7 Things Every Swim Official wants Coaches, Swimmers & Parents to know

by SwimSwam 25

June 12th, 2015 Industry, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of Caleb Cohen. Follow: @PittCaleb

Editor’s Note: If you are a swimmer or a swammer, and you don’t know this fact, consider it now. The sport of swimming rests on the shoulders of our officials. Without them, we don’t have an organized sport. Many thanks to Caleb for this insider’s perspective.

The Swim Official: The bane of every swimmer’s existence; the men and women, dressed in white, standing at the end and alongside your pool. Swimmers look up at us at the completion of their race to see if it was clean. Coaches flinch when we scratch our neck as their swimmer powers by. Parents scan the deck with binoculars during their child’s race for an extended arm or conference with a chief judge before telling their seatmate “That was a great heat!”

None of us get paid. Not a one. Even at YMCA Nationals, not even the Meet Referee is paid staff. We are all volunteers. Almost everyone is a Swim Mom or Dad from a YMCA or USA club just like yours. A few are “former swim parents” with their kids aged up and on to other things. We officiate so we can give back to the sport we love, not for any other reason.

Below are 7 things every Swim Official wishes every Swimmer, Coach and Parent knew:

1 – We have to be here

USA Swimming rules (which YMCA Swimming adheres to) require officials on-deck. If we’re not there, your swim doesn’t count. It won’t be a Gold/Silver/Bronze/National Qualifying Time without us. Even at the State Championships where everyone should be capable of swimming legally, we have to be there to ensure a level playing field for everyone and allow your times to count and be entered into the database.

2 – We don’t like raising our arms

There is not a single official who enjoys disqualifying a swimmer, whether an 8 & Under or a 15-18 year old. We hate it more than you do. We don’t like to make you cry; we don’t want to ruin your drive home and we aren’t trying to get you to quit the sport.

It’s not fair to the kid who swam the stroke properly to have to compete against someone who didn’t. It’s just that simple – the integrity of the sport. At every single Stroke Briefing we hear the mantra “The swimmer gets the benefit of the doubt” alongside “We are observers, not inspectors.” Trust me, if we raise our arm over our head, it’s because we saw something illegal and we’re trying to make you a better swimmer. Better to be DQ’d here at a championship meet down the road.

3 – Don’t ever walk in front of us on deck

The deck can be a very tight place for everyone. When you are walking on deck and you see a swim official, never walk between the official and the pool. Ever. Especially along the edge of a long course pool.

USA Swimming doesn’t like us carrying clipboards while officiating. This is a tool I use to push people out of the way without touching them. When we’ve told you once to please move back, don’t return to your position during the next heat.

Our job is difficult enough, walking back and forth alongside a wet, slippery, crowded pool deck. Having to constantly dodge swimmers & coaches just makes our job that much worse. Please help us out by staying out of our way.

4 – Timers, you’re not that important, stand back!

At the Start/Finish end of the pool, officials stand to observe the finishing touch. There could be one official per lane or as few as 2 for an 8-lane pool. But there is always a timer, sometimes 2, behind every – single – lane.

The official MUST see the finish with the exception of freestyle. We must see the backstroker finish on his back above the surface of the water, we need to see the 2-hand touch of the breast & fly and ensure no underwater recovery at the end of the grueling 200 Fly. You are timing, and that has value, but it is secondary to the pads. Our function at this moment is far more important than yours is. Give us visual priority, do not stand in our way, do not lean such that we can’t see the wall. If you’re off by a tenth of a second due to sight-lines, no worries – hopefully they nailed the pad.

5- Coaches, please don’t whistle in our ears

Is there a clinic somewhere that teaches prospective club coaches to whistle like they’re at the front of a locomotive? Every LSC has 2 or 3 coaches who can pierce an eardrum from 50 meters away. It’s actually quite exhilarating to hear – from a distance!

Please be mindful of the officials when pulling that rip-cord. There’s nothing like walking the side of a Long Course pool or standing at the turn end during Short Course States and having a coach fire off that whistle right in your ear — all session long! I’m sure there’s an OSHA rule violation in there somewhere.

Same for you swimmers – “Goooooooooo Caaaaattttliiiin!!!!” right behind us… OK once, but you know through her cap, head in the water… Every time… You’re literally killing us… Just move over 5 feet and we’ll probably be fine.

6 – Thank an official

As much as we love it, it’s a tough job. We stand on wet ceramic tiles for hours on end. Our knees hurt, our ankles hurt, we slip and fall, we drop our phones into pools, we agonize over calls we’ve made and those we didn’t. Every now and then, pat someone in a white shirt on the back, especially one you don’t know, and say “Thanks for helping this meet go off this weekend. My child couldn’t have swam without you.”

7 – That said, we LOVE our job!

I often say there are many reasons I officiate, but in reality, there is only one:
Officiating ensures the best seat in the house! Every heat, every event, every session.

I get (free) heat sheets, never pay an admission fee or stand in a long line in the cold or rain just to get in. I know the qualifying standards, seed times and when everyone in my club will be in the water. I am literally on top of the action and see things coaches don’t even witness.

I can’t record or cheer while working, but I can see the meet in a way you never will sitting from the stands. This alone is worthy of the training classes, the annual registration fees and the 4-hr blocks standing on concrete.

I wouldn’t trade officiating for anything. Giving back to the swim community I count a privilege.

Important Note:

Regardless of how you treat me, if you’re in my way or how much your relay squad splashes me on takeoffs – my decision to disqualify you at a meet is based strictly on how you perform in the water. I do not see the color of your cap or logo on its side when making that decision.

We know once the first starting signal fires, you just want to have fun and swim your best. Sometimes you forget some of the ‘rules’ while cheering on your team or rushing to get to your heat. We get it. But when you can, try to help make our day on deck a little easier. Have a good swim!

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4 years ago

Agree! Timers do need to stay out the way of the officials, but getting a legal time is just as important as observing legal swims. How many times have timing systems failed and we’ve had to go to watches!

Sad Official
6 years ago

Today, I hated being an official. Parents and coaches (from one team) openly spoke about “accidentally” shoving me in the pool, swimmers cussed me out in front of my kids, and one official said I shouldn’t call so many DQs. No one said my calls were bad, they just wanted me to ignore them. I wrote over 40 DQs today. Two were protested. Zero were overturned. The complaint to the head official, only served to eliminate any chance for protesting, as the violations were blatant, and now had two witnesses. The real issue wasn’t that I was doing my job, but more that most of the other officials weren’t doing theirs. I work hard to be fair and impartial. Frankly,… Read more »

West Coast Official
Reply to  Sad Official
4 years ago

Sad Official… no official should have to deal with this kind of nonsense. Cussing you out is a violation of the ‘sportsmanlike conduct’ clause in the USAS handbook, and is a disqualifiable violation. Ask your referee to address the issue with the coach of that team, and if it fails to improve, pull out the DQ slips. And don’t stop doing an excellent job… we have any number of officials on deck in my LSC whose mantra is “I won’t DQ anyone.” My question is, “Why are you taking up space on deck?” If you don’t want to do the job, don’t… but don’t destroy the integrity of the sport by refusing to uphold the basic dictums.

7 years ago

Officials in our area (Columbus,Ga.) get paid. Thanks to that our September meet went from a saction meet to a nonsaction meet. A week before our meet the officials decided to attend another’s team meet because they will pay them more. Our swimmers (kids) are devastated by the fact that these times will not count. We have a couple of kids working really hard for state times and now this times will not count. I think it’s unethical for officials to cancel at the last moment.

7 years ago

the author is a little misguided and obviously inexperienced based in his/her opinion on what officials want. Experienced officials and meet directors view timers as extremely important to every meet and must look over the wall to properly see the touch. It’s up to the official to get in the proper position to view the swimmer. The coaches whistling and swimmers inadvertently walking in front of an official happens at times but we must learn to deal with it. The majority of officials view there job as a volunteering opportunity for the love of the sport to ensure safety and fair play. And yes Ryan I’ve actually seen officials taping their children during meets..unbelievable

Swim Parent
Reply to  Tom
4 years ago

Regarding the comment, “… swimmers walking in front of an official happens at times…”

I’m pretty sure what Caleb was addressing wasn’t the “… at times…” part of it. I have repeatedly spent 75 hours on deck over the course of five day championship meets dodging the same coaches and athletes who seem to feel it is their right to hunker down on the edge of the pool, even after being spoken to repeatedly to “stay back, please…”, and “excuse me, please…”.

To walk stroke properly on a 50 meter deck, one cannot simply “deal with it.” Coaches and athletes need to respect the officials’ duties on deck, and help maintain an environment appropriate for us to do our… Read more »

Ryan B
7 years ago

Have you been an official for a long time? Did you ever struggle with watching your own children versus the lanes you’re actually assigned to watch? That has to be tough.

anita draves
7 years ago

Don’t forget to mention great food at the officials hospitality room.

steve ward
7 years ago

These rules are applicable throughout the world, not just in the US. In the UK all officials are unpaid volunteers and timekeepers are officials the same as the referees, starter and judges.

7 years ago

Thanks to all of the officials that make meets possible. I have to agree with the other comments about timers, they are just as critical as officials that are dressed in white to make the meet run, and timers are meet officials. They spend countless hours on the deck just like everyone else, and are all unpaid volunteers as well. I can not tell you how many times my kids have missed a big cut (zones,sectionals) by under a tenth, exact times DO matter.

Sounds like someone needs to thank the timers at the next meet.