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.
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!