What is Masters swimming?
Masters swimming is swimming for adults, encompassing the whole range of ability from casual fitness swimming to highly organised competitive swimming. The only requirement is that you are at least 17 years old.
Organisation and Development
Masters swimming began in the USA in the 1970s when some ex-élite swimmers organised a competition for adult swimmers. Since then the sport has 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 at any level can do so. The broad objectives of better health, better fitness, and the friendship between swimmers are paramount - with no compulsion to compete.
The ASA (Amateur Swimming Association) is keen to encourage swimming as a fitness-improving pastime and recreation as well as a sport. It is currently in the process of developing initiatives for fitness swimmers and has a national Masters Committee whose remit is to promote masters swimming and to encourage new masters-based activities.
There are currently some 5,000 Masters registered with the ASA, and about 400 clubs either dedicated to masters swimming or are masters sections of larger clubs.
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. Results are then collated on an age-group basis.
Masters competitions are usually organised in five-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! Many competitions also include a Senior 18-24 group. Competitions can be national, regional or county ones or one of the fifty or so organised by individual swimming clubs throughout the year. For those who want to travel there are World and European Championships, as well as a large number of open competitions.
However, it is not always necessary to travel to compete. There is an annual half-hour competition organised by the ASA, and a one-hour competition organised by the British Long Distance Swimming Association. These are 'postal swims': each swimmer submits his or her performance in their local pool to a central coordinator who produces an overall result.
Masters competitions are held under the same rules as apply in mainstream swimming. Although races are keenly contested, there is always an informal air and a strong sense of camaraderie. Only very large international events such as the World Championships currently need to impose (modest) qualifying standards - everyone who wants to take part is welcome.
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 seventeen 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). The asa (English) Championships, normally held in October over a 25-metre course, include all of these events plus the 100 metres individual medley.
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 and 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 although water polo is held as a separate event.
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?