A Rally Cry for Officials

by Suzie Fox 19

October 09th, 2018 Club, News, Opinion

It’s Not a Meet Without Officials

When you boil a swim meet down to its bare essentials, the whole thing can be distilled down to 4 essential, inalienable items – a pool, swimmers, a timing system and officials. Coaches, timers, parents, sound system, a flashy scoreboard, etc., are amazing and it’s always great for them to be there; however, bare minimum, you need those four.

Unfortunately, across several Local Swim Committees (LSCs), there are fewer and fewer people volunteering to work as an official at local swim meets. This decline mirrors a decrease in the number of volunteers, and particularly officials and referees across almost all sports and the country. Officials with older swimmers are getting ready to move on, so the need for officials with younger swimmers is greatest.

The Chicago Tribune addressed a cross-sport, nationwide shortage of officials in a report by Kate Thayer earlier this year – citing the abuse that officials take from parents and coaches as a primary driver. While the parental abuse certainly happens in swimming, it’s perhaps not as prevalent – mostly because, in any given swim meet, a swimming official is not making nearly as many calls as an official in a sport like baseball or football.

Setting that aside, here are 3 great reasons to become a swimming official today.

Friendship and Support

Officiating is a wonderful way to support your team, your LSC and USA Swimming.  It is a great way to get to know parents from other teams, whether on the deck or in the hospitality room during breaks.  The swimmers know fellow swimmers from other teams, but it’s rare to meet parents from other teams in the stands. For out of town meets, it’s nice to have a point of reference for the best pizza close by, the local pharmacy that’s still open after finals, and the local grocery store.

It’s a deck-side view of the meet. You are in on the action, sometimes literally as yes, your shoes and clothes will get wet. However, the location can’t be beaten for watching the events.

Productivity During the Meet

How many times have you sat for hours on end waiting for a few minutes of swim time? Why not feel productive on deck? The day goes by fairly quickly as your focus is on the swimmers and their legal strokes. If you are fortunate to have a break, you can visit your swimmer, friends in the stand, and enjoy the amazing food offered by the hospitality team.  For parents of younger swimmers, it’s an organic way for your swimmer to become more independent, and for them to turn to their coach for questions, which helps build the swimmer/coach relationship.

If the parent of an Olympian can be an official, you can as well.  Joanie Beisel, the mother to Olympian Elizabeth Beisel, has been officiating since Elizabeth was 6 years old. Beisel wonderfully defines the spirit of officiating and the attributes of and benefits to the volunteers. Describing it as “just the best thing I’ve ever done,” Joanie truly appreciates “what you get out of being an official.”

Training is Informative, Not Overwhelming

Becoming an official involves completion of an online officials’ test, a background check, athlete protection training, a workshop with US Swimming officials from your LSC, and several apprentice opportunities during local meets.  You will be asked to officiate all ages of swimmers.  The rules are the same for a local dual meet as they are for the Olympic Trials. There are opportunities to officiate open water events (from a beach, canoe, boat, or kayak), as well as high school, age group, and national meets. The benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer and officials are there to educate.  Officials do not disqualify, the swimmer disqualifies themselves, the official acknowledges the infraction.

Come One, Come All!

So, contact your local LSC or visit the US Swimming website to sign up for additional information. Come join us on deck, we’d love to have you!

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3 years ago

Maybe if they paid swim officials, like every other sports this wouldn’t be an issue.

Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

A lot of those same sports don’t pay their coaches, either. Have been an official now for almost 20 years, and haven’t had a child in the water for at least the past 5 or 6. The couple of LSC’s that pay officials don’t have a ton of them, so I don’t think that is the answer. Has never been about the money for me. I’m giving back to a sport that was great for my children.

Josh Swims
Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

Some LSC’s do. Mine does, but we have one of the lowest % of officials per swimmers in all of USA Swim

Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

I wouldn’t do it just to be paid, it probably wouldn’t be worth my time honestly. How much would you suggest paying officials? $50/session, which comes out to about $12/hour? I would rather have that time to do other things on a typical weekend. I officiate because I want to give back to my kids activities. My last swimmer will be done with club swimming in a couple of years. I’m planning on officiate after that as a way to give back to my community, but I’ll admit that it will be less frequent as I’ll have other commitments.

Reply to  Ansible
3 years ago

In Michigan swimming, deck officials are paid $40 for a four hour session plus another $5 for every half hour overtime. Admin officials and meet refs are paid $45 per session

Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

I officiated in Michigan and it’s such an elite club. The quality of officiating isn’t very good either. The deck refs expect the officials to review the rule book and they don’t do stroke briefings because they don’t want a “call of the day” if a question of clarification arises. Basically, its one good ole boys club.

Mr G
Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

You have to be there the whole time for your kids, you might as well watch some swimming.

Truly, the meets go by much much faster if you are volunteering as an official than if you are sitting around waiting for your kids event to start etc.

Volunteers are volunteers
Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

Paying officials will lead to host teams increasing event fees and going to meets will price families out of the sport. We will have to pay 16k before the first event at the local facility if we start paying officials the event will not bring in enough money unless we charge 15-20 per event.

Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

It will help, but not the solution. From my eyes, swim teams are not cooperative when it comes to recruiting officials. Some teams take it a granted when they host a meet. Leader is another factor. If the meet is not well organized, officials are discouraged.

Reply to  Swimfan
3 years ago

We have a few HS meets that pay about $40 each. Our club team also offers registration discounts for 10 sessions. If at least 6 sessions are worked, the LSC pays the USAS registration fee for the official. We also have MANY legacy officials – those who haven’t had a kid in the water for years. We occasionally have official issues, but it has actually improved over the years. PVS is doing something right.

AZ Swammer
3 years ago

I have been officiating for about 12 years now and can say that it has been a great experience. I would encourage anyone who has a child in the sport or just loves swimming to come out and give it a try! And great picture . . . That was the first meet where I was a meet referee – our LSC senior state championship.

And pay is not the issue. I get paid for high school and NCAA meets but I would show up without it. Swimming is so different from other sports in that regard. All of the officials that I work with are there for the enjoyment of it and the ability to give back.

Tom Holt
3 years ago

I started officiating to support my kids and I couldn’t stand sitting in the stands. My youngest retired two years ago. I keep offociating for the joy of observing kids do their best, and the comraderie of fellow officials and other meet volunteers.

Swimswam Mom
Reply to  Tom Holt
3 years ago

Tom Holt has it right! We need to clone folks like YOU! Our LSC offers regular recruitment and training because many of our officials have been doing the job for years and we need to train the next generation of officials. Our dedicated volunteers and officials love the sport of swimming and the joy of watching athletes from novice to Olympian swim their hearts out. Since we don’t pay our volunteers, we give awesome hospitality and a thank you card and gift. It’s all about heart! Thank you to all the awesome USAS officials who strive to do their very best EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

3 years ago

I was going to continue in swimming as an official but being on the board of directors of a team taught me what a miserable fraud the sport has become. No thanks.

3 years ago

Just wanted to balance out all the officials posting about “giving back” by continuing after their kids stop swimming. From my experience with officials, the majority of those who stay past their kids are there for the power and authority. I’ve had many quite rude officials like this in my LSC, who have clearly forgotten who club swimming is about.

3 years ago

Great picture! Recognize the old Phoenix Swim Club wall with all the signatures!

3 years ago

Maybe if they didn’t make the official’s PAY to become officials!?!?! Pay the LSC registration (USA Swimming registration), pay for the background check, pay for the clinic! Maybe if the annual clinic wasn’t completely pointless and could easily be achieve by posting a YouTube video… Maybe if the new officials clinic was simply converted into a YouTube video… Maybe if they didn’t constantly push officials to become national level officials… Maybe if they realized that 95% of officials are simply there to help their kids, not work 50 sessions per year… Maybe if they stopped treating average meets like a “national deck”… Maybe if they didn’t make the process of documenting a disqualification at an average meet so damn complicated…… Read more »

Marc McDaniel
3 years ago

I’m a grandfather supporting my granddaughter. She’s only 9 but loves swimming and is doing very well. What I like the most is meeting the other officials, coaches and teams while staying busy and never missing a swim or the drama that takes place away from the pool during down times between events. Third year and becoming a starter late in life…LOL! Come join us.