Track-Start Blocks; Underwater Pullout Changes Approved for US High School Competition

At their March meeting, the National Federation of High Schools Swimming and Diving Rules committee, which is the overarching governing body for the vast majority of high school swimming in the United States, voted on a huge swathe of proposed rules changes.

Below, we’ve summarized the most significant of these rules that have been voted in, failed, or where no action was taken. For a full list of rules considered, see the minutes from the meeting.

Minutes from March NFHS meeting.

Track Start Blocks Approved For Use

The NFHS has officially approved the use of “Track-style starting blocks” in rule 2-7-2b. This will bring high school swimming more in line with what we’re seeing at the club and college levels. With these blocks becoming more-and-more common at facilities that host big meets, it’s more realistic for them to be incorporated into high school swimming.

The biggest concern here is whether or not this gives club swimmers an even bigger advantage over high-school only swimmers, which is a lingering concern at the scholastic level of the sport.

Timing Relaxed on Breaststroke Underwater Pullouts

Where the rules will settle on the dolphin kick and the underwater pullout for breaststroke in FINA and USA Swimming competition will be decided later this year. For now, the high school rules will begin to diverge significantly from those at the club level. Specifically, the one dolphin kick allowed prior to the breaststroke kick while coming off of a wall in breaststroke can now be done at ANY time prior to the breaststroke kick.

Previously, there were rules regarding the dolphin kick being done after the separation of the hands from a streamline. This will be an important difference for officials who are observing high school meets for USA Swimming qualifying swims, as many feel that there is an advantage to taking the dolphin kick while still streamlined.

This is a much less drastic change than those being considered by FINA, the international governing body, at their meeting in July.

Rules to Allow Jewelry Failed

This is one of the biggest peeves for many high school coaches. Unlike USA Swimming meets, no jewelry is allowed in high school competition. Under the current rules, though, there is no actual punishment. The competitor and their coach are simply notified of the violation, and required to remove it before they compete again. The only penalty comes when a second violation is found for the same competitor in a meet, which results in a DQ, but that rarely, if ever, happens.

While ostensibly this rule is a safety precaution (not getting jewelry caught on lane ropes, other competitors, etc.), many coaches question the need for a rule with no real authority. This rule was brought forward from the state of Ohio, though the alternative view would be that there is some, albeit small and freakish in nature, risk for injury, but nobody wants to see a swimmer disqualified for something like forgetting to snip off an ankle bracelet before a race, so a warning is allowed.

Kinesio Tape Still Requires the Note of a Doctor

This has long been one of the most confusing rules for coaches, but after a failed movement to eliminate restrictions altogether, a doctor’s documentation of injury and treatment including “Kinesio” or “Physio” tape will still be required.

Though the official Rationale given in the rules docket involved creating more work for officials and a lack of evidence of “pervasive use” of tape and “guessing as to what happens when it was used,” the biggest concern I’ve seen is inconsistent enforcement. It is not uncommon for standards for use of tape to be different depending on who is running a meet, and even more so it has become challenging for coaches to get official answers. From personal experience, I have had tape allowed at a regional meet, and with same documentation had it disallowed at a state-level meet. Consistency of ruling has been the biggest issue with the implementation of these restrictions.

One Diving Rule Passed

There were several diving rules up for consideration, but the only one to pass involves defining how long a diver must hold the straight body position on certain dives. Specifically, a diver must hold the position until the body is perpendicular to the water on one-and-one-half somersault dives, or horizontal to the water on flying one somersault dives, or else it is deemed an “unsatisfactory dive.”

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The jewelry rule makes absolutely no sense at all because they do not inforce it from the moment the swimmers enter the pool area. Explain to me how a swimmer can warmup in a crowded pool where they are circle swimming with a greater potential for contact than by themselves in their lane during competition?

Compete in an old pool with 6′ wide lanes, a 6’6″ kid swimming fly is a far greater risk to his competitors than a friendship bracelet.. Maybe we should have height/stroke restrictions for “those” people. Clearly they are a danger to their competitors…


I think the jewelry ruling is simply a uniform issue disguised as a safety policy. High school sports rules in general seem to exert more strict control over what an athlete may or may not wear than the national governing bodies of the sports in question. There was a pretty crazy example of this two or three years ago at a high school dual meet — not even a championship or state meet — in Connecticut. One coach protested that the logo on an opposing team’s cap was too large. The officials actually stopped the meet for about 15 minutes, confiscated the cap, and found rulers so they could measure and compare with the guidelines in the HS Swimming rulebook.… Read more »


Just glad they corrected the block rule. We had to replace the block tops at Georgia Tech for our state meet with the old blocks to be in compliance. Otherwise we would have had a DQ rate of 20% for forward starts and relay exchanges.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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