Channel Cats New Parent Handbook (c 2003)


We would like to welcome you to the exciting world of swimming. By joining a Swim Ontario affiliated club, your child has just become a member of one of our country’s best-organized youth sports.

This book will give you a good working knowledge of the sport, and answer some rudimentary questions. It is based on the American Swimming Coaches Association’s Parents’ Handbook. SwimOntario would like to thank the ASCA for permission to use their material. Keep in mind that all the information in this booklet is just an introduction to competitive swimming. Please feel free to contact Swim Ontario for additional information regarding our sport.

The sport of swimming has many benefits, including the people you and your child will meet. The camaraderie among swimmers is unique, as many swimming buddies become life-long friends.

In addition to being around fine people, swimming provides one of the most beneficial forms of exercise for cardiovascular and overall fitness. This exercise can be enjoyed throughout one’s entire life. For example, we now have swimmers in their eighties setting provincial, national, and world records in the “masters” categories.

Possibly the greatest benefits of participating in an organized swim programme, are the life skills your child will develop. These skills include time management, self-discipline, and sportsmanship.

Your child will reap the benefits of swimming long after participation ends. Most swimmers go on to be very successful and productive adults, largely due to what they gained from swimming.

Age group swimming can be fun, exciting, and rewarding. Many children improve rapidly during the early developmental stages due to growth and improved technique. It is difficult to avoid the tendency to push young athletes at this stage.

The emphasis should be placed on technique rather than power. We recommend that the training schedule for developmental swimmers be flexible enough to provide time to participate in other activities. Swimming at the youngest levels needs to be fun and pressure free, because many swimmers train for over ten years.

After a child reaches puberty, scientists and coaches feel that serious training can begin. This can develop into a particularly frustrating time for swimmers. During the transition from age group to senior swimming, an athlete may experience a plateau or what appears to be a ‘set-back’. Chunks of time are no longer being dropped, and training requires more time and dedication. Many parents begin to question whether a child’s swimming career is over at this point. This, coupled with the normal demands of teenage life, causes many swimmers to leave the sport prematurely. It is critical that parents and coaches be very supportive during this period of adjustment, realizing that it will pass. Future performance improvements generally follow.

This book is designed to help you help your child succeed in swimming. Remember: not every swimmer becomes a world record holder, but all of them gain from their swimming experience. Supporting your child throughout a swimming career, can be one of the most rewarding endeavours of your life. You may soon find yourself cheering at competitions, timing during meets, or even going on to become a Canadian swimming certified official. Whatever your role, your child’s experience in swimming has much to do with your positive support. Please ask questions of your coaches, officials, and fellow parents who have been in the sport for a while. We all have the same goal: to provide your child with the best possible experience in swimming.


  •       The right of the opportunity to participate in sports, regardless of ability, gender, or ethnicity.
  •       The right to have qualified adult leadership.
  •       The right to participate in a safe and healthy environment.
  •       The right to play as a child as opposed to as an adult.
  •       The right to proper preparation for participation in the sport.
  •       The right to be treated with dignity by all involved.
  •       The right to equal opportunity in striving for success.
  •       The right to have fun through sport.


Competitive swimming programmes provide many benefits to young athletes. They develop self-discipline, good sportsmanship, and time management skills. Competition allows the swimmer to experience success and to learn how to deal with defeat, while becoming healthy and physically fit.

As a swimmer’s parent, your major responsibility is to provide a stable, loving, and supportive environment. This positive environment will encourage your child to continue. Show your interest by ensuring your child’s attendance at practices, and by coming to meets.

Parents are not participants on their children’s teams, but contribute to the success experienced by the youngsters and their teams. Parents serve as role models and their children often emulate their attitudes. Be aware of this and strive to be positive models. Most importantly, show good sportsmanship at all times toward coaches, officials, opponents, and team mates.

Be enthusiastic and supportive!

Remember that your children are swimmers. Children need to establish their own goals, and make their own progress towards them. Be careful not to impose your own standards and goals.

Do not overburden your children with winning or achieving best times. The most important part of children’s swimming experience is that they learn about themselves, while enjoying the sport. This healthy environment encourages learning and having fun, which will develop a positive self-image within each child.

Let the COACH coach!

The coach is the only one qualified to judge a swimmer’s performance and technique. Your role is to provide support. The best way to help children achieve their goals and reduce the natural fear of failure, is through positive reinforcement. No one likes to make a mistake. If your child does make one, remember that this is a learning experience. Encourage all efforts, and point out the things done well. As long as the best effort was given, you should make the child feel like a winner.

Are YOU a pressure parent?

The following survey has been taken from the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain. If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, you may be in danger of pressuring your child. It is important to remember that the parent’s role is critical, and should be supportive at all times to ensure that positive experience for your child.

  • Do you want your child to win more than he does?
  • Do you openly show your disappointment, if she has a poor result?
  • Do you feel that you have to ‘psych’ him up right before a competition?
  • Do you feel that your child can only enjoy the sport if she win?
  • Do you regularly conduct ‘post mortems’ immediately following a competition or training?
  • Do you feel that you have to force your children to go to training?
  • Do you find yourself wanting to interfere during training or competitions, thinking that you could do better?
  • Do you find disliking your child’s opponents?
  • Are your child’s goals more important to you than they are to him?
  • Do you provide material rewards (e.g. money, toys) for good performances?


The Skills

The four competitive strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly.

The Competition

Participants compete in different age groups and meets, depending on their achievement level and how old they are – usually on the first day of the meet. Provincially recognized age groups are 10&under, 11, 12,13,14, 15,16-17, and Senior. Local  meets (Invitationals) can adjust the age groups to suit the goals of the meet and/or to accomodate the number of swimmers.

In freestyle events, one may swim any stroke one wishes; however, almost always, the stroke used is the crawl. This is characterized by an alternating over-hand motion of the arms and an alternating up-and-down flutter kick.

In the backstroke, the stroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick. On turns, some part of the swimmer’s body must touch the wall.

The breaststroke pattern requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pulled from the breast in a heart-shaped pattern, and are recovered under or over the surface of the water. The kick is a simultaneous, somewhat circular motion, similar to the leg action of a frog’s. No flutter, scissor, or dolphin kick is permitted. On the turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands at the same time..

The butterfly is the most beautiful of all four strokes. It features a simultaneous over-hand stroke of the arms, combined with an undulating dolphin kick. The swimmer must keep both legs together and may not use the flutter, scissor, nor breaststroke kick. The butterfly was developed in the early 1950’s as a variation of the breaststroke. It became an Olympic event in 1956 (Melbourne).

The individual medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four strokes in the order of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. Each stroke is performed for one fourth of the distance to be swum.

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

In the medley relay, all four stokes are swum. The first athlete swims backstroke, the second does breaststroke, the third swims butterfly, and the final athletes uses the freestyle.

Many races are won or lost by a swimmer’s performance on the start or turn. On the start, the swimmer is called to the staring position by the starter, who visually checks that all swimmers are motionless. When all athletes are set, the gun or starting horn is sounded to start the race. If the starter feels that one of the swimmers has moved, left early, or received an unfair advantage, the race continues and the offending swimmer is disqualified upon finishing.

The Strategies

The sprint races (50 and 100 metre distances) are all-out races from start to finish.

The middle distance events (200’s or 400’s) require a sense of pace, as well as an ability to swim controlled sprints.

The distance events (800m and 1500m freestyle) require the swimmers to constantly be aware of where they are in the field, and how tired they are. Starting too fast, can sap a swimmer’s strength for the finish; while starting too slowly, can separate the swimmer from the pack and make catching up impossible.

There are a number of ways to pace a middle distance or a distance race. Swimmers may elect to swim the race evenly, holding the same pace throughout the race and sprinting the last 100; or they may negative split the race. Negative splitting occurs when a swimmer deliberately swims the second half of the race faster than the first half.


The Course

Competition pools may be short course (25m) or long course (50m). The international standard is 50 metres. World, national, as well as provincial records are accomplished in metre pools (SC and LC). Although some Canadian and many US pools have been  constructed in the imperial measuring system (yards), meets and records in Canada are only sanctioned and recognized in short course or long course METRE pools. Converted yard times are inaccurate and not allowed in Canada.

The Team

A swim team is composed of any number of swimmers. Team training groups are usually determined by age and/or ability level. Only coaches determine the groups into which swimmer are placed, and at what point in time they are ready to move to the next level.

The Equipment – What’s needed

  • Practice suits – suits worn by swimmers during practice sessions. They are generally mad of nylon, lycra or other synthetic fabrics. These suits are usually loose fitting, and many older swimmers train wearing several suits for the purpose of creating drag.
  • Caps – latex or silicone swim caps used during a race and/or practice, to cut down resistance and to protect swimmers’ hair from the effects of chemicals.
  • Competition suit – a team racing suit may be required for competitions. This suit is usually 2 or 3 sizes smaller than the practice suit to reduce resistance when racing.
  • Fins – flippers worn on the feet, used for stroke technique and speed assisted training.
  • Goggles – lenses worn by swimmers during practices and competition to enhance visibility and protect eyes from the effects of chemicals in the water.
  • Hand paddles – used for technique training (feel of water on hands during different stroke drills)
  • Kickboard – a device usually made of plastic of styrofoam, used to work the kick portion of a stroke.
  • Pull buoy – usually made of styrofoam, this device is placed between the legs to isolate the use of the arms. The pull buoy is used to strengthen the arms and is sometimes used for stroke work.
  • Towel – a thick, large beach towel is usually preferred by swimmers. A minimum of two of these towels is recommended for meets.
  • Team uniform – a team uniform is generally made up of the following: suit, cap, T-shirt, sweat suit, hoodie,  parka. Each club has a uniform, which us usually a requirement and is unique to the team.

The Rules

The technical rules of swimming are designed to provide fair and equitable conditions of competition and to promote uniformity in the sport. Each swimming stroke has specific rules designed to ensure that no swimmer gains an unfair competitive advantage over another swimmer. The technical rules for each stroke may be found in the Swimming/Natation Canada Rule Book.

Trained officials observe the swimmers during each event to ensure compliance with these technical rules. If a swimmer commits an infraction of the rules, the result is a disqualification from that event, with no official time for the race, and no opportunity to receive an award/score for the team.

Disqualifications may also result from actions such as not getting to the starting blocks on time, false starting, walking on or pushing off the bottom of the pool, pulling on the lane lines, or unsportsmanlike conduct.

Some rule violations per stroke:

Freestyle – walking on the bottom; pulling on the lane rope; not touching the wall on a turn; or not completing the prescribed distance.

Backstroke – turning past the vertical onto the stomach and gliding or kicking into the wall on the turn (the roll to the stomach must be a part of a continuous turning action); pushing off the wall on the stomach after a turn; not remaining on the back throughout the race; turning on the stomach before the finish.

Breaststroke – an illegal kick such as flutter, dolphin, or scissor kick; alternating movements of the arms; taking two arm strokes or two leg kicks while the head is under water; touching with only one hand at the turns or finish.

Butterfly – alternating movements of the arms or legs; pushing the arms forward under instead of over the water surface; a breaststroke kick; touching with only one hand at the turns or finish.

The Officials

Officials are present at all competitions to implement the technical rules of swimming and to ensure that the competition is fair and equitable. Officials attend clinics, pass written tests, and work meets before being certified. All parents are encouraged to get involved with some form of officiating. If you are interested, contact your club’s officials’ chairperson.

  • Timekeepers – operate timing devices (stopwatches or automatic timing equipment) and record the official time for each swimmer in their lane.
  • Turn Inspectors – observe from each end of the pool and ensure that the turns and finishes comply with the rules applicable to each stroke.
  • Stroke Judges – observe from both sides of the pool, walking abreast of the swimmers, to ensure that the rules relating to each stroke are being followed.
  • Relay Take-off Judges – stand beside the starting blocks to observe the relay exchanges, ensuring that the feet of the departing swimmer have not lost contact with the block before the incoming swimmer touches the end of the pool.
  • The Clerk of Course – arranges the swimmers into their proper heats and lanes.
  • The Starter – assumes control of the swimmers from the Referee, directs them to take their mark, and sees that no swimmer is in motion prior to giving the start signal.
  • The Referee – has overall authority and control of the competition, ensuring that all the rules are followed; assigns and instructs all official; and decides all questions relating to the conduct of the meet.

Violations of the rules are reported to the Referee, and the rules require that every reasonable effort be made to notify the swimmers or their coaches of the reasons for any disqualifications.

If your child is disqualified (DQ’d), in an event, be supportive rather than critical. For newer swimmers, a disqualification should be treated as a learning experience, not as punishment. A disqualification alerts the swimmer and coach to what portions of the swimmer’s stroke need to be corrected. It should be considered in the same light as an incorrect answer in school work: it points out areas which need further practice.

The disqualification is necessary to keep the competition fair and equitable for all other competitors. A supportive attitude on the part of the official, the coach, and the parent, can also keep it a positive experience for the disqualified swimmer.


Swim Ontario

Swim Ontario’s mission statement: “Swim Ontario, its affiliates and stakeholders, will provide an environment through which its participants lead Canadian swimming on all levels.”

Swim Ontario is the not-for-profit sports governing body responsible for the organization and regulation of amateur swimming in Ontario. The Swim Ontario organization has been in existence since the late 1920’s.

Swim Ontario promotes excellence by structuring, regulating and supporting programmes, which encourage an age appropriate development of each individual athlete. This includes girls, boys, minorities, and swimmers with a disability.

The organization if governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, and its policies are administered by a full-time professional staff, located at the Sport Alliance of Ontario building in Toronto.

A major communication tool with competitive swimmers and their families is the SwimON! newsletter. It is published twice annually (fall and spring) and is distributed via a direct mailing  toeach family (only possible if a generous sponsorship agreement can be negotiated), and/or a posting on our web site. For more information on the newsletter, please contact the SwimON! editorat the Swim Ontario office.

The association attempts to create and enhance an image for swimming as a drug free sport that involves fun, fitness and attainment of personal excellence, dedication, health, safety and discipline – in short, a sport of superior values.

Swim Ontario has over 130 affiliated clubs throughout the Province. A visit to our web site or contact with the friendly staff at our office, will help you in selecting a club that will suit you and your family.

In addition to the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and our sponsors, there are many organizations that work with Swim Ontario towards the advancement of the sport of swimming. The staff of Swim Ontario would be more than happy to supply you with detailed information on any of the organizations listed below.

 Swim Ontario Coaches Committee (SOCC)

The purpose of the SOCC is to encourage professionalization for all competitive swimming coaches; to provide the necessary leadership and education in swimming; to develop standardized programmes under the direction of Swim Ontario’s Technical Director; to promote coaching education in Ontario; to liaise with other provincial and national swimming coaches associations; to support domestic, national, as well as international programmes; to promote the National Coaching Certification Programme (NCCP); to recognize the work of leading swim coaches in Ontario on an annual basis.

 Swim Ontario Officials Committee (SOOC)

The SOCC oversees the volunteer participation in the conduct of swim meets in accordance with the rules of swimming and the highest ideals of sport for the benefit of swimmers, coaches, and volunteers.

Swimming/Natation  Canada

Swimming Canada (SNC) is our national sport organization, and its mission statement reads as follows: “to provide opportunities for every individual in the sport of swimming to reach his or her maximum potential in fitness and excellence.”

SNC is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and its professional staff carries out its policies. Swim Ontario is directly affiliated with Swimming Canada, and our athletes are also registered with this organization to allow them to compete in sanctioned swimming events not only on the local level, but also nationally and internationally.

Masters Swimming Ontario

MSO is a successful blend of fitness and competitive swimming for adults. The purpose of Masters Swimming is to promote, encourage, and maintain among its members and the general public an interest in swimming as a fitness programme, and to encourage training for self-development and sportsmanship in the field of competitive Masters swimming. Its objectives are fun, fitness, friendship, and participation.

Para Swimming : swimmers who have a physical impairment.

Click here for more information:  


There are 14 officially recognized disability classifications. Swimmers in the functional classification system (FCS) compete in classes S1 to S10, and include athletes with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, dysmalia, amputations, and other disabilities that fall under the “les autres” designation. Athletes with more significant disabilities compete in the lower classes, S1 to S5, while S10 athletes are deemed least disabled.

S11, S12 and S13 athletes are those with visual disabilities, with S11 swimmers being completely blind, and 12’s and 13’s having reduced visual acuity and field of vision.

The S14 classification is for those swimmers deemed to have some form of intellectual disability, which must be supported by documentation from several experts, including but not limited to educators and/or psychologists.

To be assigned a disability class for swimming, athletes must go through the classification process. For those athletes in the functional system this usually involves a Bench Test, which is an evaluation of strength, co-ordination and range of motion conducted by a certified medical classifier. A point value ranging from 0-5 is assigned to each task, and at the conclusion of the bench test these point values are tabulated to arrive at a classification recommendation. The higher the point score, the higher the classification.

The swimmer usually is then asked to perform a water test overseen by a certified technical classifier, who is primarily watching for movements in the water that verify the classification decision arrived at through the Bench Test, including observation of body position, stroke execution, turning and starting.

In order to be assigned a visual disability classification, athletes with visual impairment must simply provide the results of an opthamological examination.

Glossary of Swimming Terms

  • Age Group Swimming: This is the program through which SNC provides fair and open competition for its younger members. It is designed to encourage maximum participation, provide an educational experience, enhance physical and mental conditioning, and develop a rich base of swimming talent. Nationally recognized age groups are 11-12, 13-14, 15-17, and Senior. Local meets may also include events for 10&under swimmers.
  • Block: The starting platform
  • Bulkhead: A wall constructed to divide a pool into different courses, such as a 50m pool into two 25m pools.
  • Circle Swimming: Performed by staying to the right of the black line when swimming in a lane to enable more swimmers to swim in each lane.
  • Coach: A person who trains and teaches athletes in the sport of swimming.
  • Cut: Slang for qualifying time. A time standard necessary to attend a particular meet or event.
  • Distance Event: Term used to refer to events over 400 metres.
  • DQ (Disqualified): This occurs when a swimmer has committed an infraction of some kind (e.g. one-handed touch in breaststroke). A disqualified swimmer is not eligible to receive an award, nor will there be an official time in that event.
  • Drill: An exercise involving a part of a stroke, used to improve technique.
  • Dry-land Training: Training done out of the water that aids and enhances swimming performance; usually includes stretching, calisthenics, and/or weight training.
  • False Start: Occurs when a swimmer is moving at the start prior to the signal.
  • Final: The championship heat of an event in which the top six or eight swimmers from the preliminaries compete for awards, depending on the number of lanes in the pool.
  • Finish: The final phase of the race – the touch at the end of the race.
  • Flags: Backstroke flags placed 5 metres from the end of the pool. They enable backstrokers to execute a backstroke turn more efficiently through being able to count the number of strokes into each wall.
  • Goal: A specific time achievement a swimmer sets and strives for; can be short or long term.
  • I.M.: Slang for individual medley, an event in which the swimmer uses all four strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle.
  • Lap Counter: A set of plastic display numbers used to keep track of laps during a distance race. The person who counts for the swimmer, is stationed at the opposite end from the start.
  • Long Course or LC: a 50m long pool.
  • Long Distance: Any freestyle event over 1500 metres, normally conducted in a natural body of water, such as a lake, river, or ocean.
  • Meet: Competition designed to be a measure of progress and a learning experience. By implementing what has been learned in practice, the swimmers test themselves against the clock to see how they are progressing.
  • Middle Distance: Term used to refer to events of 200 to 400 metres in length.
  • Negative Split: Swimming the second half of the race faster than the first half.
  • Official: A judge on the deck of the pool at a sanctioned competition who enforces SNC rules.
  • Official Time: A time achieved in a race during a duly sanctioned competition.
  • Pace: The often pre-determined speed with which a swimmer completes each segment of a race (e.g. 25m, 50m)
  • Pace Clock: Large clock with a large second hand and a smaller minute had, used to check pace or maintain intervals in practice (may also be digital).
  • Prelim: Slang for preliminaries, also called heats – those races in which swimmers qualify for the championship and consolation finals in an event.
  • Q-Time: Qualifying time necessary to compete in a particular event and/or competition.
  • Relay: An event in which 4 swimmers compete together as a team to achieve on time.
  • Safety Procedure: Safety procedures are designed to prevent accidents, and must be followed to the letter.
  • Sanctioned Meet: All competitions in which records may be set and official times may be obtained, must be sanctioned (= approved officially) by a Swim Ontario Sanctioning Officer.
  • Scratch: To withdraw from an event in a competition.
  • Senior Swimming: The programme through which SNC and Swim Ontario provide fair and open competition in provincial and/or national swimming championships. It is designed to afford maximum opportunity for participation, provide an educational experience, enhance physical and mental conditioning, and develop a pool of talented athletes for national and international competition. There are no age restrictions on senior competitions.
  • Short Course or SC: A 25 metre long pool in which most competitions during the winter are held.
  • Split: A swimmer’s intermediate time in a race. Splits are registered every 50m and are used to determine if a swimmer is on a planned pace. Under certain conditions, initial splits may also be used as official times.
  • Sprint: Describes the shorter events (50 and 100m); in training, to swim as fast as possible for a short distance.
  • Streamline: The position used to gain maximum distance during a start and/or push-off from the wall in which the swimmer’s body is as tight and straight as it can be.
  • Taper: The final preparation phase. As part of this phase, and prior to major competitions, older and more experienced swimmers will shave their entire body to reduce resistance and heighten sensation in the water.
  • Time Card: The card issued to each swimmer prior to each race, on which splits and the final time are recorded.
  • Time Trial: A practice race which is not part of a regular competitions. Time trials may be sanctioned and used to qualify for specific meets.
  • Touch Pad: A large sensitive board at the end of each lane where a swimmer’s touch is registered and sent electronically to the timing system.
  • Warm-down: Low intensity swimming used by swimmer after a race or main practice set to rid the body of excess lactic acid, and to gradually reduce heart rate and respiration.
  • Warm-up: Low-intensity swimming used by swimmers prior to a main practice set or a race to get muscles loose and warm, and to gradually increase heart rate and respiration.
  • Watches: Stopwatches used to time swimmers during a competition. When totally automatic timing equipment is used, watches serve as a back-up method.