8 & Under swimmers swarm around the pool deck like ants on a sidewalk. Some are aimless, while others seem to know where they are going.
Clueless. That’s often the word I use to describe 8-and-unders.
Mama can’t hover on the deck. Only those who are supposed to be there can.
Guards — aka Meet Marshalls — protect the entrances. Most coaches and officials wear their credentials on a lanyard. Swimmers enter through the locker-rooms; their suits and goggles are their credentials. The other support staff — the timers, the timing table, the meet marshals themselves, the ribbon writers and heat winner awarders — are either known to the people running the meet or wear a lanyard identifying their role.
Of these, my heart always goes out to the timers.
Timing is the first role most parents get to play to help at a meet.
“What if I do it wrong?” new parents ask.
“We’ll train you,” is the usual response.
Start – Stop – Reset. Those are the only three buttons that really matter on the stopwatch for the timers.
Start the watch — not at the sound of horn but when you see the strobe. It’s important for parent/timers to understand this for two reasons — 1) since light travels faster than sound, it may be slightly more accurate, and 2) the strobe is why no flash photography is allowed at the start of a race. Swimmers who learn to watch for the strobe may react to a flash from a camera and be charged with a false start.
Stop when you see the hand touch the pad. That means you have to stand where you can see that happen which isn’t behind the blocks.
Reset. Write the times on the clipboard as fast as you can and reset; the next race starts almost immediately.
One of the officials I work with loves to tell the story of how he decided to become an official. “I couldn’t write fast enough,” he says, laughing. “After I got yelled at one too many times, I said, ‘Hang this — I’m going to become an official!'”
Timers are the unsung heroes of swim meets. They are moms and dads who come out of the stands and work the deck. Their feet get wet. They miss their own child’s finish because they have to watch the lane assigned to them. They get yelled at and blamed for all sorts of stuff. They are expected to make sure swimmers are in the right heat and the right lane, get up on the blocks, and have their goggles on. And all of that is mostly the swimmer’s responsibility.
Which brings me to yesterday.
I was standing on the side of the pool as a stroke official. That means I walked along the side watching the strokes to make sure everything was in accordance with the rules of that stroke. No flutter kick during butterfly, stay on the back for backstroke, toes pointed out for breaststroke kick, and so on.
The referee blew the whistle for 8 & Under girls 50 backstroke. Seven girls hopped in the water and grabbed hold of the wall. One lane was empty.
I looked at my program to see who was missing. It was a little girl from a team in our league. I could see her standing behind the timers, wrapped in her towel, shivering, looking clueless. I wished with all my heart that the timers would turn around and see her, but they were talking.
The starter said, “Take your mark.”
After the horn, the timers parted and saw the little girl. I watched them look at the clipboard and start talking. I shifted my attention to the swimmers in the water.
“What just happened?” her coach asked.
“She was right there behind the blocks,” I told her. The coach bustled over to the meet referee to see if they could get her in another heat, but no dice.
The ruling was that it was the swimmer’s responsibility to get in the water. The timers didn’t prevent that. The swimmer didn’t try to get through.
She was clueless as to what was going on probably because other people are always looking out for her.
Which is part of why I love the sport of swimming.
From an early age, swimmers learn to take responsibility for themselves. They have to pay attention.
It’s small stakes when they don’t. A missed race. A possible missed ribbon.
But the world keeps spinning and another race will come.
Or you can blame the timer and teach kids that they are never responsible for the things that happen.
It’s those blasted volunteers with wet feet who sacrificed something who are at fault.