Your Rule Book - It Tells a Story

By Jay Thomas // Chair, USA Swimming Rules and Regulations Committee


I truly enjoy working with officials from all around the country. As the Rules Committee Chairman, I receive questions via email, phone and sometimes in person. Almost without exception, when I am answering a rules question, I get out my rulebook. I read the applicable rule carefully, I search the rule book for other rules that may be related and might affect the answer to the inquiry. Sometimes I have the pleasure of answering questions in person. When we delve into the question at hand, I almost always ask the official to get out their rule book so we can discuss the issue together.


Our rule book is published and distributed each January. Most of the rules are effective May 1 of that year. In many years, there are rules published that are effective either immediately after the House of Delegates meeting or on some date prior to the normal May 1, effective date (look inside the front cover for the section “Major Legislation and Rule Changes”.) When that rule book comes out of the official’s bag, what it looks like and how the official handles it tells a story. So here is the story our exchange might tell;

1. If it is January - April and the official pulls out the next years rule book and they don’t have the current years book, chances are they were never told how our rules process works.

2. If it is January – April and they pull out the current years book, I sometimes ask of they have next year’s book to see if they are aware that there may be some rules changes that are effective earlier than the May 1 normal effective date.

3. Throughout the year, the rule book tells a story. What is the condition of this official’s book? Later in the year - Is the book worn and tattered, perhaps being held together by a couple of rubber bands or duct tape? Is it filled with notes and highlights (good signs!) Or, does it look like the day it came in the mail.

4. When we begin the discussion, does the official turn promptly to the appropriate section of the rules? Or do they fumble and stumble demonstrating a lack of familiarity with the layout of the book.

When I am working a meet of any level, I spend some time just prior ensuring I am refreshed on the rules that apply to my role in the meet and the type of meet that I am officiating at. Many of us work meets from other organizations (NCAA, NFHS, summer recreation leagues, etc.). There are numerous variations in the rules and application of those rules and we need to carefully review and refresh our understanding of the rules for the meet at hand. Get out the book and read. Make sure you understand the rule. Periodically go to the USA Swimming website and read through the Situations and Resolutions so that you have a more complete understanding of how to apply those rules. Use the Rules and Regulations section of the website. Look at the top navigation bar – ABOUT/RULES AND REGULATIONS.


When at a meet, use the rule book. Even at the highest level meets, I almost always get out my rule book and review the text prior to ruling on complex issues. Never once have I ever been criticized by a coach or other official for getting out the book. You are not likely to get the look of “doesn’t he know the rule?” rather, you will probably get the look – “that official cares enough to want to make sure he/she gets it right.”


The worse thing we can do as officials is to make a bad call or misapply a rule. Our rule book is an important document. Read it, get to know it, use it. Thanks again for everything you do for our sport.


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