

  • Timed Finals
    Invitationals, and some teams' Dual/Tri Meets are conducted in a Timed Finals format.  This means swimmers are divided into Heats, but their order of finish is based their time when compared against all of the other swimmers in their age group.  Awards are usually given only to the top X number of swimmers in their age group for a particular stroke (X varies depending on the meet).

  • Prelim/Finals
    The only meet in SAAA which uses the Prelim/Finals format is Championships.  In this format, swimmers in an age group compete in heats and their times are all compared against each other.  The top X swimmers by time then compete again in a "Final" to place/score against each other.  The number of swimmers is determined by the pool size and whether or not the meet has a "consolation" final.  For example,  a 10 lane pool with a consolation final would take the top 20 swimmers from preliminaries: swimmers who placed 11-20th place in the prelim would compete against each other for 11th - 20th place in the final, and places 1-10 would compete in a second heat for 1st through 10th place).  Swimmers who qualify for the Final are expected to "scratch" by telling a coach if they are unable to compete in the Final prior to a certain time - this is important so that there are not empty places in the finals heats.

Arriving at the Meet

  • Prior to the meet, the Coaches will announce when warmups will occur.  ALL swimmers must appear at the pool at the correct time to warm up - even if they are not swimming until later in the meet.  Warm-ups are a time to loosen up muscles, to gain the correct mindset to swim, and for the Coaches to provide last minute instructions.  Most venues at SAAA do not have a separate warm-up area, which precludes swimmers from warming up at a later time.

  • When arriving, find the team's sitting area. Swimmers generally are encouraged to sit together in a specific area (especially 8 & under swimmers who need to be in a findable location so that they can be assembled and escorted to the blocks).  Parents and spectators generally also gather together.

  • Get your swimmer ready for warmup in time for warmups to start.  Apply sunscreen and put on their cap and goggles.

  • It's best to have a sharpie for your swimmer to mark their swims on their arm.  This can be the difference between a missed swim and a timer or good shepherd getting your swimmer into the right lane on time.  Mark the Event Number, Heat Number, and Lane Number for each swim in a row on their arm in columns.  Ask a fellow swim parent if you need help wit hthis.  This information can be found in a meet program - which is usually posted on a wall at the pool and/or emailed prior to the meet.  


Meet Officials are trained volunteers who ensure the rules of swimming are being followed.  SAAA generally follows the USA Swimming rules (who in turn adopt rules and procedures from World Aquatics).    Meet Officials with SAAA usually wear white shirts with dark blue pants.  Sometimes at Dual Meets you'll see trained parent volunteers who are less formally dressed acting as officials.

The three most common officials you'll see are:

  • Referee
    The Referee oversees the rules for the entire meet - everything from safety and procedural rules, down to individual swimmers' strokes.  The Referee has jurisdiction over anyone who is at the facility, including parents and spectators.  The Referee makes the actual decision to disqualify swimmers for stroke related rules either by personal observation or based on recommendations from Stroke and Turn Judge and Starter, and also adjudicates any appeals of those decisions from Coaches.  The Referee is most often found in "the box" - an area located between the flags and the blocks at the end of the pool.  If the Referee personally observes an infraction, they will raise their hand straight up in the air to signal coaches and spectators that there has been a rules violation.

  • Starter
    The Starter's role is to ensure the swimmers have a fair chance to start their race.  The Starter watches the swimmers' reactions to his/her commands, and will either start the race or possibly request that the swimmers stand back up.  If after starting the swimmers, the Starter (or Referee) believes that the swimmers did not get a fair start, they may initiate the recall signal (a series of fast starting tone sounds) to notify the swimmers that they should stop racing and return to the blocks.  The Starter and Referee work as a team to identify swimmers who may have started early (recorded as a "False Start" disqualification).  The Starter also is usually found in "The Box" (see Referee above).

  • Stroke and Turn Judge
    Stroke and Turn Judges ensure a fair swim by ensuring that each swimmer is swimming a particular stroke in a "legal" manner.  When a swimmer is observed violation a rule, the Stroke and Turn Judge will raise their straight into the air and report the infraction to the Referee - who will either accept or decline the recommendation based on the information provided by the Stroke and Turn Judge.  Stroke and Turn Judges will either observe from the ends of the pool, or sometimes will walk alongside the swimmers on the edge of the pool.  Timers, spectators and swimmers should ensure they remain clear of the Stroke and Turn Judges and the areas they are moving in - the Judge has the right of way at all times.

If you're interested in learning more about becoming an Official, please speak to a Meet Director.

You can view and download the USA Swimming rulebook here:  USA Swimming Rules and Policies


  • Ribbons will be awarded to all swimmers who have not been disqualified based on their placement in their heat. 

  • SVH swimmers may collect their ribbons at the next practice from the ribbons box, which will be placed on a picnic table on the north side of the pool.

  • Visiting coaches may bring a container to collect their team's ribbons.  The container should be delivered to the ribbons table before the meet, which is located at the southwest corner of the pool.

  • Barring a significant technical problem, ribbons will be available for the visiting coach to pick up shortly after the completion of the meet. 

Team Seating

  • The area between the grass and the wall enclosing the pool filtering equipment on the western end of the pool area, under and around the smaller tan fabric covered ramada, is designated for visiting swimmers.  Visiting parents can also sit in this area, or they may set up their chairs with the SVH parents under the large tan fabric covered ramada or by the diving well.   

  • The grassy area on the northwest corner of the pool area is designated for SVH swimmers only.

  • Feel free to bring tents, blankets and chairs to make yourselves comfortable.

  • A cleared area will be maintained for SVH and visiting parents to watch their swimmers during their heat between the front supports of the large, tan fabric covered ramada and the pool edge.  There are to be no chairs in this area.  Please keep back from the pool edge at least two feet to ensure the Officials are able to walk unimpeded.

Snack Bar

  • The SVH Snack Bar, called "The Grill on the Hill", will offer dinner and snack items. The grill is located inside the doors to the right of the pool entrance.

  • Hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta and green salads, and an assortment of water, soft drinks, candy, and other snacks are available for purchase.

  • We accept credit cards only.


  • The dedicated parking lot for the pool is very small, overflow parking is available in the surrounding neighborhood.

  • There is NO PARKING on the edges of the street where it is divided by a median (Larrea Ln. south of the main pool parking lot entrance).  Please park to the north and east of the pool.

  • We ask that everyone be careful not to block driveways or mailboxes and avoid parking in coned off areas.

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