An Introduction to High School Swimming

Compared to summer country club or city teams, or year-round club teams, high school swimming can feel quite different. High school swimming is a competitive team sport, structured like collegiate competitions. Points from each event are added together to determine team scores. For the swimmers and divers this results in much more of a team feeling than they have likely experienced before. There’s more camaraderie and team-wide support. The relays are really noisy and exciting. It’s a unique swimming and diving atmosphere, fostered by the coaches and the swimmers themselves, and reinforced by the strong support of the parents.

Q: How do combined JV & Varsity meets work?

For each event, JV swimmers will generally appear in the earlier heat(s), followed by the Varsity heat. Heats are seeded by entry time. In some events (e.g. the 200 IM and 500 Free) there may only be one combined JV/Varsity heat.

At a dual-meet, given the size of the SME team, there will generally be a number of JV relay teams for each of the three relay events. Most JV swimmers will also swim the 50 free event. There may be one or two JV heats of the 100 yard stroke events. For diving, JV and Varsity competitors all participate at the same time.

Q: Diving – I’m confused, does it happen before the meet, or in the middle? (after the 50 free)

It depends…for dual meets diving generally takes place after the 50 free. But it will sometimes be moved to before the meet due to various circumstances. For championship meets, the dive final (last 3 dives) is usually the first event, taking place before the swimming competition, and a 10-15 minute intermission/warm-up will be added to the swimming portion of the meet following the 50-free event.

Q: How many swimmers can participate in an individual event?

For dual and tri-meets each team is limited to 3 point-scoring swimmer entries per individual event, and 2 relay teams per event. At invitational and championship meets, the limit is increased to 4 entries per individual event, but only one relay.

Depending on the meet, additional swimmers and relay teams may compete in the event but they are considered “exhibition” and are not eligible to score points. So, even if a swimmer designated as “exhibition” finishes in the top 5 for the event, they will not score meet points (aka varsity points).

Q: How many events can a swimmer swim?

Each participant may compete in four events, with a maximum of two individual events. So 2 individual/2 relay or 1 individual/3 relays maximum.

Q: How is “exhibition” determined?

The coaches determine who will be considered “exhibition” when completing the meet entries.

Q: Can exhibition swimmers qualify for state?

Yes, their times are recorded and are considered official; they count towards state qualification or consideration times.

Q: What if a swimmer or diver who is designated for point-scoring falls ill or is injured on the day of the meet and cannot participate.

No changes can be made after the entries are submitted, so the team would just lose that point-scoring opportunity. Exhibition swimmers can not be elevated to point-scoring entries after the entries have been closed.

Q: What’s the scoring system?

Dual Meets (6-lane pools)

  • individual: (6-4-3-2-1-0)
  • relays: (8-4-2-0)

Tri-Meets (6-lane pools)

  • individual: (10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1)
  • relays: (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-4-2)

One meet point = one varsity point towards achieving a varsity letter.

Championship Meets – League and State

The championship meets are run a bit differently than the regular season dual meets and the excitement level among the swimmers and the fans is noticeably higher. It’s loud. It’s exciting. It’s fun. They are the best meets of the year.

For League and State, each team may enter 4 participants in each individual event. There are no qualifying standards for the League meet; to swim or dive at the State meet, you must meet the qualifying standards. There are no exhibition swimmers or divers. All entered participants are eligible to score points.


For diving, the championship meets are 11-dive meets. Cuts are made after each round.

  • Prelims: Dives 1-5. Field cut to top 16 (League) or 20 (State)
  • Semi-Finals : Dives 6-8. Field cut to top 12 (League) or 16 (State)
  • Finals : Dives 9-11

The Dive Finals typically take place before the swimming Finals competition begins. The Dive Finals are the final 3-dives of the competition with the final overall placing coming from the combined score of your 11-dives. Unlike swimming, there’s no A & B groupings for the finals. The top 12 (League) or 16 (State) divers compete for position based on their overall (cumulative) scores, completing their final three dives (of 11 total) in the finals.

Swimming Prelims – Friday

For swimming, the meets have two parts: Prelims and Finals. Everyone entered participates in prelims on Friday. How you perform in prelims determines whether or not you get to swim in the finals on Saturday, and if so, which race you’ll compete in: the “A” Championship Finals (places 1-6) or the “B” Consolation Finals (places 7-12).

With each team able to enter up to 4 swimmers, the Prelims can be quite large with many heats of all events. In order to create a more competitive environment, championship meets like League and State use a different seeding method to determine who is in which heat during prelims.

Heat Seeding

At dual- and tri-meets during the season Standard (regular) Seeding is used. Your entry/seed time determines your heat and lane placement and the last heat of the event is made up of the fastest swimmers entered in the event. The time you swim in your heat, determines your overall place in the event.

1-represents the fastest seed; 2-the second seed; 3-the third; etc. based on entry time.

At League and State, you’ll likely notice a difference in the heat sheets. At meets with separate Prelims and Finals, the final (fastest) three heats of each prelims event are seeded using Championship (circle) Seeding. Earlier prelims heats are seeded using Standard Seeding. With Championship Seeding, rather than having all the fastest swimmers in the final heat, they are distributed through the last three heats, giving the top 18 (League) or 24 (State) entrants more competitive balance in their events.

At the conclusion of prelims, based on their prelims competition time, swimmers will be seeded for the finals into the “A” Championship Finals (places 1-6), “B” Consolation Finals (places 7-12), or “C” Exhibition/Last Chance Event (places 13-18 (at League only)).

Doing well in Prelims is critical because swimmers can’t move between finalist groups after prelims. So, it’s important to do as well as possible.

It’s exciting to see kids seeded 7th or 8th competing hard trying to move up to get into the top 6 to be in the A finals on Saturday, or kids seeded 14th or 15th trying to move up into the top 12 to swim in the B finals. There can be some interesting drama when a swimmer or relay drops to the B final, impacting the projected team score, when they were expected to have placed higher in the prelims; and lots of excitement when kids who are seeded lower move up and take those spots, ensuring more points for their team.

Swimming Finals – Saturday

The top 12 places (the A & B Finals) all score points towards the overall team score (top 16 at State). C Exhibition Finals were added to the League Meet a few years ago to give participants another chance to improve their times and qualify for the state meet. They do not score meet points. There is no C Final at State.

  1. The “A” Championship finalists compete for places 1-6 in the meet. A swimmer in the A Final can finish no lower than 6th. After each event, they will have a podium ceremony to award medals for the top 6 finishers in the event. The coach for the team of the winning swimmer hands out the medals to the podium finishers. It’s a good photo opp and nice recognition at the meet for the top 6 finishers. A similar ceremony is held at State.
  2. The “B” Consolation finalists compete for places 7-12 in the meet. They can score no higher than 7th place, even if their times are faster than “A” Championship finishers on Saturday. Once in the Consolation Finals, there’s no moving up.
  3. The “C” Exhibition finalists compete for places 13-18 at League, but do not score points.

The State Meet is run the same as the League Meet, just with 8-lanes and the A Final being places 1-8, and the B Final is places 9-16.

At the conclusion of the meet they will announce the team scores and hold a podium ceremony to award trophies to the top three teams and individual medals for team members.


League (6-lane pool)

  • individual: A final) 16-13-12-11-10-9     B final) 7-5-4-3-2-1
  • relays: A final) 32-26-24-22-20-18     B final) 14-10-8-6-4-2

State (8-lane pool)

  • individual: A final) 20-17-16-15-14-13-12-11     B final) 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
  • relays: A final) 40-34-32-30-28-26-24-22     B final) 18-14-12-10-8-6-3-2

Have other questions? Send them to me at and I’ll append them here.