Allie Price

About Masters Swimming

What is Masters Swimming?

Masters swimming is swimming for adults. It encompasses the whole range of ability from casual fitness swimming to highly organised competitive swimming. To qualify as a ‘masters’ swimmer one needs only to be over 25 years of age, but there are also a number of competitions for younger adults above the age of 18.

Organisation and Development
Under the umbrella of the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain and the three British associations – Swim England, the Scottish ASA, and Swim Wales – this section of swimming sport is organised through districts and counties to the grass roots of all sport, the individual clubs.

Masters swimming began in the USA in the 1970s when some formerly ‘elite’ swimmers organised a competition for adult swimmers. The sport has now spread all over the world. But although there are World Championships at the top end the sport remains one in which all who want to compete can do so. The broad objectives of better health, better fitness, and the friendship between swimmers are paramount. There is no compulsion on swimmers to compete.

The Amateur Swimming Association is naturally keen to encourage swimming as a fitness-improving pastime and recreation and as a sport. It is currently in the process of developing initiatives for fitness swimmers . It has a standing Masters Committee, which is active in the promotion of masters swimming and in encouraging new masters-based activities.

There are currently some 5,000 swimmers of masters age (25 and upward) registered with the Amateur Swimming Association. There are also about 400 clubs which are dedicated to masters swimming or are masters sections of larger clubs.

Competitive Opportunities
Competitive masters swimmers are well catered for. There are keenly contested national and district competitions, and some county swimming associations organise masters events as well. In addition there are some 40 to 50 masters competitions organised by individual swimming clubs, held all through the year. For those who wish to travel there are World and European Championships, as well as a large number of open competitions just as there are in Great Britain.

It is not always necessary to travel to compete. There is an annual half-hour competition organised by Swim England, and a one-hour competition organised by the British Long Distance Swimming Association. These are ‘postal swims’: each swimmer submits his or her performance to a central co-ordinator who produces an overall result.

Masters competitions are held under the same rules as apply in mainstream swimming, and races are as keenly contested. But there is always an informal air. Only very large international events such as the World Championships at present need to impose (modest) qualifying standards. Everyone who wants to take part is welcome.

Masters competitions are organised in 5-year age bands, from 25-29 and upwards -and upwards as required. The oldest age group result so far is in the 100-104 group! Some competitions also include a 18-24 or 20-24 group.

There are two national championships each year. The British masters championships are held in June over a long course (50-metre pool), and include the whole range of 17 recognised long course events (50, 100, and 200 metres of each stroke, 400, 800, and 1500 freestyle, and 200 and 400 individual medley. Additionally there are male, female, and mixed relays swum over 4 x 50 metres, 4 x 100 metres and 4 x 200 metres). The Swim England (English) championships, normally held in Sheffield in October over a 25-metre course are the pinnacle of the British masters calendar and include all of these events plus the 100 metres individual medley.

Scotland and Wales have there own national events, and the five English districts also promote competitions within themselves. There is also a national Inter-Counties competition swum in districts with the results being collated on a ‘postal swim’ basis.

The many club meets include only a proportion of the standard events, typically only the 50s and 100s and a 100 Individual Medleys and relays.

Unlike mainstream swimming, masters competitions rarely impose a qualifying standard, so if you wish to take part in a masters event you can … you simply join a club and send in your entry. Competitions are almost always seeded on the basis of ability, and therefore no matter what standard you have reached it is likely that you will be in the pool with people of similar ability.

Other Aquatic Disciplines
Open water (outdoor long distance competitive) swimming events often include a masters or ‘veterans’ section. There are regular masters events in open water swimming. There is a national masters championship in synchronized swimming. The World Masters Championships include all aquatic disciplines – swimming, open water, water polo, diving, and synchro, and there are also European Championships in these disciplines.

Is Competition Compulsory?
No! Everyone has his or her reason for swimming-health, general fitness, camaraderie, just for fun. How far you go is up to you. A major survey of British masters swimmers showed that the majority of them rarely competed.

How Can I Get Involved?
The easiest way is to locate your nearest masters swimming club or group and just turn up. Ask at your local pool.

For More Information
Swim England will put you in touch with somebody in your area who can help you. Write to Swim England at Harold Fern House, Derby Square, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 5AL or e-mail  Swim England’s telephone number is 01509 618700.