Dear Moms and Dads,
When I work at a swim meet as a deck official, I’m always happy to see parents there who are happy and excited to see their children compete. It’s almost as cool to see parents taking an interest in their children as it is to watch kids working hard and trying their best. Your children deserve your support, and it’s wonderful that you’re there to give it to them.
That said, there can sometimes be too much of a good thing.
I know I’ve only been working as a stroke and turn judge for a year or so, but I think I’ve seen enough meets to be able to offer a little constructive criticism. I’m not doing this to be unpleasant, I’m doing it because I think it will help make meets more enjoyable for all of us.
A personal best is always a major victory:
It doesn’t matter if they finish first, third, ninth, thirty-eigth, or dead last. If they swam the event faster than they’ve ever swum the event before, it’s a victory. This is still true if they’ve never swum it before.
Cheer for your children:
Do not yell at them. Do not tell them that they’re swimming poorly. Never, ever, ever ask them what the hell they thought they were doing, particularly in the first ten seconds after they get out of the water. You’re paying good money to put them on a swim team that has actual coaches who can handle all of the criticism (and who know more about how to swim and how to coach than you do). You’re there to encourage them, not discourage them.
Cheer for other people’s children:
If you’ve got a pair of lungs that can rupture eardrums at fifty feet, why is it that I only hear you during a few heats? Your kid is on a team. Support the team. If you don’t know anyone who is swimming in a heat, cheer for everyone. It’s a hard sport, and a little support makes everyone feel better.
Be a role-model for sportsmanship:
And when I say that, I’m talking about the good kind of role-model. Most swim meets are like most cereal box contests: many will enter, few will win. Your kids are going to get a lot of practice at not winning events. Teach them to show as much grace and class when they don’t win that they do when they win.
Not winning is not the same as losing:
Swimming isn’t like baseball or football. The day doesn’t end with one team that wins and one that loses. There are only two ways to lose in swimming. You can fail to show up, or you can give up in the middle. Nobody – nobody – who tries hard and makes it through the event is a loser. This is particularly true when we’re talking about the little kids who take 3 minutes to finish a 25-yard freestyle.
Good sportsmanship means being fair to everyone:
That’s why the rules are there. Most of the time, failing to follow the rules gives a swimmer an unfair advantage. An official who sees a violation of the rules but does not report it is being fair to absolutely nobody. It’s not fair to the swimmers who didn’t break the rules, and it’s not fair to the swimmer who did. Every swimmer should know that they earned their results, whatever they are.
Respect the officials:
This area is rapidly becoming a particular area of expertise for me, so forgive me if I go into more detail here than I did on the others. Try to remember that the officials are there to make the meet as fair as it can be for everyone involved. They’re certainly not there to get rich. Or, for that matter, paid. The majority of officials are parents of swimmers, just like you are.
You can complain about the quality of the officiating, and we will certainly do our best to treat you with courtesy, respect, and professionalism. But we will be thinking “if you think you can do it better, why the hell aren’t you sweating your tail off on this deck” really, really loudly. This is particularly true if you’re complaining about why your kid got dinged for something while swimmer X did not at a meet where there’s only one stroke and turn judge for each end of the pool.
You can try to play on our sympathy, or go for feelings of guilt, but if you want to do that, try to keep in mind that you’re really asking us to be nice to your kid at the expense of someone else’s.
Do not bring your crying child with you to complain about a disqualification. Ever.
Swimming is a sport. It’s recreation. It’s not a matter of life and death, and it’s not a religion. At the end of the day, a swim meet is about kids who are trying their best in a sport that’s nowhere near as easy as it looks. Nothing more, nothing less. Try to keep that in mind.
And don’t forget to be proud of your swimmers. They’ve earned it.