Learn About Officials

Who are all those swimming officials and what are they doing?

Swimming, like every organized sport, is governed by rules to assure fair and equitable competition. Officials typically dress similarly, but the “uniform” depends on the governing body. In Iowa, USA officials typically wear a white shirt, navy blue pants, shorts, or skirt, and white shoes. If you have ever wondered why there are so many officials on deck and what they are doing, here is an overview of the positions and roles of swimming officials.

Stroke & Turn Official (ST)

As the name implies, the Stroke & Turn officials observe the swimmers in the water to certify their swim is conducted within the rules for their event. The fundamental rule for ST officials is to give the benefit of any doubt to the swimmer! The job of the ST official is to qualify the swims they observe. However, if they observe a potential infraction of the rules, they will raise their hand and the process of vetting their observation begins.

Chief Judge (CJ)

When there are enough officials available, one or more officials serve as Chief Judge. While the ST officials are observing the swimmers, the CJ observes the officials. When a ST official raises their hand, the CJ approaches the ST and asks them to explain what they observed. The CJ is typically an experienced ST official and can assist the ST official in determining if what they saw is or is not a violation of the rules. The CJ is responsible for communicating the potential infraction to the Deck Referee (usually via radio) and, if instructed by the Deck Referee, will record the disqualification (DQ) on a standardized form. The “DQ slip” is a two-part form. The white copy is kept with the meet documentation and the yellow copy is provided to the swimmer’s coach.

Deck Referee (DR)

The Deck Referee is responsible for all the officials and swimmers in their assigned races. The DR has a whistle which they use to signal the swimmers to get ready for a race (a series of short whistles), to step up on the blocks or enter the water for backstroke (one long whistle), and for backstroke to have the swimmers place their feet on the wall (a second long whistle). Once all the swimmers are properly in place, the DR extends an arm which signals the Starter that they are now in control of the heat. The DR is constantly scanning the deck and the pool to make sure that every official is in their proper place to fairly observe the race. When an official observes a potential infraction, the DR is responsible to make sure the official has properly applied the rules and has the authority to accept or to not accept the official’s observation for disqualification.

Starter (SR)

It may seem obvious but the Starter (SR) has one role; to make certain that the swimmers get a fair start to every race. Once the DR extends their arm, the SR prepares the swimmers by giving then a command to “Take Your Mark”. (Most timing systems have a loudspeaker or lane speakers to make sure every swimmer can hear the Starter). Once all swimmers are set, the SR hits a button which flashes a strobe light and sounds a horn which signals the swimmers to start. The same button automatically activates the timing system and starts the official clock for the race. Once the race has begun, the SR role generally includes recording the Order of Finish (OOF) for the Admin team in case of a timing system failure.

Administrative Official (AO) & Administrative Referee (AR)

All of the officials up to this point are “wet deck” officials; they perform their duties poolside and often have wet socks to prove it! The Admin Official (AO) is a “dry deck” official. They work with the computerized timing system and analyze the results from the touch pads, the timer’s “buttons”, as well as the timer’s stop watches to confirm the accuracy of the timing system and to determine the swimmer’s “official time”.

Meet Referee (MR)

Iowa Swimming policies and procedures require every meet to be conducted under the guidance of a Meet Referee (MR). The job of a MR begins during the planning stages of the meet and typically is involved in the creation of the Meet Invite. The MR makes sure there are sufficient officials available to conduct the meet and that every official is properly qualified and assigns their responsibilities according to their qualifications.


Learn more about the process to Become an Official