All for One and One for All
By Jim Stromski // Officials Chair, Niagara LSC
I often hear comments to the effect, “my team needs a referee” or“my team needs another stroke and turn judge.” When asked about the reasoning behind the statement, I usually hear, “so my team can hold a meet.” This motivation dismays me as I believe that it’s shortsighted at best and detrimental to local age group competitive swimming at worst.
“How can this be so?” I always tell people that they should become an official so that other teams can host their meets. Why? First and foremost is that other clubs need officials for their meets, too. When your team is hosting a meet, it’s “all hands on deck” and I don’t necessarily mean the pool deck. There’s concession, hospitality, and timers to staff, clerk of course, timing and awards tables to be run, etc. In other words, there are so many other non-officiating jobs to be done that taking people away from those jobs to staff the deck can cause problems in those other areas of the meet.
Imagine the potential outcomes of taking your most experienced timing system operator or clerk of course away from that job so that they can be a stroke and turn judge and what effect that can have on the smooth operation of your meet. These and other unintended consequences are detrimental to the athlete experience at a meet. I believe that when a team is hosting a meet, it should focus on the hosting and rely on officials associated with other teams to come in and staff the deck.
Further, if your club thinks it’s covered to host a meet because they have a referee, a starter, an admin official, and a bunch of stroke and turn judges, what are you going to do when life happens and your referee, starter or admin official suddenly can’t be at the meet? How are you going to replace that person unless your club is fortunate enough to have several people in each of these critical positions? This is where human nature comes in to play.
Right or wrong, officials know who and, more importantly, who does not come to help officiate at their club’s meets. Would you expect others to step up and help you out when you’ve never done anything in the past to help them? Could you really blame them if they said, “no, I have other plans?” My point here is that fostering a mutually cooperative environment is much more beneficial than being an island unto oneself. Sugar, as is said, works better than vinegar.
There are other ways that living on an “officiating island” can negatively affect both the athlete and the official. Living on an island, as it implies, means isolation. Officials who only work for their own club’s meets run the risk of falling into the “we’ve always done it this way” trap where, because there is little to no interaction with the wider officiating world, non-standard officiating processes and procedures can foster and develop. The athlete suffers because she or he is suddenly confronted with something they’re not used to, causing them to lose focus on their race or be overly officiated in some aspect of their stroke, and the official suffers because they are missing the opportunity to improve and become better officials.
Further, those not working meets hosted by other clubs are missing out on what I think to be one of the joys of officiating, and that is meeting and working with all sorts of different people. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working and socializing with some of USA Swimming’s most experienced and knowledgeable officials and, believe me, you just can’t get that experience, knowledge, wisdom and seriously funny stories by only officiating your own team’s meets.
If you’re one of those officials who only works your own club’s meets, I hope this article has given you some things to consider going forward and that you decide to expand your officiating world. Remember, it’s all for one (all officials for the athlete) and one for all (each official for all athletes)!