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BAGCATS Explained

This document is intended to explain and hopefully demystify BAGCATS.  It is not an official asa document, but my interpretation of the various documents that are available.  I hope you find it useful.  If you have any further questions on the subject, please do not hesitate to speak to me poolside.

Anthony Clark
Swindon Dolphin ASC
20 March 2009
(Updated March 2014)


BAGCATS stands for British Age Group CATegorieS and applies to swimmers aged 9 to 14.

Over the year, there are three standard competitions in which the system is used, 


Also commonly known as the “Wiltshires”, held across two weekends in March at The Link, a short course (25m) pool.

There are entry times for this competition that may be achieved at any meet (gala).

Age range for this competition is 9-14. 

Regional BAGCATS

Previously known as the “Disticts” or “Western Counties”, held across two weekends in June usually at Millfield, a long course (50m) pool.

There are entry times for this competition that must be achieved at any Level 1, 2 or 3 open meet*

Age range for this competition is 10-14. 

National BAGCATS

Commonly known as “Nationals”, held across five days in July/August at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, a long course (50m) pool.

There are entry times for this competition that must be achieved at any Level 1 or 2 open meet*

Age range for this competition is 11-14.

As you would expect, the entry times for each competition gets progressively tougher through the County, Regional and National competitions.  All entry times are available on the Competition Page.

* The ASA run a system for licencing open meets.  Depending on the quality of the pool, timing equipment and officials, a meet may be granted a Level 1, 2, 3 or 4.

The swimmers age in each competition is as at the last day of each competition.  It may therefore be that a swimmer is in the 12 year old category for County BAGCATS and 13 year old for Regionals and Nationals.  Until recently all competitions were based on age as at 31st Dec which clearly benefited swimmers with birthdays early in the year.  The newer system of age on day removes this advantage and allows at all swimmers to be nearer the older end of their age group for at least one of the three competitions.

BAGCATS is a points system for establishing who the best swimmers really are within their age group at a particular competition.  It also promotes swimmers competing in a variety of strokes in accordance with Long Term Athlete Development.  Success is Long Term is an asa document that fully explains Long Term Athlete Development related to the Journey through Swimming.

In the days before BAGCATS, these younger swimmers would compete at County, Regional and National level against each other in individual events.  So, at National level there would be a boy’s 13 year 100m Freestyle champion, a boy’s 13 year 400m Individual Medley champion etc.  But who is the champion of champions ? The medley swimmer surely because he is good at all stokes; but what if the 100m freestyler swam the fastest ever in the country for a 13 year old – wouldn’t he be better?

So – along came BAGCATS.  For every race that a BAGCAT swimmer competes in at each County, Regional and National Championships, they will be awarded BAGCAT points depending on their age group, how fast they swam, the stroke and distance.  How these points are arrived at is a science in itself, based on world records and all sorts of clever stuff and it’s probably easier to not to even attempt to understand!  However, what it is important to know is that generally the tougher events (technically and physically) will give more points than the easier ones.

Now every swim has points, are they just added together?  No – that would be too easy and would just mean that the swimmer with more swims is likely to win.  So, the swimming events are divided into categories each of which has their own individual way of testing the swimmer.

Categories vary slightly depending on the swimmer age and whether at County, Regional or National level but essentially fall into the following groups,

1. Freestyle – All swimmers are expected to be proficient at this stroke and this therefore has its own category – Distances are 200m 400m 800m or 1,500m depending on age.

2. Form Stroke – Either butterfly, backstroke or breaststroke. Every swimmer is expected to be particularly proficient in something other than freestyle.  Distances are always 200m.

3. Sprints – All strokes.  Distances are 50m for County, 100m for Regional and National.  This tests the swimmers sprinting ability.

4. Medley – All swimmers are expected to be able to swim all strokes.  Distances are 100m, 200m and 400m for County and 200m and 400m for Regional / National.

5.  100’s – An additional sprint category for short course County BAGCATS only.

Success is Long Term includes the specific detail of the BAGCAT categories across all ages and competition levels.

Points for each swim are assigned to the relevant category but it is always the HIGHEST points only that go towards the total of the five added together.  So if a swimmer gets 315 points from a 200 backstroke and then gets 330 points from a 200 breaststroke, then only the 330 points from the breaststroke swim will stand in the Form Stroke category.

In order to compete for top positions in the overall BAGCAT competition, it is therefore essential that the swimmer enters events in all 4 categories.

The importance of doing well in overall BAGCAT scoring cannot be over-emphasised.  British Swimming’s talent ID programme will always look at BAGCAT rankings rather than individual event winners, this being a clear indication that these competitors are more likely to develop into better swimmers.

So why is this system only used for swimmers up to 14 years old?

Most importantly it is to ensure that swimmers do not specialise in one stroke at an early age.  A swimmer’s best stroke at age 9 may not necessarily be their best stroke one or two years later and the BAGCAT system with its requirement to swim Medleys is specifically designed to accommodate this.  The Form Stroke category also ensures that variety is maintained by swimmers having to be proficient at more than one stroke.

When swimmers move into their mid to late teens, their bodies become fully developed (girls sooner than boys) and they should start to specialise in strokes and distances.  Therefore beyond BAGCAT ages, swimmers will compete at County, Regional and National events at individual events.

Just a final word of warning …. A summary of BAGCAT points and age group placings are issued at regular intervals throughout competitions.  If you find you are near the top places at any point BEWARE of the swimmer who has not yet swum in a category and leaves it until the last session to add a few hundred points to their total.  It is a very fair system – but it can be cruel !!