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Disqualifed Swimmers - Use DQs to Improve Swimmers

Use DQs to Improve, Not Punish, Swimmers


From a Swim Parent: We went to a swim meet for novice-level swimmers and there were a lot of disqualifications (DQs - swimmer did something outside of the swimming rules for the stroke, and is therefore not eligible for an award and race result time is not reportable). Is this standard?

Swimming Guide: What I think about DQs...

DQs are very, very closely related to a swimmer's experience level, but disqualifications are also related to swim team's or coach's philosophy for swim meets. How a DQ is treated by the coach and swimmer is also part of that philosophy.

Swimmer Experience and a DQ

Swimming is a technical sport. Developing technical skills (swimming technique) takes teaching, time, practice, and repetitions. As a swimmer develops, they should get fitter and they should get better at performing swimming skills the right way for more of each swim. A swimmer might know the right thing to do, but cannot do it for a whole race (that's where the fitness part comes in), or they might not know or remember the right way to do it (that's where the teaching - or maybe the learning? - part comes in).

Three of the swim strokes - butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke, have specific rules that define their limits. Those rules describe what can be called breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. The fourth competitive stroke, freestyle is generally thought of as front crawl, but it could be anything; the major rules for freestyle are not to push off the bottom and to touch each wall for turns. In the swim races where swimmers do all four strokes, the individual medley or medley relay, freestyle must be a stroke other than breaststroke, backstroke, or butterfly.

A new competitive swimmer (a novice) might be able to do the basic movements of one or two of the competitive strokes, but probably cannot do all four of them, and probably cannot do any of them at what would be thought of as an advanced level. Novice swimmers might do a lot of little things that would result in a DQ in a swim meet. Some of those items, taken from a referee's DQ form, are:


  • Alternating Kick
  • Kick breaststroke type
  • Scissors kick
  • Non-simultaneous arms
  • Arms underwater recovery
  • One hand touch
  • No touch
  • Non-simultaneous touch
  • Shoulders not at or past vertical toward breast off the wall
  • Head did not break the surface by 15 meters
  • No touch at turn
  • Non-continuous turning action
  • Not on back off wall
  • Shoulders past vertical toward breast
  • Head did not break the surface by 15 meters
  • Toes curled over gutter after the start
  • Did not finish on back
  • Completely submerged prior to turn or finish
  • Delay initiating arm pull at turn
  • Delay initiating turn after past vertical
  • Multiple strokes past vertical at turn
  • Alternating Kick
  • Non-simultaneous kick
  • Downward butterfly kick
  • Scissors kick
  • Hands brought beyond the hip-line during stroke
  • Non-simultaneous arms
  • Arms two strokes underwater
  • Arms not in same horizontal plane
  • Elbows recovered over water
  • One hand touch
  • No touch
  • Non-simultaneous touch
  • Shoulders not at or past vertical toward breast off the wall
  • Head under for 2 or more strokes
  • Incomplete stroke cycle other than one pull followed by one kick
  • No touch on turn
  • Head did not break the surface by 15 meters
Individual Medley
  • Strokes out of sequence
  • Any infraction specific to each stroke
  • False start
  • Declared false start
  • Did not finish
  • Delay of meet
  • Entered water without permission
  • Interfered with another swimmer
  • Walking on or springing from bottom
  • Standing on bottom
  • Pulling on lane line
  • Finish in wrong lane
  • Unsportsmanlike conduct
  • No Show Penalty Event
To improve swimmers' skill levels - and that should lead to less DQs - swimmers need to practice the same way they will swim in a meet. If swimmers always do proper wall touches, or kicks in practice, then they should also be that way in a swim meet. If swimmer do not fully know the proper way to do certain skill elements, they have either not gotten to those skills in practice yet, have not caught on to that skill yet, or the coach has not taught that skill well enough (yet?!).

For novice level swimmers, a DQ can tell the coach what type of skill work is needed; more practice or increased emphasis on certain things wither for the whole group or for individual swimmers. A DQ is a tool for the coach (and for the swimmers) to learn what to do in future practices.

Coach or Team Philosophy

Is a disqualification a failed attempt at something? Yes, is is, but it can be, it should be, a positive failure; one that will lead to future excellence. A part of becoming a better swimmer is testing limits and not being afraid of failing. Learning to accept the possibility of failing, overcoming a fear of failure, not letting the chance of failing stop attempts to do things, and allowing failure to inspire the desire to do things better, leads to DQs being useful, acceptable, positive moments.

Should a swimmer be entered in an event when the coach thinks the swimmer is likely to be disqualified in that event? That depends upon several factors, but for novice swimmers I think it is much less of a problem. Put swimmers in events to see what they know; competitive swimming is best seen or judged in a competitive environment - that is a swim meet! Enter novice swimmers in events that they should know how to do, even if they may not have mastered the event yet. Finding out what needs to be done to improve, as long as the coach, swimmer, and the swimmer's family approach things that way, is immensely useful and productive in the long run.

This train of thought may not be true in a team championship event with a limited number of swimmers or entries, where every swim or point counts. Disqualifications can happen at the highest level. However, even in those meets, if a DQ occurs, it should be seen as something to work on in the future, not a failure, not as a swimmer letting the team down. What is the value of focusing on the loss of the team points? What can be gained for next time vs. What could be gained if the focus is put on how to improve so the odds of that DQ are decreased for the next time?

The philosophy of the coach and the team determine how DQs are viewed and used by the swimmers and their families. Putting them to a positive use is key to the long-term development of a swimmer. Keep that in mind next time a swimmer gets disqualified.

Do not look at a DQ as a negative thing. It is a skill check in a race situation. It gives coaches and swimmers some specifics to work on for the next meet. A DQ can be disappointing, but that is OK. A minute of that, then move on, get ready for the next swim, and then go back to it much later, at practice, and work on that skill to reinforce it.

Swim on!

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