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Rules Committee Blog

Questions about rules? Search the tag cloud to the right to find previous entries that might answer your question. Feel free to post questions via the comments tool in each post, or contact

  1. Foot Position in the Forward Start

    by , July 5th, 2018 at 08:30 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Masters rules for strokes, starts, and turns are mostly the same as USA Swimming rules, but we have a few differences which need some emphasis so that swimmers, coaches, and officials have a clear understanding. One of the most overlooked differences is in the forward start rule and we routinely receive questions regarding the application of this rule. The language of the rule may seem somewhat technical, but we can break down the requirements for a simple explanation.

    USMS article 101.1.1 says the following:

    The forward start may be taken from the starting block, the pool deck, or a push from the wall. At the commencement of each heat, the referee shall signal to the swimmers by a short series of whistles to remove all clothing except for swimwear, followed by a long whistle indicating that they may take and maintain their positions with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or the deck, or in the water.

    What does the last sentence mean with respect to the position of the feet?

    Masters is unique in imposing a foot position requirement prior to the "take your mark" command. This rule says that swimmers are required to step onto the starting platform and place at least one foot at the front of the block. "Front" does not necessarily mean that the foot has to be at the front edge of the starting platform, but it must be towards the front surface. This requirement applies when the swimmer steps onto the platform.

    The source for this requirement comes from the FINA masters rules. FINA MSW 3.2 says:

    When using the forward start, the referee's whistle shall indicate that the swimmers may take their positions with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or pool deck, or in the water with one hand having contact with the starting wall.

    USMS article 101.1.1 goes on to say:

    On the starters command, Take your mark, each swimmer shall immediately assume the starting position with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or the deck.

    We have slightly different wording in article 103.8.5 which says:

    On the starters command, Take your mark, each swimmer shall immediately assume a starting position that maintains at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or at the front of the pool deck.

    The intent of this rule is to say that swimmers may not adjust the position of the front foot after the "take your mark" command. The position of the back foot may be adjusted (for example, to re-position the foot on the back wedge if one is present). The idea is that swimmers must find their position on the starting platform when stepping onto the starting platform and then remain in that position for the entire starting sequence.
  2. Club Categories & Relay Starts

    by , May 4th, 2018 at 08:17 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    At Nationals, why are there two club categories?

    At the USMS National Championship Meet, clubs are scored in two categories: Regional Clubs and Local Clubs. The designation is found in the meet program. Regional clubs are clubs that are made up of subgroups or workout groups. Local clubs are clubs that have decided not to have separate workout groups or subgroups so they represent their club at the National Championship Meet. Your club designation is determined by your club and LMSC. Some workout groups decide to join a regional club, which might include workout groups from an entire city or LMSC. As for scoring at local LMSC swim meets, the meet hosts determine whether they are going to be scored by workout groups/subgroups or by regional clubs. Members always compete for your club, not your workout group and results going into the national database is always designated as your club, not your workout group. However, as terms of scoring at local LMSC swim meets, the meet host determine whether they are going to be scored by workout groups/subgroups or by regional clubs. More information about local and regional clubs can be found in the USMS rule book 104.5.6 Club Scoring. For USMS Spring Nationals in May there are currently 251 local clubs registered (including individuals who are unattached) and 19 regional clubs. Championship banners are presented to the top 10 clubs in the local division and top five clubs in the regional division.

    Relay Starts with Adjustable Back Plates on the Starting Platform

    Article 101.7.3 H is a rule that was added this year to the rule book. It states that the relay swimmers in the second, third, and fourth position cannot start from the top of the adjustable back plate (wedge). The first swimmer is bound by normal forward or backward start rules. The swimmers must have at lest part of one foot in contact with the starting platform (not on back plate/wedge) in front of the back plate. This rule was put in partly for safety reasons, to prevent relay swimmers from moving the back plate/wedge all the way to the front of the block and taking off from just the wedge. When doing a relay start, the wedge can be placed as far forward as you would like as long as part of your foot touches the part of the block facing the water before take-off. Only one foot has to touch the front part of the platform so the other foot can remain on the back plate/wedge. Also, the foot that touches the front part of the platform does not have to start in that position. When the start has begun, the foot may begin in any position, however, it must touch the front part of the platform before take-off.
  3. Major Changes for 2018

    by , October 1st, 2017 at 12:46 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    At our recent USMS National Convention in Dallas, the House of Delegates approved several changes to the rules that will take effect on January 1, 2018. These changes are summarized below. You can post any questions using the comments tool or send them to:

    World Records and USMS Records: Applications for world records and USMS records will no longer be accepted when timed with manual watches or with a semiautomatic timing system (buttons) as the primary timing system. World and USMS records must be timed with automatic timing (touchpads) or, in the event of an individual lane malfunction, with a semiautomatic backup system consisting of three, two, or one button(s). Manual watches and semiautomatic buttons will continue to be accepted for USMS Top 10 recognition.

    Notification of Timing System in the Meet Announcement: If it is not possible to satisfy the timing system requirements for world records, USMS records, or Top 10, the meet announcement must include a statement notifying swimmers. If a change in primary timing is necessary prior to a meet or during a meet that affects the ability to earn records or Top 10 recognition, meet directors must ensure that swimmers are notified of the change.

    Starting Grips: Handgrips on the starting platforms are distinguished between grips for backstroke starts and forward starts. During backstroke events, swimmers may not use handgrips installed on the top of the starting platform which are intended for use during forward starts. During backstroke starts, swimmers must place both hands on the gutter or on the backstroke starting grips.

    Freestyle during Individual Medley and Medley Relay events: Swimmers must be at or past the vertical towards the breast during the freestyle leg of an individual medley or medley relay event, except that during a turn (freestyle turn or breast-to-free transition), swimmers may leave the wall in a position at or past the vertical towards the back. Swimmers must return to a position at or past the vertical towards the breast before any stroke or kick.

    Relay Starts with Adjustable Back Plates on the Starting Platform: The second, third, and fourth swimmers on a relay team must have at least part of one foot in front of the adjustable-setting back plate during a relay takeoff.

    Modification of Age Groups: Organizations outside of USMS requesting a USMS sanction to conduct a meet may modify the age groups to correspond to different minimum and maximum ages if their organizations age policies differ from USMS.

    Meet Announcement: The order of events must be published in the meet announcement at least one week prior to the entry deadline.

    Dual Sanctioned Meets: When a USMS meet is held in conjunction with a USA Swimming sanctioned meet (swimmers from both organizations swimming together in the same session), swimmers must select only one organization with which to compete for the entire meet.

    Warm Down: A swimmer who completes a race may warm down in the assigned lane while the rest of the swimmers finish the heat and shall not be disqualified if that swimmer does not delay the start of the next heat.

    Automatic Splits at National Championships: Recording of intermediate splits is a mandatory requirement for hosts of national championship meets.
  4. Back to the Basics - The Forward Start

    by , November 27th, 2016 at 12:06 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    This month, we are going to continue our review of the rules for strokes, starts, turns, and relays. This should provide some information for new members as well as a refresher for us "experienced" competitors. This month focuses on the forward start, which is used in freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly.

    The starting sequence actually begins well before swimmers even step up onto the starting platform. By rule, the referee uses a series of short whistles to signal to swimmers to "remove all clothing except for swimwear". This is the signal to prepare for your event. Depending on the size and the pace of the meet, the referee may decide when to give the short whistles while the previous race is still finishing. Or, the referee may wait until all swimmers from the preceding heat are finished. In practice, the short whistles are normally followed by an announcement of the event number or heat number to remind swimmers, timers, and other officials of the upcoming race.

    Once the race is ready to proceed, the referee uses one long whistle to signal to swimmers to step up onto the starting platform, up to the edge of the pool deck, or to enter the water. A forward start may be taken from the starting platform, the pool deck, or in the water using a push from the wall. It is the swimmer's choice. If you are starting from the starting platform, at least one foot must be towards the front surface of the platform. (That doesn't mean the foot must be right at the edge of the block, but generally must be in the front part of the platform.)

    If you are starting the water, make sure to enter feet first. When starting in the water using a forward start, swimmers may face any direction. (USA Swimming rules would require swimmers to face the pool, so this is a key difference.) Also, under USMS rules, a backstroke start is permitted in a freestyle event. (However, if you are swimming backstroke - or any other stroke - in a freestyle event, your time may only be recorded as a freestyle time.)

    Once all swimmers are ready, the starter will give the familiar "take your mark" command. This is the signal to assume your starting position. Swimmers may assume any starting position that maintains at least one foot towards the front of the starting platform or the pool deck; or, if starting in the water, swimmers may assume any position that does not remove at least one foot from contact with the all and at least one hand from contact with the wall or the starting platform.

    The rule then says that when are swimmers are "stationary", the starter shall give the starting signal. Note the term "stationary". That doesn't mean swimmers must be completely motionless, but swimmers must remain on their marks and cannot leave this position prior to the starting signal. While there is no rule that requires swimmers to "come down together", all swimmers must respond promptly to the "take your mark" command. If one or more swimmers do not respond quickly, or if everyone is not set, or the starter feels that everyone is not ready, the starter may release swimmers by saying "stand" or "stand up". At this point, swimmers may leave their marks, relax, and even step off of the starting platform. Usually, the starter will simply try again with another "take your mark" command, but may sometimes provide additional instructions to one or more swimmers. If everything goes well, however, the "take your mark" command is followed the starting signal, which must be both audial and visual.

    What happens if you enter the water or start before the starting signal is given? The starter will usually release swimmers with the "stand" command. By rule, a swimmer who commits a false start is disqualified, but the disqualification must be confirmed by both the referee and starter. Sometimes, one of these officials will decide that the start was not fair or there was some other factor that caused the swimmer to start before the signal. In that case, the swimmer might not be charged with a false start and we can try again to start the race.

    If a swimmer leaves their mark before the starting signal, but the signal is given anyway, the race is allowed to proceed and the swimmer could be disqualified for a false start after the race is over. The starter will not "recall" a race in the event of a false start, but could still recall a race if the start was not fair. While recalls should be rare, if you hear the starting signal repeated (likely several times), that is the recall signal.

    Other things that you can do to ensure a good start:

    • Keep track of the meet! Events can run ahead of or behind a projected timeline and officials are under no obligation to wait if the meet is running faster than projected. If you miss an event, officials are not obligated to seed you into another heat and will not conduct a re-swim.
    • Check with the timers in your lane before your race to verify that you are in the correct heat and lane. Let one of the officials know if there is a discrepancy.
    • If you need a little more time or need assistance to step up or enter the water, let the officials know ahead of time. Sometimes, it may be possible to allow swimmers to use a ladder to enter the water from the side of pool, but make sure the officials know your intent and have provided their approval.
    • Step up (or in) promptly at the long whistle signal. If you delay, or stand back behind the blocks where you are not visible, the referee and starter may assume that you have withdrawn from the race.
    • Deaf or hearing-impaired swimmers should inform the starter. Make sure you can see the starter (who will use hand signals in addition to the whistle commands) and the visual starting signal (normally a light on top of the starting system).
  5. Recalling Starts

    by , November 24th, 2015 at 01:11 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    I was recently at a USMS sanctioned meet where a race was recalled by the referee after the start. Some swimmers did not hear the recall signal and kept swimming. Many swimmers standing on deck asked why this happened since we no longer recall false starts.

    The rules indeed say that if a swimmer commits a false start and the starting signal has already been given before the disqualification is noted, the race shall continue without recall. The swimmer is then disqualified upon completion of the race.

    However, the referee and starter have a responsibility to ensure a fair start for all competitors in the race. Something could happen at the start that gives one swimmer a clear advantage or put another swimmer at a clear disadvantage. Maybe one swimmer was clearly not ready, maybe an official was trying to get the starter to wait and the starter did not see it in time, maybe there was a sudden noise from the stands that caused one swimmer to react and leave early. In that case, the referee or starter may decide that we did not have a fair start and it would be better to recall swimmers and start the race again. While this is hopefully a rare occurrence, it is within the discretion of the officials.

    It is important to note that recalling a start for this reason is not considered a false start. In this case, the referee simply resets the heat and starts again.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee