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by Jean Tyrell

August 1, 2022

Watch out for these common trouble spots in your next race

You raced the hardest you ever have. As you’re gasping for breath after your swim, you get a visit from someone in a white shirt. You check the results posted later and there, next to your name, reads “DQ.”

You got disqualified from the race because of a technical mistake in how you performed the stroke, start, turns, or finish. It means no matter how fast you swam or what place you touched, you will not be ranked.

USMS Officials Committee chair Teri White and director and senior referee for Southern California Swimming Omar de Armas, Sr., share what new swimmers need to know about common mistakes that lead to these disheartening DQ’s.

Both White and de Armas emphasize that the way to avoid making technical mistakes is to use correct form for every stroke at every swim practice. Every time you come into the wall during butterfly or breaststroke, touch with two hands—every time! When you’re exhausted swimming butterfly in practice, keep both legs together in your dolphin kick. Don’t laze into a flutter kick.

It’s this repetitive correct form that develops muscle memory, which will help your body remember to do it right on race day.

Here are some common mistakes you can prevent with practice.


Using an alternating kick instead of dolphin kick

The most common error new swimmers get DQ’d for in the butterfly is using an alternating kick instead of the dolphin kick. De Armas says that with new swimmers this mostly has to do with conditioning. Butterfly is a physically demanding stroke. White agrees, calling it “the exhaustion stroke.” As the swimmer gets tired, it’s not unusual to slip into an alternating kick because it’s easier.

Not bringing both arms out of the water during recovery

Another common DQ for the butterfly is not getting the entire arm out of the water on the recovery phase of the stroke. All the way from the wrist to the shoulder of both arms must be above the surface of the water during the recovery.


Not touching the wall with both hands

The most common breaststroke DQ, De Armas and White agree, is not touching the wall with both hands. White emphasizes that it is not just a two-hand touch, but a simultaneous touch. “Hands have to hit the wall together,” she says. Her advice is “Hit the wall hard and fast.”

Pulling past the hipline

Except during the pullout after the start and each wall, the pull cannot go past the hipline while you’re swimming breaststroke.

Doing scissor or alternating kick

Both feet must be turned out during the kick and legs must kick simultaneously.


Flipping onto the front before the turn

Newer swimmers sometimes turn too soon when they’re approaching the wall for a turn, then take another stroke on their front or kick without stroking to get closer to the wall. Either can result in a DQ.

It’s imperative to take only one pull and move directly into the flip turn. In other words, de Armas says, the flip turn starts at the pull. The entire motion of the turn, which must be performed continuously, de Armas explains, is a pull, tuck, and push off the wall.

To avoid a DQ, de Armas advises that all swimmers practice their personal stroke count from the backstroke flags to the wall. This should be practiced at race speed to reinforce the correct number of strokes needed to get to the wall. Coaches should remind their swimmers to confirm their count in the race pool during a meet warmup.


It’s difficult to get DQ’d in the freestyle for stroke violations, as you may swim in any manner desired, with some exception for medleys. Just have a good start and contact the wall at each end and you’ll likely be fine.


False start

A false start may be called when a swimmer standing on the blocks moves after the “take your mark” command is given. “Take your mark,” means getting into your starting position, whether its crouched, upright, holding on to the front of the block or the wall, and then holding that position.

White points out that officials at Masters meets recognize that some swimmers, due to age or medical conditions, will not have a completely still body position, but the race is started after that pause when all the racers are as still as possible.

Early take-off

The most common start disqualification during a relay happens if you leave the blocks before your teammate has touched the wall. Race officials, White says, are trained to watch the feet of swimmers on the blocks and the relay team member coming into the wall at the same time. The swimmer coming to the wall must touch before the next swimmer leaves the blocks. You must be in position to dive and look down into the water at the same time.

White advises that swimmers practice going off the blocks before a meet. If a mobility impaired swimmer has difficulty mounting or balancing on the blocks, help can be requested, or a swimmer can choose to start from the deck or even from the water. Regardless, practice the start that works for you to avoid being DQ’d before you’ve even swum a stroke.

No one wants a DQ—especially at a big or important meet. Register for your local meet and learn from any DQs you receive there so at higher level meets such as Nationals, you won’t repeat that same mistake.

For a deeper dive, read the complete U.S. Masters Swimming Rules of Competition at


  • Technique and Training


  • Competition