So... What is a swimming gala?

This is intended as a guide for parents of children who have just joined Sutton Atlantis or who are thinking about moving into competitive swimming. For more definitive answers, obviously the best people to ask are the club coaches and officials – however these notes may answer a few questions…

At Sutton Atlantis, swimming galas generally come in two types:

  • Team Galas - where the club competes as a team against other clubs in Leagues or friendly Galas.

  • Open Galas - where the swimmer competes individually in licensed meets.

How Does a Team Gala work?

Team Selection

The Head Coach makes the selections for the team galas – initially selecting the swimmers with the best times. Sutton Atlantis holds a series of time trials and other events so that swimmers can test themselves against each other and to see what time they can achieve. This will also help in team selection.

What to Take

All Sutton Atlantis swimmers must wear a club hat in order to represent the club. As well as swimsuit, towel, goggles etc swimmers should take with them something to wear poolside as they will be often spend time waiting for their events to start. Make sure that they have access to drinks and possibly some food – they are going to be poolside for at least 3 hours so some jelly sweets are also good a good idea. Spectating parents will need something to drink (and eat) as it is usually very warm and humid at a swimming pool. Dress in such a way that you can cope with very hot conditions.

At the Gala

Once at the gala the swimmers have to go off and change and then have to go poolside by themselves. Parents are not allowed poolside unless they are one of the volunteers helping to manage the team or officiating. This can be a bit daunting especially for those younger swimmers in the first couple of galas. There will be coaches and timekeepers from each club on the poolside to make sure that the children are at ease and in the right place for each of their races.

What do the parents and supporters do? They get to get to sit poolside and cheer on the swimmers – if you’re lucky the pool will have proper tiered spectator seating – otherwise you end up sitting very close to the pool. There is also a small charge for spectators, and maybe a raffle or two to raise funds for the hosting club. The swimmers need to be poolside in time to participate in the warm up, it’s quite a sight watching about 100 swimmers in 6 lanes swimming nose to toe! Once the gala gets going the races happen very quickly and what looks like a daunting list of around 50 races takes around 2 hours, watch out for the posted results (another reason to look at the notice board regularly) to see how fast your swimmer went and whether they got a Personal Best (more on PB’s later).

Open galas are events where the competitor is swimming for themselves – although the entry for these must still made through our club. These are usually licensed by the ASA and given a grade in accordance with the standard of competition, which is in turn determined by the qualification times required for entry. This starts at level 4 and goes up to level 1 which is the highest standard. In the autumn of each year Sutton Atlantis runs its own club championships and runs this as a level 4 Licensed meet which means that it is a good opportunity for swimmers to get their times entered onto the ASA Rankings website.

Level 4 – these meets are intended for club swimmers, those beginning competitions and those looking for county qualifying times and include our own club championships. You do not need to have times for these galas.

Level 3 – these are aimed at club swimmers looking to achieve county or regional qualifying times and have qualifying upper limit times set at an appropriate level. You don’t always need times for these galas but if a minimum qualifying time is not set by the organisers then you do need to supply an estimated time.

Level 2 – these are aimed at regional qualifiers and will have qualifying times with upper limits. Swimmers' times will be verified against the ASA website to ensure that a swimmer qualifies. Here you can achieve times to qualify for Level 1 swims. You must have the qualifying times on the ASA site to enter these galas.

Level 1 – these are aimed at national qualifiers or swimmers close to national qualification. These meets will have qualifying times for entry which will be just below the minimum standard for national qualification. You must have the qualifying times on the ASA site to enter these galas

It is important that parent’s know about gala entries because there is a cost involved (approx £3 to £6 per event which if 4 events are entered amounts to getting on for £25 per gala) which made must be paid once the club has submitted they entries.

How Do Open Galas Work?

The details of Open Galas are posted on the website and sent out by email and it is then up to the individual swimmer/parent to enter if they wish.

The notices contain all the details of the various events including any time qualifications. Some galas specify a band of times that your child’s PB should fall between for each event. Some specify a time where your child’s PB must be equal to or faster and occasionally a time is specified where the swimmer’s time must be slower.

Going to the Gala

It’s usually advisable to aim to get to an open gala about half an hour before the posted warm up time. This gives you time to park (some venues do not have very good parking, especially when 200 kids with parents descend on them) and may get you near enough to the front of the queue to get in and get a seat!!

At the Gala

When they arrive the swimmer must place their entry cards (if there are any) in the correct entry boxes or sign in if required. Don’t be late otherwise the swimmer will be excluded from their events. Often the swimmers have to do this as the entry boxes are not in an area accessible to parents and supporters.

Like team events parents are not allowed poolside – one or two people will have been nominated as coaches by Penguins and they will look after the swimmers while they are poolside. The swimmers have to go off and change by themselves or at least with any other likely looking Sutton Atlantis friends that they can find.

The Swimming

Most open galas are split into 2 or more sessions with a separate warm up for each session. Usually there are separate card entry (or signing in) times for each session.The warm up takes about an hour with the kids split into older/younger boys and girls. Then it is into the races.

At most open galas each event is ranked in the order of the swimmer’s entry time (their PB may have changed since the entry was made). The event is then swum in heats starting with the slowest times irrespective of age. As a result it is unlikely that a swimmer will be completely outclassed (or completely out class the other swimmers) in their particular heat.


Once the event is complete the recorded times are sorted out and the swimmers sorted into their age groups and the results posted – at which point you find out whether you are a medal winner.

Trophies/medals are awarded for anywhere between the top 3 and top six in each of the age groups. It varies with the gala as does the age groups.


So at the end of a great days competition (lasting around 7 hours) you set off home having watched your swimmer competing for all of about 5 minutes (depending on the number of events) but hopefully clutching some trophies (always makes the day) and having recorded one or more PB’s (almost as good as a trophy).



For those that don’t know PB means Personal Best. If your child is a keen swimmer you will find they, and by association you, become obsessed with PB's.


PB’s for all our registered swimmers are recorded in a Sutton Atlantis club database and posted to our website here.  We tend to update them every term and so if your child competes regularly they may not be 100% accurate based on their past competition.

The ASA also holds a database of all official times recorded at licensed open galas. Once your child has recorded some times at a licensed gala you can go to the ASA website to see where your child is ranked at county, regional and national level.

It’s at that point you realise how many competitive swimmers there are, and just how good some are! Don’t get carried away thinking you have a good Olympic prospect – there are around 400,000 competitive swimmers in the UK, of which about 20 go to the Olympics!