If you’re about to swim in your first swim meet ever, you’re going to want to read this guide full of helpful tips and advice.

Swim meets are an amazing experience for new swimmers. They can be fun, challenging, exhilarating and even social!

Here are our tips for what to do a couple days before, and the day of your first swim meet:

1) Pack your bag the night before

Start packing for your meet the night before, and don’t leave home in the morning in until you double-check that you have everything. There’s nothing worse than showing up to the pool without your swimsuit!

Here’s what to pack:

  • Swimsuit – Find a swimsuit that is durable and fits properly. If you’re a beginner, you definitely do not need to those fancy performance suits you see on the Olympics.

    • Women: We recommend a one-piece suit that is made of 100% polyester and has both an inside and outside layer. The straps should be fixed, and should not tie. The suit should be very snug to your body, to reduce drag in the water. Make sure your suit is comfortable, it doesn’t dig into your armpits, shoulders or back, and make sure that when you move your arms, the straps are not rubbing the wrong way on your shoulder blades. Avoid padding or built-in bras as they will slow you down and will not give you support.

    • Men: We recommend either a brief or jammer that’s comfortable. It’s advisable not to wear swim trunks because the added drag will make you much slower and cause you to do more work than is necessary. In competition the suit can not cover above the navel or below the knees.

  • 2 pairs of goggles – Swimming with goggles will make all the difference. We highly recommend wearing them. Find goggles that can be adjusted tightly so water doesn’t leak in, have 2 straps, have a comfortable nose bridge, and have lenses that have anti-fog so you can see clearly in the water. It’s also always nice to have a backup pair in case you lose a pair. There are different types of goggles for different types of swimming:

    • Indoor pool: clear or medium-tinted lenses, and are smaller for better peripheral vision.

    • Outdoor pool: mirrored, polarized, medium or dark-tinted lenses that protect against UV rays.

  • Swim cap – Swimming with a cap will make you faster, and will ease the stress of having to worry about getting your hair in your face. We recommend silicone or latex. For recommendations, read Why You Should Wear a Swim Cap >>

  • 2 towels – Sorry, but most pools don’t provide their own towels. You’ll have to bring your own.

  • Lock – Unfortunately, there can be theft at swimming pools. We recommend bringing your own spinning lock so you can store your belongings in a locker while you swim.

  • Warm lounge clothes – Whether you’re competing indoor or outdoor, you need warm clothes. Before and after your swim events, you’ll want to keep your body warm and your muscles relaxed at all times. At some meets, you won’t have time to change out of your suit between heats. So bring a towel, some sweatpants, a hoodie and some tennis shoes to keep your body warmed up all day.

  • Lunch & snacks – Swimming fast makes you hungry! Pack some healthy options that are filled with protein, fiber, and carbs. You may find that you prefer to compete on a more empty stomach, or you may find that you need to refuel between heats with some protein. Pack snacks like string cheese, fruit, granola bars, peanut butter, or granola. Having healthy food to fuel your body will be better than starving and having to buy the pizza at the concession stand! Read: “Should You Swim On an Empty Stomach?”

  • Water or sports drink – It’s always important to stay hydrated! Drink water or a sports drink all day long to prepare your body for your races. Write your name on your bottle, in case you leave it on the pool deck after warmup.

  • Sunscreen & sun protection (if outdoors) – There’s nothing worse than getting sunburned while at a swim meet. The sun will make you tired, and can heavily impact your race if you don’t stay protected. Stay out of the sun as much as you can before and after your race, and always wear sunscreen.

2) Show up early

Show up to the meet at least 15 minutes before warm up begins so you can get acquainted with the pool. Oftentimes, the pool is difficult to find from the parking lot, especially if it’s indoors. To learn about how pools are set up for swim meets, click here.

Swim meet officials and volunteers are extremely friendly and love to help swimmers enjoy their time competing. So, do not be afraid to ask for help! Upon arriving, you should follow these steps:

  1. Find the check-in table and tell them that you are present

  2. Tell the meet officials that this is your first swim meet, and ask any questions you might have about the meet, such as:

    1. Where is the locker room?

    2. How does warm up work?

    3. Where can I store my stuff?

    4. How long do you think the meet will take?

    5. Is there a designated area where my team/other swimmers can hang out in between events?

  3. Head to the locker room and change into your swimsuit, and warm lounging clothes. Lock up your belongings in a locker and bring your cap, goggles, water bottle and towel out to the pool deck. There is no need to be wearing your swim cap and goggles all day, it will only give you a headache. Just wear your cap when you’re about to race.

  4. Find your team or other athletes on the pool deck and make some friends! Swim meets are very social, and since they can last a full day sometimes, people are always up for a friendly conversation!

3) Know what time you’re swimming

Once you’re situated at the pool, grab a meet program and find the printed out heat sheets that are hung up by the pool deck. The most important detail is to remember what time you have to compete.

To learn more about meet programs, heat sheets, and how a swim meet is organized, click here to read our Swim Meet Terminology >>

Find each heat that you’re competing in and double check that you remember the details:

  • What events am I swimming? (Example: 100 breaststroke & 50 freestyle)

  • What time is warm up? (Example: I’ll only have dedicated time to warm up before the meet starts)

  • What order does my event fall in the meet schedule? (Example: 5th and 9th)

  • What heat am I swimming in? (Example: I’m in the 1st heat out of 5. This means I’ll be swimming first when the 100 breaststroke event begins)

  • What lane am I assigned to? (Example: Lane 6. I need to confirm which side of the pool is lane 6)

  • What event is before mine, and how many heats does it have? (Example: The 200 freestyle is before my first event, and there are 5 heats. The 200 free takes at least 4 minutes for each heat, so once the 200 free event starts, I’ll have about 10-15 minutes before my heat to go stand behind my lane)

  • How many events do I have in between my 2 events? (Example: I have 5 events between my races to cool down, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, and then prepare for my next heat)

It’s really important to watch other people swim and follow along with the program. You’ll enjoy cheering them on, examining their technique, watching them get best times, and you’ll start to learn how long each event takes in a swim meet. Follow along with your meet program and you’ll be caught up on what’s going on in the meet. Remember, it’s always better to underestimate the duration of a meet than to overestimate!

Read: Swim Meet Terminology & FAQs

4) Prepare mentally

For the weeks, days and hours before your first meet, you should be getting excited! You’ve put in all the hard work, and here’s your chance to put it to the test and SWIM FAST! We highly recommend spending some time alone on the day of, maybe in the car, to visualize each race. Walk yourself through every little detail before each heat so you’re more prepared than ever. Go through this sequence and envision doing the following perfectly:

  • Warming up

  • Getting prepared behind the blocks

  • Taking your mark

  • Diving in

  • Counting your strokes

  • Visualizing your strokes

  • Timing your flip turns

  • Preserving your energy

  • Sprinting the last lap

  • Tapping the touchpad

Sometimes things don’t go as planned at swim meets. The timing equipment might malfunction, someone in your heat may do a false-start, or you might have to stand on the diving block for a while before you take your mark. Mentally preparing for a perfect race will keep your nerves down when you’re faced with not-so-perfect race conditions.

For more information on what a swimming disqualification (DQ) is, click here >>

5) Stretch and warm up

Everyone warms up a little differently, and not every swim meet designates a lane open for warm up before your heat. Regardless, give yourself 5-10 minutes before your heat to go to the bathroom, stretch, swim a couple laps if you can, move your muscles, and mentally prepare for your race before you walk over to your assigned lane.

Click here to read our guide to stretching before swimming.

6) Get behind your lane early

When it’s at least 2+ heats before it’s time for your heat, you should get out of the water, grab your cap, goggles, water bottle, and a towel or sweatshirt, and walk to the lane you’ll be racing in. It’s time to get behind your diving block and prepare. Do not bring your cell phone or snacks.

Stand behind the diving block for a couple minutes and watch the heats before you so you can expect what’s going to happen when it’s your time to swim. This is your time to get excited, pump yourself up, and do some basic stretches and movements to keep your muscles warm.

During the heat before yours, you should be making sure your swim cap is on correctly, tighten your goggles and put them over your eyes, secure your goggle straps high on your head, and take off any warm up clothing.

When the referee gives several short whistle blows, you should be totally prepared to swim. You should be standing behind the correct lane and diving block, with your cap and goggles on, and ready to SWIM FAST!

7) Race your heart out!

Each lane will have a designated staff member to help ensure the meet is running smoothly, and to run the touchpad timer. In the moments before your heat, your “last master” will confirm your first and last name, and tell you when it’s time to get ready to step up on the diving block.

The referee will blow the whistle a few times, which is your cue to step up on the diving block (or jump in if you’re swimming backstroke) and get ready to take your mark.

The referee will announce “take your mark” and you will take your position, and hold it. It’s very important to NOT move at all, until you hear the loud and distinctive “start” horn. If you move before this, you will be disqualified with a “false start.”

If someone else in your heat accidentally jumps in before the horn is blown, do not be tempted to move. Wait until the referee tells everyone to stand up. You will then stand for a few moments, let the swimmer get out of the pool, then take your mark again.

A few seconds will go by, and the referee will blow a very loud horn. This is your cue to JUMP!

Push yourself and compete in the race just as you envisioned you would. If you need to take a break because you’re tired, there are some leagues that will allow you to do this. Remember, you’re swimming in this meet for fun… you do not want to risk your health. If you need to sit on the wall and take a rest before finishing your 500 freestyle event, that’s okay. Here is a list of how you can be disqualified >>

When you’re in your last lap of your event, you should be pushing yourself as hard as you can! Swim aggressively into the wall, reach your arm as long as possible in your last stroke, and press the touchpad as hard as you can.

Once you’ve touched the pad, then you can bring your head up and take a look at your times. The announcer probably will not read off your results, so try to find your lane number on the scoreboard and see how fast you went.

It’s proper etiquette to stay in the water until all swimmers have completed all of their laps. Once everyone is done swimming, you’ll have about 15 seconds after your race to get out of the pool.

You’re done! Now go congratulate some of the other swimmers you raced against 🙂

8) Cool down

As soon as you’re done with your heat, get out of the water, congratulate the other swimmers, then begin your cool down. Swimming engages all the large muscle groups in your body, which increases your demand for oxygen. After a tough swim, you should always cool down to get your heart rate and breathing back to normal. Sometimes you might have to swim events that are back-to-back, so make your cool down quick!

9) Refuel

Once you’re cooled down, throw on some warm clothes, grab a snack and some water and rest! Whether you have another event to swim or not, your body is going to need to recuperate.

10) Have fun!

Enjoy the day with your friends and teammates! Try to keep your nerves down, and support your teammates and cheer them on. Here are some tips on some things that a new swimmer might now know happens at a swim meet.

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