Officials Resource Page

(Contact: [email protected])

New!Check out approved rule changes for 2011-2012 from USA Swimming.

SWIMMERS, PARENTS, COACHES, & OFFICIALS: the resources maintained on this page will help you learn more about the rules of competitive swimming (see training resources), and about the role of officials in the sport, which is ultimately to help every athlete improve and excel. Questions are always welcome, and will often be answered in the Officials Corner column of the Dolfins' Monthly newsletter, and/or on this web page. Direct any questions to the officials contact shown above.

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|rules Q&A for swimmers, parents, coaches, officials |



Fairness to all competitors, giving the benefit of the doubt, in every instance, to the swimmer.
(from the Stroke & Turn Judges Manual at USA Swimming)

"benefit of doubt to the swimmer": only call what you see
"fairness to all competitors":      always call what you see
both are equally important - be attentive


[JUMP TO: | the essentials | protocol & philosophy | evaluation & advancment | more training | forms & tools ]








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WHO? USA Swimming Officials are almost always parents of swimmers. Parents who want to become more involved in the competitions their athletes attend volunteer their time to become trained as professional swimming officials, and to work on deck at swim meets. No previous experience is required! As volunteers, of course, our pay doubles each year.

WHAT? Swimming officials are the people - in our area generally dressed in white tops, navy bottoms, and white shoes - seen on the ends and sides of the pool during competition. They function mainly as Stroke & Turn Judges, Starters, or Referees, and sometimes in additional administrative roles at larger meets.

WHY? Swimming officials contribute to the sport by implementing the rules of USA Swimming, and thereby maintaining fair and equitable conditions of competition for all athletes. By disqualifying athletes who violate the rules, officials protect the other athletes (maintaining fairness) while educating the disqualified athlete and their coach. Disqualifications are protective and educational, not punitive. USA Swimming rules allow swim meets to be run only with an adequate number of trained officials. Officials find satisfaction in helping all athletes achieve their highest potential, in spending time with other like-minded professionals in the sport, and in belonging to one of the finest professional officials' organizations in the World (paid or otherwise!).  Hype, says you? Try it first, says I.

WHERE? Swim meets are always occurring in our area and throughout the Nation. USA Swimming continually promotes consistency in the training of officials, such that a certified official should have no problem working anywhere in the Country. Standards of attire may vary by region, and officials for National-level competition undergo an additional National Certification Program after becoming experienced at the local (LSC) level. At any meet, most officials have a "front-row seat" for the competition. At larger meets, some highly experienced officials also work behind the scenes in administrative roles.

WHEN? Swim meets happen at all times of year, usually over weekends. On average, DDST hosts or attends about one meet per month. Officials and trainees who wish to work at a meet must generally report to the Referee at least 30 minutes before the first race for local meets, or 60 minutes prior for larger championship meets such as Junior Olympics. National meets sometimes require separate meetings and/or clinics.

(READ MORE: parents' guide to officiating from Pacific Swimming; swimming 101 and a rules primer from USA Swimming)


HOW? If you have read this far, you might be wondering how to get started as a USA Swimming official. If so, keep reading!

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GETTING STARTED - becoming an official:

At our local meets, in Zone 4 of Pacific Swimming, interested parents are encouraged to "walk on" and join a working official on-deck, to begin training or just to check it out. All deck officials start out as Marshals and Stroke & Turn Judges, to which most of the training information on this page refers. (Stroke & Turn Judges must also be proficient as Timers.) In Pacific Swimming there are 5 numbered levels in any position. Level 1 is what you are now – a trainee – and you will be level 2 upon initial certification. After a year of experience at level 2, you become eligible for level 3, at which point you could also start training for starter, deck referee, and other positions if interested – it’s all up to you. You will find more information about officials levels and requirements under advancing.

The steps for becoming certified as a deck official include (1) on-deck training during meets, (2) study of training materials, (3) registration and background check with USA Swimming, (4) an on-line test (open-book), and (5) a training clinic, not necessarily in that order. Read more about each of these steps below.

1. Join working officials on-deck any time! At future meets, try to wear white top, navy blue bottoms (no jeans), and white deck shoes, or something reasonably close if available; otherwise any attire is OK during training. (Once certified, you will be expected to wear the standard attire at every meet you work.) If you are already a current non-athlete member of USA Swimming, bring/wear your registration card. (See below for new registration.) Arrive at least 45 minutes prior to the start of your first training meet and check in with the Meet Referee or another official.

2. Begin reviewing the essential training resources linked to this web page. A loaner copy of the 45-minute training video can be obtained from the officials contact above. Start slowly and take it at your own pace. Try to review at least the stroke rules, rules interpretations, rules FAQ, DQ slip, and training video prior to your next training meet. The other training materials will become more helpful as training progresses.

3. Register as a non-athlete member official of USA Swimming/Pacific Swimming as soon as you decide to become certified (if you are not already registered). You will receive a registration card and a rule book, often separately. You are required to wear your registration card to all meets at which you work or train (see the officials contact for a handy clip-on card holder).
IMPORTANT NOTE: beginning January 2011, all USA Swimming non-athlete members, including officlas, are required to pass the USA Swimming criminal background check as a condition of membership. Officials must take the Level-2 check ($39). When you receive your membership card, make a copy of the ENTIRE document (before detaching the card).  When you become a certified (Level-2) working official, you may submit this copy to the Zone-4 treasurer for reimbursement of the background check cost.

TIP: After working your first meet as a certified (level 2) official, DDST members are welcome to submit a photocopy of your registration card to the DDST Billing Coordinator to have your registration fee reimbursed.

TIP: registrations are effective from September 1st of one year through December 31st of the following year. If it is just before September 1st, then you should wait until the end of August and register with next year’s form.

TIP: if a spouse also expects to work in a position requiring USA Swimming non-athlete registration (Stroke & Turn Judge, Starter, Referee, or Meet Director), be sure to take advantage of the Family registration discount on the form!

1. (continued) Continue to train (“shadow”) on deck and review the training materials. Pacific Swimming requires a minimum of 4 training sessions before an official will be certified to work independently, and you should continue to shadow as long as it takes to be comfortable working on your own. Most of your training and learning will be "on-the-job!" If you are feeling confident, you might be allowed by a Meet Referee to work by yourself during certain events, before all training requirements are met, but it will still be under direct supervision of the Referee. Even after you are certified, you should still review the training materials frequently! In fairness to the athletes, even highly experienced officials need periodic review to maintain knowledge and consistency.
You should bring the following to each meet you work:

USA Swimming Registration Card in appropriate clip-on or lanyard badge holder

Officials Certification Card when available to print from the Officials Tracking System

Rule book, once you have received one (review before each meet!)

Small clipboard, restaurant payment folder, or other convenient writing surface

Appropriate attire: white polo shirt or other top, navy blue slacks, skirt, or shorts (no jeans), white deck shoes. (NOTE: in many other areas of the country, khaki bottoms are used instead of navy blue.)

For outdoor meets, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, additional layers of appropriate color (if possible) for colder weather

Change of shoes and socks is recommended (they get wet!)

4. Take the on-line test at This may be taken any time during your training, after you are registered as a non-athlete member, and once you are reasonably comfortable with the Rules. It is an open-book test, to add to its educational value, and may be stopped and started again at any time. Take both the Stroke & Turn test and the Timer test (do not take the recertification version if you are taking a test for the first time). Follow all online instructions carefully!

TIP: If you register properly on the USA Swimming web site, your test results should be sent automatically to all the appropriate officials chairs, but still print a copy for your own records when you are done.

TIP: USA Swimming provides an on-line tool with which you can track and add to your service history. This is accessible through the same account used to take tests and track your testing history. The Officials Tracking System (OTS) is also used to apply for and track National Certifications should you choose to continue to the National level.

5. Attend the next available training clinic near you. Keep in touch for advance notice and details. Sometimes it will be several months before the next clinic is offered, and competent “all-but-the-clinic” trainees will often be allowed to work independently, under supervision, at local meets. Clinics are usually offered in conjunction with swim meets, and generally last 2-3 hours spread over 1 or 2 days. In addition to technical rules, they also cover matters of officiating philosophy, attitude, and protocol. Clinics outside our area are often announced on the Pacific Swimming Officials page if you are interested in traveling.

(READ MORE: training essentials)

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It's hard to keep your hand from shaking as you write your very first DQ slip. You're sure you saw the swimmer violate a rule, and you know which rule, but you're not looking forward to breaking the news to the swimmer, and you're struggling to get the slip filled out correctly and signed while continuing to watch your swimmers fairly. You're wondering, how will I ever get better at this? One word: EXPERIENCE.

The more meet sessions you work - coupled with repeated review of training materials - the more competent and confident you will become, and the fairer you will be to the swimmers as a result.  There is no substitute for experience!  Team parents are often needed to work in other positions at our home meets, so the most reliable way to gain experience is to work at the away meets your swimmer attends.

For your first few meets, and periodically thereafter, it is important to sit down in a quiet place before the session starts, and re-read (1) the technical stroke rules, (2) the rules interpretations, (3) the rules FAQ, and (4) the DQ slip. (What, the DQ slip? Absolutely! If you have to fill one out later, you will be more familiar with where things are, and it serves as yet another briefing on the major rules of competition.) Jerry Rudd's Colorized Rules Mapped to DQ Slip is a great way to review both at once. It is also helpful the day before to review the training video and situation resolutions. New and experienced officials alike benefit from reviewing all of these materials periodically.

Each official is evaluated at every meet worked, usually by the Chief Judge or Meet Referee. These evaluations are compiled by your Officials Chair (for Zone 4 of Pacific Swimming, in our case) and considered when deciding whether to advance an official to the next level. An official may also submit a request for feedback at any time, and may submit a request for certification / advancement when s/he believes all requirements have been met; these requests should be submitted to the Meet Referee prior to the start of the meet at which you wish to be evaluated. For more information on the criteria and guidelines used when evaluating officials, see the evaluation & advancement resources above.

After at least 1 year of regular work as a Level-2 Stroke & Turn Judge, competent and experienced officials will generally be advanced to Level 3, at which point further opportunities for training and advancement become available, if desired.  Training as a Chief Judge, Starter, and/or Deck Referee is often next (see further training resources above). If you participate in Pacific Swimming championship meets such as Junior Olympics or Far Westerns, there are also opportunities to pursue National Certification.  After a year of work as a Level 3 Stroke & Turn Judge, you are eligible to become certified as a Chief Judge, Starter, Deck Referee, and/or National (N2) Stroke & Turn Judge after all requirements and evaluations are complete.

All officials, regardless of position or level, are expected to maintain their knowledge and skills through continuing education, and by regular work at meets. A recertification clinic and test every 1-2 years, and working at least 4-6 meet sessions per year with satisfactory evaluations, are required to maintain certification in a position. The clinics and tests keep you current with the rules, interpretations, and any recent changes, as well as with best practices in officiating. And again, the more meet sessions you work, the more your skills, confidence, and competence will improve.

(READ MORE: Pacific Swimming requirements for certification/advancement; National Certification Program)

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Under constructionPlease pardon our dust! .... while we reconstruct this section.Under construction

RULES Q&A ARTICLES (from Officials Corner columns of the Dolfins' Monthly newsletter):

Swimmers, Parents, Coaches, and Officials: the following articles are based directly on questions and concerns from swimmers and parents, and are reprinted from the Dolfins' Monthly newsletter. See the sections above for the most current information on rules, officiating, and becoming an official.

  • Jul 2008 - A Rules Primer from the Parents section of the USA Swimming web site (read more....)

  • Mar 2008 - Q:  My swimmer was disqualified when he turned over and did a flip turn in a backstroke event.  Isn’t this kind of turn legal in backstroke? A: The forward flip is legal as a backstroke turn, but must meet certain requirements. (read more....)

  • Oct 2007 - Q: Why did some swimmers seem to “get away with” a false start at our last meet? A: There are several factors that determine whether a false start is charged. (read more....)

  • Sep 2007 - Decoding the USA Swimming organization: LSCs and Zones, oh my!  These terms can be confusing to newcomers to the sport.  Here is a brief summary of the organizational units to which DDST belongs: (read more....)

  • Aug 2007 - Q: At a swim meet, is it illegal to cross into another lane during a race? A: No, unless you also interfere with another swimmer.... (read more....)

  • July 2007 - Q: When you go from backstroke to breaststroke in an IM, is it okay to do a flip turn? A: Great question!  The answer is yes, sometimes. (read more....)

  • Aug 2006 - Q: What’s Up With Backstroke Turns? A (updated 2008): As a swimmer or a parent, you might have noticed that a common reason for disqualifications during backstroke races at meets involves execution of the “backstroke flip-turn.” (read more....)

  • July 2005 - Q: Why does it seem like the judges are “out to get” the swimmers? A: Exactly the opposite is usually true (and always should be). (read more....)

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