Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
As a swim parent, have you ever wondered about the people standing around the pool, by the blocks, at the corners and the 15-meter mark? Some have clipboards or a whistle, and they talk in headsets while walking along the deck, giving hand signals. Who are they and is their sole purpose to DQ our swimmers?
The answer to that last question is no. According to Jan Szuszkiewicz, a long-time meet administrator and deck official in Southern California Swimming, “The philosophy in our LSC is to provide a safe and fair playing field for everyone. We aren’t looking to DQ anyone because we’re mean. We want to correct swimmers’ strokes so everyone plays by the same rules.”
When your kids do get DQ’d, the official will explain to them what they did wrong. They can work with their coach to improve their strokes and not get DQ’d in the future.
“We train our officials to make good calls and be professional. Our main purpose is to serve the swimmers. We treat everyone the same regardless of what cap they’re wearing, how old, how fast or what level they are,” Jan said. “We make sure to err on the side of the swimmer. We’re here because of them.”
Here are nine things I learned about officials that I didn’t know before. I had no idea there were so many different types of officials and jobs. This is how the officials are organized in our LSC. Each LSC may be a little different, but all are under the rules of USA Swimming.
Officials are divided into the “wet” and “dry” sides of a meet, or deck and administrative officials. The “wet” side includes Stroke and Turn, Chief Judge, Starter, Deck Referee, Meet Referee and Senior Referee. The “dry” side may have a Timing Equipment Operator, Clerk of Course, Administrative Official, Administrative Referee and Senior Administrative Referee.
The first step in becoming a deck official is “Stroke and Turn.” At high level meets like the Olympics there will be a stroke and turn official for every lane. At age group meets they watch more than one lane. You’ll see these officials at the corner or walking along the pool for fly and breast. There’s a 15-meter official who will stand at the 15-meter mark to make sure the swimmers pop up by then.
The “Chief Judge” watches finishes as well as stroke. This person receives information of an infraction from other deck officials and informs the referee. If the referee accepts the infraction, the chief judge tells the swimmer and writes the DQ on the timing sheet. The chief judge can act as a stroke and turn judge at the same time.
The “Deck Referee” makes sure swimmers are at the blocks for their heat and calls out for missing swimmers. The deck ref then blows the whistle.
Three Four or more short whistles means to get ready. At the long whistle, swimmers stand on the blocks. At that point, the deck ref gives a hand signal to the starter. Other officials report DQ’s to the deck ref and he or she decides whether or not to accept them. Another responsibility of the deck ref is to watch the start.
After the deck ref hands off the start via extended hand to the “Starter,” it’s the starter’s job to make sure each heat gets off to a good and fair start. The starter looks to see if swimmers hold set positions. They aren’t totally predictable in the start so that swimmers can’t anticipate a “one, two, three, go.”
A false start has to be seen by at least two officials. If only one official sees a false start, it won’t be a DQ.
The “Meet Ref” is In charge of the venue and their word is the law. This person makes sure the meet is running correctly. They will evaluate and give feedback to other officials.
Under the meet admin tent, you’ll find the “Administrative Officials.” The number of people varies on the size of the meet. Their job is to ensure every swimmer gets a fair time. The primary timing system these days is touch pads, then pickles and stopwatches. If the timing system goes down or a swimmer doesn’t hit the pad, the admin staff goes to backup timing. If swimmers are in wrong lanes, it’s up to the admin official to switch up the times and make sure each swimmer get their correct times. A few of admin’s jobs are seeding the meet, verifying entry times, sending reports and handling financials.
Most, if not all, officials are either current or former swim parents. If anyone is interested in becoming an official there’s information on the USA Swimming and local LSC websites.
What have your swimmers been DQ’d for? Did you agree with the call?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.