The SMNE Area is responsible for the sport of swimming in NE Sydney (Australia). It has about 16 clubs affiliated with it who have 1,280 swimmers as members. SMNE is one of the smallest Areas in NSW by swimmer numbers, but is one of the strongest by results. It requires Technical Officials to run around 5 swim meets each year. All of our meets are run at pools with AOE/SAT and automated systems.
For timekeeping, traditionally swim clubs have been rostered lanes at swim meets, and organisers within each club have allocated parents for this duty. Very few timekeepers were accredited. Timekeeping has been of varying quality, as it most probably is elsewhere.
All other officials have been rostered by the Area. It has usually been possible to roster the more senior officials (Referee, Judge of Stroke, etc.), albeit in low numbers (1 Referee + 2 JOS). The more challenging roles have been Marshal (Clerk of Course), Check Starter and Chief Timekeeper. AOE/SAT, Meet Manager and Recorder usually get filled, sometimes by calling in favours.
Technical official training has traditionally been organised via the clubs with strong Area support. Typically a club would book a venue and a presenter, and encourage their parents to attend. A course would typically last 60-90 minutes and cover Marshal, Check Starter and a few Timekeeping basics. Accurate records are not held, and it is estimated that in a good year 50-75 people would be trained in this way.
A disproportionate number of officials came from one club, Carlile, due to their policy of requiring active participation from parents. Hence a typical training course was in their pool lobby area, on Saturdays 06:00-07:30am during swim training.
This regime suffered from a number of shortcomings, including:
- Organising training was a major problem (presenter, venue, willing parents)
- Documentation was burdensome (Marshal, Check Starter and Timekeeper required 9 documents for each candidate, most with multiple pages; Office Works refused to print because they are SNSW copyright; multiple versions in circulation because no easily accessible single source)
- Presenters and Assessors very stretched having to do both teaching and assessing, especially in the run up to meets when they are busy anyway.
- Variable standards depending on who ran the course
- Record keeping poor (everything paper based, forms missing everywhere, few people had details like membership number available when required resulting in many parked forms)
- Frustration from parents who are willing to help but with misaligned expectations
SNSW introduce online training
Timekeeper and Chief Timekeeper online training was introduced by SNSW in February 2016. It is the Chief Timekeeper element of this that has been the most useful. We now have somewhere we can send parents who are prepared to help for pre-briefing. Ideally they are accredited, but if not, at least they know what to do. Since then it has become noticeably easier to roster Chief Timekeepers.
After delays in the delivery of the SAL version, SMNE launched its own online training for Marshall (Clerk of Course) and Check Starter in late September 2016, a few weeks before the start of the Long Course season. Since then far fewer people have taken the course than we usually train (21 vs 50-75) but the results have been much better. It has been noticeably easier to roster these roles at meets, those doing it are preforming at a higher standard, and mostly really seem to enjoy their work.
Inspector of Turns and Judge of Stroke training has had limited impact on us. It has undoubtedly made training for those roles easier, but due to the much lower volume of people, it hasn’t dramatically reduced the workload. I’d like to think that some people have chosen to progress to these qualifications because the training was easily available, but I have no proof of that.
What else have we been doing?
1. Promoting a culture that values enablement, inclusion and transparency over compliance and cliques.
2. Freeing up our best people to mentor, support and encourage others; and pursue their own personal development. e.g. use online training to teach the basics.
3. Being prepared to have difficult conversations, shun negative attitudes and set ourselves up for future success e.g. create a talent pipeline, accept that innovation can lead to failure as well as success.
4. Fantastic support from State TSC (development, buddy, informal network, advice, administration)
5. Online training for ‘entry level’ positions such as Chief Timekeeper, Clerk of Course and Check Starter.
6. Online rostering of all duties (officials, catering, car park, etc) together in one place.
7. Assessments – not enough assessors, some candidates react very badly to their assessment experience and we never see them again (seems to be a systematic not personality issue).
8. Practical training and mentoring opportunities – we currently have more people training than we can handle in some roles (e.g. starter). We need to find a way to scale this.
9. Slash routine administration by deploying fit for purpose systems. e.g. eliminate the endless enquiries about database errors, give easy access to basic contact details, stop losing people, etc. Basically provide basic workforce management and communication tools (30-60% of my time goes into this).
10. Accelerate recruitment of parents by unleashing ambassadors off the pool deck and into the stands, webinars, etc.
11. Accelerate recruitment and retention of senior / ex / siblings of swimmers by giving them a less ‘middle aged’ experience(!) and possibly experimenting with payments.
12. More online training and mentoring so that people can more integrate it into their lives.
13. Strengthen the local TO body as a community rather than group of skilled individuals.
14. Enhance the officials’ experience to make them feel more valued and appreciated. Small thing that would make a big difference: welcome pack and badge sent to them.
Course passes from students at SMNE Clubs 01-Feb-16 to 21-May-17
Timekeeper / Chief Timekeeper: 42 people from 12 clubs
Inspector of Turns: 6 people from 5 clubs
Marshal and Check Starter: 21 people from 6 clubs
Judge of Stroke: 1 person from 1 club
(excluding me and another local administrator)
The author of this report is both the Area Technical Swimming Committee Convenor for SMNE and prime mover in the development of the online training system for Swimming NSW. He has a small financial and large emotional interest in its success.