A Beginner’s Guide to Competitive Swimming

The following is intended as a guide for parents of children who have just joined Liverpool Penguin Swimming Club (LPSC) and particularly those who have moved up into coaching.

There is more detailed information available on the ASA website.

ASA Swimmers Classification

It is worth mentioning this straight away as it causes some confusion.

In swimming there are three Classification groups

Cat 1

This classification is basically for young new swimmers who are starting off in swimming and have just joined the club in the teaching groups. This provides insurance whilst the swimmer is at training and at some low level (level 4) galas such as our Club Championships.

Cat 2

This classification is for the more competitive swimmer who wishes to swim for the club in Micro league or enter licensed swim meets like the City of Liverpool Tadpole gala, Winter meet, the Summer meet, Wirral Metro meets, the Liverpool and District Association, Lancashire and North West region meets.

All swimmers who are in coaching and will turn 9 years old before November or are older, need to be registered as Cat 2 with the ASA.

Cat 3

This classification is for all volunteers with the club.

When you join LPSC a membership fee is paid, this membership fee is renewed each year in September. From this fee the Club then pays for the swimmers yearly registration to the ASA if they are Cat1, the North West Region fee and the Lancashire County fee.

Cat 2 swimmers need to pay the ASA yearly fee which is £25.50 for 2015 in addition to their membership fee. This covers January to December. Fees are due in January every year.


There are different Types of Swimming Galas

At Penguins swimming galas basically come in 2 flavours:

Galas where the club competes as a team against other clubs in Leagues or friendly Galas.

Galas where the swimmer competes individually in licensed meets.

Team Galas

LPSC competes in several leagues such as : the North West Micro League; the Merseyside & District League; the North West Region Arena League plus a local knock out type competition namely the Echo Cup

In addition LPSC also receive invitations to compete in friendly galas organised by other local clubs these include the Postcode Gala by Warrington Warriors SC, the McMonagle gala organised by Garston SC together with our own galas the Macmillan gala usually held in June and the Derrick Lodge Memorial gala usually held in September.

The Echo Cup is a competition for swimmers aged from 9 yrs to 12 yr old and takes place during September and October each year with all of the local clubs involved, so every club hopes to reach the final and win.

As this gala has become very competitive over recent years each the club tries to swim its strongest team. Its always a difficult decision to leave out swimmers but parents must trust the judgement of its coaching staff in doing this.

The Tadpole Development galas take place each Autumn run by City of Liverpool Swimming Club. The main purpose of this gala is to give young inexperienced swimmers a taste of competition. We would like all our competitive swimmers to enter this competition so as to get individual times. Swimmers will then be able to use these times to enter other galas that have entry time requirements. Although this gala is mainly about getting individual times there are also team relay races at the end of each session.

Licensed Galas/Open Meets

Licensed galas are those galas where the competitor is swimming for themselves to gain times and sometimes medals! The club will target some local meets of this type, suggesting to suitable swimmers that they enter. In these cases all entry forms and fees should be made via Open Gala Secretary, Diane West with cheques payable to Liverpool Penguin Swimming Club. The club will process the applications and will support the Penguin swimmers with poolside volunteers.

Swimmers can enter other Open meet galas if they choose to but the club will not be able to support them by sending a volunteer.

What is Licensing?

Meets do not have to be licensed, but where they are specific ASA guidelines must be followed. Licensed meets are graded level 1-4. Electronic timing must be used on level 1-3 meets. Results from these are submitted to the ASA for inclusion on the National Rankings database.

Level One Meets are intended for qualifying for National Championships.

Minimum entry times apply equivalent to the ASA ‘A’ Grade qualifying times

Pools must be either 25m or 50m long

Level Two Meets are intended for qualifying for Regional Championships, although swimmers who achieve a National Qualifying Time at a level two meet may use that time for entry into the National Championships.

Qualifying Times and Upper Limit times apply. Upper qualifying times for these meets should not be faster than the National qualifying time for the respective age group

Pools must be 25m or 50m long

Level Three Meets are intended for qualifying for County Championships, although swimmers who achieve a Regional Qualifying Time at a level two meet may use that time for entry into their Regional Championships.

Qualifying Times and Upper Limit times apply.

Pools must be 25m, 33m or 50m long.

These galas are aimed at B/C Grade swimmers

Level Four Meets are intended for club swimmers and those beginning to enter individual open competition

Qualifying Times sometimes apply. Upper Limit times usually apply.

Pools must be at least 25m long

More details can be found on the ASA website under Swimming Calendar and Competition information.

In practice this means

When you look at the details for an open gala they often state that they are Level 3, Level 2 etc. The Level indicates the standard of the meet, what the times can be used for in the future and what level of officials are used. Also higher level galas are more competitive – level 1 being the top galas . To qualify for county championships it is usually initially stated that qualifying times have to be achieved at a Level 3 gala or above. For regional championships qualification has be at Level 2 or above. As a result most level 2 galas have a large number of regional qualifying swimmers taking part. In other words the standard is very high!

In May each year Liverpool Penguins runs its own Club Championships and runs this as a level 4 Licensed meet, not many clubs in the local area do this, so it is a good opportunity for swimmers at Cat 1 classification to get their times entered onto the ASA Rankings website.

For level 1, 2 and 3 meets the swimmer needs to have a Cat 2 Classification.

It is important that parents know about gala entries because there is a cost involved (usually approx. £3 to £5 per event which if 4 events are entered amounts to getting on for £20 per gala) which must be paid with your entry. There is also usually a charge for parents to watch the Gala.

How Does a Team Gala work?

Team Selection

The Head Coach makes the selections for the team galas initially selecting the swimmers with the best times. The club occasionally holds 50m timed sprint sessions so that swimmers can test themselves against each other and to see what time they can achieve. This will also help in team selection. The head coach may take into account current swimming performance rather than just the swimmers PB.

What to Take

A swimmer needs a 2 costumes, 2 pairs of goggles, two towels (one for poolside so that between the races they can get dry and stay warm), and 2 hats, they will also need plenty drinks and possibly some food they are going to be poolside for about 3 hours so some jelly sweets are also good a good ideaYou (the parent) will need something to drink (and eat) as it is usually very warm and humid at a swimming pool. Dress in such a way that you can cope with very hot conditions.

At the Gala

Once at the gala the swimmers have to go off and change and then have to go poolside by themselves. Parents are not allowed poolside unless they are one of the volunteers helping to manage the team. This can be a bit daunting especially for those younger swimmers in the first couple of galas. There will be coaches and timekeepers from each club on the poolside to make sure that the children are ok and in the right place for each of their races.

What do the parents and supporters do? They get to get to sit poolside and cheer on the swimmers if youre lucky the pool will have proper tiered spectator seating otherwise you end up sitting very close to the pool. There is also a small charge for spectators, and maybe a raffle or two to raise funds for the hosting club.

The swimmers need to be poolside in time to participate in the warm up, its quite a sight watching about 100 swimmers in 6 lanes swimming nose to toe!

Once the gala gets going the races happen very quickly and what looks like a daunting list of around 50 races takes around 2 hours, watch out for the posted results (another reason to look at the notice board regularly) to see how fast your swimmer went and whether they got a Personal Best (more on PBs later).

How Do Open Galas Work?

How to Enter

The details of Open Galas are posted on the website (and also sometimes sent out by email) and it is then up to the individual (with the parents knowledge) to enter if they wish.

Fortunately most are usually within an hours drive or less of Liverpool

The notices contain all the details of the various events including any time qualifications. Some galas specify a band of times that your childs PB should fall between for each event. Some specify a time where your childs PB must be equal to or faster and occasionally a time is specified where the swimmers time must be slower.

Most galas currently cost around £4 per event.

You can only enter open galas through your swimming club. The Open Gala Secretary collects the names and puts the entry in. When the entries are confirmed the Gala Secretary will publish a list of accepted Penguin swimmers.

Sometimes if there are a lot of entries the organisers of the gala may not allow you all the swims that you requested.

Please ensure that Entries are made before the closing date set by Penguins NOT the date on the official forms. Our Gala Secretary needs to have some time to input all the requests and times before the official closing date. She does have a proper job too!

Going to the Gala

Its usually advisable to aim to get to an open gala about half an hour before the posted warm up time. This gives you time to park (some venues do not have very good parking, especially when 200 kids with parents descend on them) and may get you near enough to the front of the queue to get in and get a seat!! This last is very useful for the parent(s) as each session lasts around 3 hours. Take lots to drink its very hot in most swimming pools.

What to Take

For the swimmers make sure they have plenty to eat and especially to drink. Also, they need clothing (T-Bag) to put on between races and between sessions if you are attending more than one session. Depending on the size of the Penguins entry a fair supply of sweets may also be useful or necessary!

At the Gala

When they arrive the swimmer must place their entry cards (if there are any) in the correct entry boxes or sign in if required. Dont be late otherwise the swimmer will be excluded from their events. Often the swimmers have to do this as the entry boxes are not in an area accessible to parents and supporters.

Like team events parents are not allowed poolside one or two people will have been nominated as coaches by Penguins and they will look after the swimmers while they are poolside. The swimmers have to go off and change by themselves or at least with any other likely looking Penguins they can find.

Once in the venue the Penguins parents often try to sit together mainly so that they have someone to talk to during the long hours

The Swimming

Most open galas are split into 2 or more sessions with a separate warm up for each session. Usually there are separate card entry (or signing in) times for each session.

The warm up takes about an hour with the kids split into older/younger boys and girls. Then it is into the races.

At most open galas each event is ranked in the order of the swimmers entry time (their PB may have changed since the entry was made). The event is then swum in heats starting with the slowest times irrespective of age. As a result it is unlikely that a swimmer will be completely outclassed (or completely out class the other swimmers) in their particular heat.

Once the event is complete the recorded times are sorted out and the swimmers sorted into their age groups and the results posted at which point you find out whether you have a medal winner.

Trophies/medals are awarded for anywhere between the top 3 and top six in each of the age groups. It varies with the gala as does the age groups.

So at the end of a great days competition (lasting around 7 hours) you set off home having watched your swimmer competing for all of about 5 minutes (depending on the number of events) but hopefully clutching some trophies (always makes the day) and having recorded one or more PBs (almost as good as a trophy).

Hopefully your swimmer will have enjoyed the experience it doesnt matter about the parents they are just there to provide transport and finance!!


For those that dont know PB means Personal Best.

There is a bit of an obsession with PBs, you will begin to get obsessed if you child is a keen swimmer!

PBs are recorded in a Penguins club database but you will also find it useful to keep a personal record in such as a spreadsheet. Soon the club hopes to be issuing to each swimmer a new Personal log book in which the swimmer needs to record his or her times in for each stroke so that they know what there PB times are.

PBs can be recorded at any time e.g. galas, club championships, club sprint sessions even training.

The ASA also holds a database of all official times recorded at licensed open galas. These are the times needed for most meet entries.

Once your child has recorded some times at a licensed gala you can go to the ASA web site to see where your child is ranked at county, regional and national level.

Its at that point you realise how many competitive swimmers there are, and just how good some are! Dont get carried away thinking you have a good Olympic prospect there are around 400,000 competitive swimmers in the UK, of which about 20 go to the Olympics!

Happy competing!!!