Galas explained

Are you confused about the difference between a novice gala and a licensed open gala or a league gala and the county championships? Ever wondered what BAGCAT means? There are many different types of swimming galas and they all have different entry requirements. 

It is important to be aware that ALL galas, from time trials through to the Nationals, are swum under Swim England rules (Swim England Handbook | Your full guide to Swim England rules ( This means that if a swimmer makes an error (for example, performs a false start, performs incorrect stroke technique, performs an incorrect turn or finish), they will be disqualified from the event.

Club Time Trials

Perhaps the first type of “gala” a young swimmer will encounter is a Club time trial session. These are usually held a few times per year. This session is run like a gala except there are no awards made for fast swimming. Swimmers are put into heats with others of their own ability and asked to swim the required stroke and distance as fast as they can. The times are recorded by a Club official and can then be used by coaches when selecting teams for league galas.

This is also the first opportunity a young swimmer will have of ascertaining their swimming times so is the perfect time for them to start recording their times in a log book or spreadsheet. Not only is it beneficial to the swimmer to see their progress, the need for a log book showing personal best times (PBs) will become apparent later.

Club Novice Galas

The first proper gala to be encountered is a Club Novice Gala. These galas are open to swimmers from Otters through to Pre Squad and are usually held once a year on a Sunday afternoon at Downham Leisure Centre. There is an entry form which will need to be completed and a small charge per event entered. Swimmers only need to identify which events they wish to compete in – they do not have to put any entry times on the form as they will be put into heats by the coach.

Awards are made to the top six swimmers in each event and a trophy is awarded to the top boy and top girl in each age group. The trophies are held by the swimmers until the next Novice Gala when they are handed back to the Club. Once a swimmer has won an award in an event, they are not permitted to enter that event again in a Club Novice Gala.

Open Novice Galas

These galas are run along the same lines as the Club Novice Galas except that they are open to entry by swimmers from many different clubs. The host club usually sends information to all clubs a couple of months in advance (or puts the information on their website) – this information is then distributed to the appropriate swimmers. Open Novice Galas usually have an age limit i.e. 9 – 13 year olds. Events are usually one length sprints and no entry times are required on the entry form as swimmers will just be sorted into heats. There is always a charge per event entered and this is determined by the host club.

Awards are usually made to the fastest six swimmers in each age group in each event and there are usually top boy and top girl awards. As with the Club Novice Galas, once a swimmer has won an award in an event, they are not permitted to enter that event again.

Club Championships

The annual Club Championships are open to members of Saxon Crown from Dolphins through to top squads, Masters and the Disability section. The Club Champs are run according to ASA Laws and Technical Rules which means swimmers will be disqualified for technical faults, false starts etc. For this reason, the younger members of the Learn to Swim section are not included in Club Champs as they are still learning correct stroke technique – disqualification could be very disheartening.

Club Champs are run along the same lines as a gala with an entry form to be completed and a small entry fee per event. Swimmers are split into boys and girls in the following age groups:

  • 9 years and under
  • 10 years
  • 11/12 years
  • 13/14 years
  • 15/16 years
  • Open
  • 25 years+ for Masters

As the full range of events is included in the programme there are usually multiple galas held during November and December. We often open up our long distance events (800m and 1500m freestyle) to other Clubs to participate in.

Medals are awarded to the top three swimmers in each age grouping for each event with the next three swimmers being awarded certificates. The winners of each event are presented with perpetual trophies at the Club’s presentation evening usually held in December or January each year.

Future Champs Galas

Saxon Crown hosts its own Future Champs gala every June at Glassmill for 9-13 year olds, inviting other clubs to participate. This is a great way for young swimmers to get their first taste of licensed gala swimming. 50m events for each stroke plus 200m Individual Medley are usually swum, with medals for each stroke and age group. There are no entry times but usually “upper times” so that swimmers who are too fast can still enter but not count towards medals.

Licensed Open Meets

British Swimming and the Amateur Swimming Association operate a licensing system for open meets as follows:

  • Level 1 Meet – a gala licensed at this level will be aimed at very competent, fast swimmers who regularly compete at County level and above. The gala will, quite often, be swum long course (i.e. in a 50m pool) and the required entry times will be challenging. Times from these meets can be used for entry into Regional and National competitions.
  • Level 2 Meet – the entry times for these galas can still be quite challenging. They will always have a lower (slowest) limit for event entry times which means swimmers must be faster than the lower limit to enter the event. Some have an upper (fastest) and lower (slowest) limit for each event. This means that swimmers must be faster than the lower limit but not faster than the upper limit. They are usually swum short course (i.e. 25m pool). Times from these meets can also be used for entry into Regional and National competitions.
  • Level 3 Meet – these galas are of a slightly lower level and, as such, the entry times are easier. They usually have upper and lower limits for entry times (as for Level 2 meets) but the range between the times will be broader. They are always swum short course. Times from these meets can be used for entry into County competitions and some Regional competitions, but not National competitions.
  • Level 4 Meet – these galas are suitable for swimmers wishing to enter their first Open meet. Entry times will have upper and lower limits and the range between the times will be quite broad. These Licensed 4 Open Meets are aimed at swimmers who have not yet achieved County times and are a very good way to experience a busy open gala.

Open Meets – General Information

Open Meets are known as “Opens” due to the fact that entry is open to any swimmer, from any club, who meets the qualifying times and age requirements. They are busy galas with anywhere between 200 and 300 (sometimes more!) swimmers in attendance. To enable as many events and swimmers as possible, Opens are held over one whole day of the weekend, usually Sunday. However, some large Level 1 and Level 2 meets are held over a whole weekend with the long distance events (800m and 1500m freestyle) being held on the Friday evening.

All Open meets have an entry form which needs to be completed by each swimmer and all host clubs charge a fee per event entered, sometimes as much as £6.00 per event. Hiring a pool for a whole weekend and hosting an open meet is extremely costly which is why host clubs charge entry fees. Swimmers’ entry times are required for each event and these must be shown on the entry form. The host club always provides a schedule of qualifying times and swimmers must ensure they meet these times before entering the gala.

Swimmers are seeded into heats for each event from the slowest to the fastest using their entry times. Usually the ages are mixed but events will always be separated into male and female. Sometimes there is a separate event for each age group in each stroke. Awards are made to the fastest swimmers in each event and age group – sometimes the first three, sometimes the first six.

Taking part in an open meet can bring a swimmer a great sense of achievement, especially if he or she achieves a PB in one or more events. There is usually a team entered from the Club which makes for a social occasion and swimmers start to recognise and get to know swimmers from other clubs. Parents can also get to know one another by sitting together to cheer for their children.

League Galas

At present the Club participates in two Leagues:

  • Kent Junior League – this is a league for Kent-based clubs and has five divisions. It is swum over three rounds (Saturday evenings) each year – June, September and November – at a location determined by the organisers. All divisions swim their galas on the same date at their allocated pool and clubs take turns to host a round. This league is for swimmers aged 9 years to 13 years and the team is chosen by the coaches. The club who wins their division is promoted to the division above and the club who is last in their division is demoted. Sometimes, due to the location of the pool, a coach is provided for parents and swimmers to enable the team to arrive together.
  • National Arena Swimming League – this is the Club’s most important league gala. Saxon Crown is in the London League Division One, along with 15 other clubs. There are regions and divisions all around the country which means many, many clubs take part in the National Arena Swimming League. This league is swum over three rounds – always the 2nd Saturday evening in October, November and December each year. The team is chosen by the coaches and will comprise swimmers from 9 years through to Open age. The location of the pool is determined by the organisers and clubs take turns to host a round. If the pool is a considerable distance from London, a coach is provided by the Club for swimmers and parents. The league culminates in a national final, where the top 10 clubs in the country compete in the “A” final and the next 10 clubs compete in the “B” final.

The coaching team's selection is final - see the League Selection Policy.

Kent County Championships

Each year in January and February, the Kent County Championships are held (sometimes at Crystal Palace or at Black Lion Leisure Centre, Gillingham). The championships are spread over three or four weekends and are licensed at level 2. They are swum short course (25m pool) or long course (50m) depending upon the venue and the events are open to swimmers aged from 9 years from any club in Kent and the London Boroughs of Lewisham, Bromley, Greenwich and Bexley. However, there are some restrictions concerning eligibility as follows:

  • Female swimmers aged 9 – 11 years may not enter 100m events in any stroke or the 800m and 1500m freestyle.
  • Female swimmers aged 9 years may not enter the 400m freestyle or 400m individual medley.
  • Male swimmers aged 9 – 12 years may not enter 100m events in any stroke or the 800m and 1500m freestyle.
  • Male swimmers aged 9 years may not enter the 400m freestyle or 400m individual medley.

There are qualifying times for each event and age group and swimmers should make sure they have achieved the qualifying time before entering. The Club likes to encourage as many eligible swimmers as possible to enter these Championships, even if it is only one event, as valuable experience is gained by competing against the best swimmers in Kent. Entry forms are handed out to eligible swimmers in December and coaches will be happy to discuss entry times if needed. There is an entry fee per event. The championships include relay teams which will be chosen by the coaches (the Club pays the entry fee for relay teams).

All the required information about the Championships is on the Kent County ASA website.

London Region Championships

The next level of competition after the county championships is the regional championships which are licensed at Level 1 or Level 2. These are split into two age ranges:

  • Youth championships held in early May, for ages 15 years and over.
  • BAGCAT (British Age Group Categories) championships held in late May, for ages 9-14 years.

The regional championships are always swum long course (50m pool) and the qualifying times are harder than the county times. The rules for entry are quite strict and state that “a swimmer MUST have achieved the qualifying time in their chosen event(s) in either a Level 1 or Level 2 open meet licensed by the British ASA, Welsh ASA or Scottish ASA”.

Entry times usually have to have been achieved from 1 September in the proceeding year. There is an entry fee per event. Swimmers’ entry times are checked against the British Swimming database and the Club will not process entries from swimmers who have not achieved the required times. The Club will pay the cost of any entered relay teams – these will be chosen by the coaches.

All the information regarding the regional championships is on the Swim England London Region website.

National Championships

The highest level of competition (apart from swimming for your country of course!) is the British ASA National Championships held each year at Ponds Forge, Sheffield. This is a licensed level 1 competition (swum long course) and is split into the same age ranges as the regional championships. The galas are held over many days at the end of July and beginning of August.

Qualifying times are extremely fast and, as with regional championships, swimmers must prove they have achieved the time by stating where and when it was achieved. All entries are checked by the ASA against the British Swimming database.

A swimmer who achieves even one National time should feel extremely proud of themselves.

British Swimming Rankings Database

British Swimming and the ASA operate a database which shows, among other things, a swimmer’s personal best times for the current 12 month period. Every time a swimmer competes in a licensed open meet their time in each event, provided it is a PB, will be entered on the database along with the date, name of the gala and the venue.

Swimmers can enter their ASA number on the Individual Rankings database to find a list of their personal best times, and double check their eligibility for entering open meets and county, regional and national championships.

Swimmers can also check the Event Rankings database to see where they are placed in their age group for each stroke within the county, region and nationally, and monitor their progress.

Heat Declared Winner (HDW)

This term is used for events where there is no final. It means that awards will be decided after all the heats for an event have been swum. At most open meets (and indeed in our Club Champs) age groups are mixed together in speed order in each event so results will be split into age groupings before any winners are decided. Confusion sometimes arises with heat declared winner events: it is NOT the winner of each HEAT who wins an award but rather the fastest three (or six) swimmers of each AGE GROUP of each EVENT after all the heats have been swum.


At some large open meets there are finals of each event. These are always split into boys and girls and are usually per age grouping. The swimmers who will take part in a final are decided after all the heats of each event have been swum. They will be the swimmers who have posted the six (eight or ten depending on the number of lanes in the pool) fastest times in each age grouping in each event. These swimmers will be the ones receiving the awards – sometimes awards are presented to all finalists, but it could just be the fastest three in each final. If a swimmers does not make it into a final, he or she will not be receiving an award even if they won their heat.

Long Course and Short Course Galas

There are two modern pool lengths as follows:

  • Short Course – this refers to a pool which is 25m in length.
  • Long Course – this refers to a pool which is 50m in length.

When host clubs advertise an open meet they will specify whether it will be a “short course” gala or a “long course” gala i.e. swum in a 25m pool or a 50m pool. On the entry forms you will be asked to submit either short or long course times or sometimes they just ask for “all times to be 25m times”. This does not mean that they want the times for just 25m or 50m of each event but rather the times for each whole event when swum in a pool of 25m or 50m in length.

Sometimes host clubs ask for short course times even if the gala is to be swum long course, and they will use the short course times when seeding the heats. On other occasions you will need to convert the short course times to long course times before submitting them on the entry form. Times will need to be converted to 50m times for entry into Regional and National competitions.

To provide assistance when converting times, the Pullbuoy website has a feature for converting times from short course to long course, and vice versa.

events, galas