Courtesy of Pete Williams
Nothing makes the grind of sitting through a four-hour prelim session even longer for a swim parent than listening to an annoying public address announcer – or one that cannot be clearly heard.
As a PA announcer for a team that hosts a lot of meets (Florida’s Clearwater Aquatic Team) and as a swim parent that’s sat through many away events, I’ve learned a great deal about what separates a good swim announcer from a not-so-good one.
Even if you have professional broadcasting experience as I did when my oldest started swimming competitively in 2009, swim PA announcing presents challenges. I know I’d cringe if someone presented me with a recording of my performances from those early meets. (Thankfully they don’t exist.) Here are seven things I’ve learned that can help you – or someone in your club – become a better swim PA announcer.
DO A SOUND CHECK – Audio equipment can be fickle, especially when located near chlorinated water or stored away for months. Professional musicians wouldn’t dream of going on stage without doing a sound check and they have much better voices and than we do. So when your club is setting up the night before a meet, check all of the equipment, speakers, and microphones. If you have a wireless microphone, walk around the pool deck, bleachers, or grandstands, preferably during a practice, to best simulate how everything will sound during the meet. If no wireless is available, send someone else around to give feedback. If something isn’t working, you have time to fix it.
PANDORA IS YOUR FRIEND – As swim announcer, you’re probably also deejay and it’s nearly impossible to satisfy kids, middle-aged parents, and grandparents when it comes to music. A mix of upbeat tunes is best and, thankfully, Pandora has channels that provide a blend of similar styles from different eras. I also bring a loaded iPad both to supplement Pandora, call up certain songs, and to serve as backup in case our WI-FI acts up. Be sure to play the “clean” versions of songs and err on the side of caution. I once had a parent complain about the profanity in the title of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells.
REMEMBER: YOU’RE NOT ON ESPN – Using repeated catch phrases and signature calls might have worked for ESPN broadcasters on SportsCenter in the 1990s. But that gets old in a hurry for parents listening to you for 20 hours over a three-day weekend. So play things straight up, speaking clearly and with enthusiasm, which admittedly can be a challenge for 20 hours over a three-day weekend.
GO THE EXTRA MILE – Announcing from a table on deck as we do at our meets can present challenges, but one good thing is that it provides more interaction with coaches and swimmers. If you clarify hard-to-pronounce swimmer names with coaches, it means a lot to parents in the stands. It also helps to announce birthdays, meet records, and even recent college decisions. All of which will make people more willing to pick up after themselves, for which I give gentle reminders toward the end of each session.
FIND A PARTNER – It’s tough to announce every session of a three- or four-day meet. Admittedly, it’s preferable to have one voice for the entire event, but it’s also good to have backup in case that person gets sick – or their swimmers leave your team. You never know what talent you have in your club. We once had a dad who was a church pastor accustomed to speaking with force from the pulpit. We’ve even given a shot to aspiring teenage broadcasters who are the siblings of swimmers.
LEARN TO JUGGLE – A swim announcer is the meet traffic cop, juggling announcing, music, and perhaps the scratch book and lost and found. If you can situate your announcer in a press box or otherwise away from the swimmers, that can be helpful. At our meets, I sit so close I sometimes get splashed by bigger athletes on flip turns. Wherever you sit, just remember….
YOU’VE GOT THE BEST GIG AT THE MEET – I’ve worked as a timer and marshal but there’s nothing like being the announcer. The meet goes faster, you feel like part of the action, and if you do it long enough you’ll learn the names of every swimmer in the area. Not only that, you’ll occasionally get to announce your child winning a heat. And that never gets old.
Pete Williams is a writer, author, and swim parent in Clearwater, Florida. He writes about high-performance living at tolivelean.com.