USA Swimming’s levels of competition

Michael Phelps got his start as an age group swimmer.

Michael Phelps got his start as an age group swimmer.

For parents who didn't participate in competitive swimming as children, navigating the ins and outs of the sport – from buying swim team swimsuits to registering for competitions – can be confusing. An important part of the sport that parents should know is USA Swimming's level of competition. This information will help you figure out how you and your child can get involved with a program.

Age group swimming

Many athletes – even stars like Natalie Coughlin and Michael Phelps – have gotten their start by participating at the age-group level. These teams are usually run by neighborhood associations or local recreation centers. Age-group swimmers will learn advanced swimming techniques and have the opportunity to compete in some meets. 

Senior swimming

Training at the senior level is usually designed by professional coaches rather than volunteers and is more physically demanding. Seniors still compete at USA Swimming club meets, but are commonly also a member of their high school or college swim team. 

Elite level swimming 

These athletes have proven that they have the talent and dedication to compete at the highest level of the sport. Elite swimmers participate in meets on the national and international stage. In addition, they also have the opportunity to represent the United States at competitions like the Olympics and the World Championships. 

Learn to Swim

Although not a competition level, USA Swimming's Make a Spash and Learn to Swim programs offer basic water safety education for children who are not old enough to participate in meets. This introduction is a way that many kids enter USA Swimming.