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Starting out in competitive swimming sounds straightforward – grab your swimmers and a towel? – but it can soon evolve into a confusing jumble of ages, sessions and qualifying times. Here we hope to answer some of those questions. If you have any questions that we haven’t addressed, please let us know.. 

When can I compete? Swimmers can compete in our Club Galas from the age of four years, but Swim England only permits competition outside of the club environment for swimmers who will be at least nine years old by 31st December in that year. From the age of nine you can compete in the Micro-League, and from ten year old you could find yourself selected for a place in the North West Arena League teams. For Open Meets, the starting age may be 9, 10 or 11 years, depending on the competition. 

Which competitions should I enter? You won’t know how fast you are compared with swimmers from other clubs until you compete against them. If you will be at least 9yrs old on the day of the last Age Groups gala (usually a date in February), and especially if you are good enough to be in our Micro League team, then enter the Age Groups. Whilst submitted entry times are required, these do not have to be ones recorded at another competition, and can simply be your PB from a club gala or even a time trial. It is important that submitted times are as accurate or, if they have to be estimated, as realistic as possible, so if you don’t know a time, ask the your coach-in most cases your time will have been recorded. If you haven’t made the Micro league team, you may well still be good enough to enter the Age Groups, especially in your best events; again, ask the coach. If you miss the Age Groups but would like to enter an open meet, you may have to wait until the summer, as meets in the first half of the year tend to be qualifying ones for National Age Groups (levels 1 and 2) for which you need to submit a competitive time from a qualifying competition. Ask the competition secretary or your coach, who will advise you on this. A full description of licensed meet levels can be found here

Which races should I enter? Usually, swimmers start with 50m races in each stroke. This tends to be followed by 100m IM, then 200m races. Check with your coach! 

How many races should I enter? All swimmers are different and react differently to competition. Some want a gentle ease in to competition and might only enter a couple of races. Others are better suited to getting on with it and prefer to keep up the momentum by swimming 2-3 races per session. There is generally a lot of waiting between races.        

Why is it important to get official ASA swim times? A non-official time will have been recorded by a coach or parent using a stop watch who may or may not have been trained in timekeeping. An official time will have been taking by at least two trained officials or using an electronic system and will be logged on-line. Non official times are often not trusted whereas official times are. Also many competitions require official times for entry.  

I need my ASA registration number, where do I find it? If you weren’t given this when you joined the club, you will find it on the Swim England database (search by surname). This is also where you will find all your official times from licensed meets. 

I don’t have official swim times. What do I put on my entry? If a competition will accept non-official times, use times achieved at club gala’s or microleague competitions and if these aren’t available, ask your coach for a time trial or estimated time. Results from Club Galas and other meets can be found on the Results page

Why do I sometimes compete as a 9yr old and others a 10yr old? Because it depends on the date at which an event organiser calculates age. For Microleague, it is age at 26th November in the year of competition for the 9 year old group (31st Dec for all other ages) but for other competitions it is 31st December or age on the day. 

My time is too fast for an event! In that case you can’t compete in that event. This is to ensure that children who are not at the top of their peer group get a chance to win medals against peers of similar ability. If you are too fast you will need to talk to your coaches to identify higher level competitions to enter.  

 What do ‘Short course’ and ‘Long course’ refer to? Short course events are in a 25m pool. Long course, a 50m pool. You will start out at short course events. There are online converters for short to long course times but you’re unlikely to need those for a while.

What are Speeding Tickets? If you enter a competition perfectly legally with an official or non-official time then swim, do really well and end up with a time that is faster than the fastest allowed entry, your time is still recorded as official but you are not allowed to win medals or trophies. These are most swimmers targets as they are better than winning a Gold Medal