Chief Judges Need To Have “FIN”:

How to Survive the Officials’ Briefing and Other Maladies


By John C. Gagliardo//Pacific Northwest Swimming LSC


You’re contemplating being a Chief Judge for the first time or maybe you have just been selected to be a Chief Judge at a big meet. What to do? Here is a short pop quiz that might help you.


1. Why did you become (or why are you still) an official?

    a. You have a son or daughter in the sport

    b. You hate having to sit in those uncomfortable bleachers for LONG hours

    c. The "free" food and meet shirts

    d. Fun and camaraderie of your fellow ‘blue & whites’

    e. All of the above


2. What is a primary reason we hold officials’ briefings prior to a meet/session?

    a. To see who has the whitest shoes in the room

    b. It’s really only for the benefit of the CJs so they can create the deck-staffing plan

    c. To give everyone a chance to sit down before those long shifts standing on deck

    d. Provide vital, meet-specific information regarding protocols, jurisdiction, etc.

    e. All of the above


3. What is the one item that most meets have that is so often dreaded by the officials?

    a. All distance events over 400 meters/500 yards

    b. 8 & under butterfly in a Challenge meet

    c. Taking Order of Finish for 50 free at a Sectional, Zones, or higher meet

    d. The same old tried and true Stroke Briefing

    e. All of the above


Well, "E. All of the above" might sound like the best answer (admittedly, in many cases, it is). However, as our focus is on being a Chief Judge, the answer we are looking for is "D".


One of the many things that a good Chief Judge does (and I’ve had the good fortune to study and observe from many of you out there) is to keep things interesting from the moment we walk in the door. Keeping this in mind, I try to do something special for every meet in which I participate, whether big or small. I like to call this the "FIN" approach. Corny? Perhaps. But what exactly is FIN? I hear you cry. Simply put, at all times – whether it be in the officials' briefings or on deck, with the appropriate eye on professionalism of course – try to keep things Fun, Informative, and New.


Nothing can make a meet seem longer than it needs to be (never mind those distance races) than when an officiating team is not having any fun. When officiating becomes work we tend to lose focus on why we’re really out there (for the athletes of course). A great place to start this Fun is in the briefings. Of course, you must be careful with how much you push this as not everyone has the same sense of humor. Also, it is important to maintain a certain level of professionalism. If you try to keep things light while conducting your meetings though, it’s a great place to start building your team of smiling officials.


Next, make sure that you share the Information in your briefings before you send everyone out on deck. Resolve with your meet referee and fellow CJs what protocols you wish to follow. For example, do we judge freestyle from the corners for all or merely for the longer events when officials are to stand (short or long whistles)? Also, what jurisdictions are in play for stroke judges versus turn judges and the like? Nothing hurts your team’s effectiveness more than trying to manage things too much on the fly after the officials' briefing has ended. Remember those meets where you’re told something for the first time on where or how to stand when a swimmer is already in the water coming at you? Covering this information in the briefing rather than on deck is vital.


And finally, at your next briefing, try something New. Ask a seasoned official to give the stroke briefing. Or, hey, ask a newly certified person. Don’t put them on the spot without help, but sometimes hearing the stroke briefings in a new light can keep everyone engaged. Try to approach the entire officials' briefing with an eye on keeping things light and fresh. Your audience–the officials–will appreciate it. Remember, too, that every meet has something different to offer each one of us. Whether it’s a record set, an equipment malfunction, or something in between, no two meets are exactly the same and therefore, each one offers us all a new experience to enjoy.


I urge all of you to try to utilize the "FIN" approach as you face each meet. If you can do this, each and every meet will be a kick (you really didn’t expect me to pass that pun up, now did you?)!


In closing, I would like to offer up a little something that might help liven up your next officials' briefing; see below for "A Stroke Briefing in Rhyme." At your next meet, remember our pop quiz fundamentals: share information, encourage everyone to enjoy new things that come their way and have fun out there!


"A Stroke Briefing in Rhyme" by John C. Gagliardo

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