3 Swim Meet Volunteers We Need to Thank

timers cerave invitational
Photo Courtesy: Heidi Torregroza

By Cathleen Pruden, Swimming World College Intern

We’ve all been at a swim meet where the first heat is already behind the blocks when we hear over the loudspeaker, “Attention parents! We still need four more timers before this session can begin.” Eventually, enough parents leave their perch on the bleachers, grab a stopwatch, and take up their spots in the splash zone on deck, allowing the meet to begin.

In the past several years I’ve noticed more and more swimmers who thank their timers for volunteering. Maybe it’s because as I’ve gotten older an increasing number of my peers have also served as timers. We now better empathize with these volunteers and give thanks where thanks are due.

However, timers are not the only ones to whom swimmers (and even coaches and parents lounging in the stands) owe a thank you. Here are three more volunteer groups who, although they may be less visible, deserve even greater appreciation.

1. Officials and Referees


Photo Courtesy: Bob Davis

You’ll never hear, “Attention parents, we still need three officials and a meet ref before this meet can begin,” because these folks are no ordinary volunteers. They have answered the call to duty days or weeks before the first whistle blows. Officials arrive on deck, typically in their blue and white, and bearing their earned credentials well before the desperate plea for timers is made by meet management.

While officials are paid in many sports, at most swim meets the officials are genuine volunteers, and essential ones. USA Swimming has established rules governing how many officials must be on deck in order for the meet results to be submitted to the SWIMS database. The officials’ commitment thus allows their children and all other swimmers an opportunity to compete and have those hard earned times count.

Bob Davis, an official and referee for YMCA of the Triangle Area explained, “Officials aren’t observing swims to find a DQ. We observe the swims from the start to the finish to make sure that each swimmer has a fair opportunity to swim his or her best.”

In order to do their job, officials pay annual registration fees, take certification exams, and undergo the same background checks and athlete protection training as the coaches. In exchange, they spend long hours on their feet, paying close attention to every single heat.

If the timers have splash zone seating, then there must be times that officials feel like they’re actually in the pool. These volunteers literally lean over the edge of the pool to observe your touch, absorbing the wave of water you send cascading over the gutter on your flip turns, and leaving the session with the soggy white sneakers that attest to their dedication.

Although usually physically removed from the pool edge, the meet referee is deeply involved in every aspect of the meet. As Davis notes, the meet referee “puts a lot of logistic preparation into making sure that all the parts necessary to run an efficient meet are present.” This effort starts years before the meet, as referees must first “recruit and train a full contingent of officials” for their team, and continues until the final heat touches the wall.

The meet referee and his crew make it possible for you to “officially” swim your events. Give them a “thank you,” even if they give you a DQ.

2. Meet Management


Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

The psych sheet you eagerly await? The sanction your coach reads to figure out all the details of the meet? The results your parents clamor for? None of those things materialize on their own. They are produced by the hard working, behind the scenes volunteers known collectively as “Meet Management.”

Heading this group of meet volunteers is the Administrative Official, formerly called the Meet Director. Given the sheer volume and importance of the work involved in organizing and running a meet, many teams rely on a committee of volunteers to organize a meet. On other teams, most of the responsibility falls on a single individual. In either case, you owe these folks some major thanks.

When you think you’ve had a long day, you can be guaranteed that the individuals involved in Meet Management have had an even longer one. Pam Rocque, the Administrative Official for the Marlins of Raleigh, explained that on meet days she is first to arrive and last to leave. And her duties begin far in advance of the actual meet weekend. Months ahead of time, somebody must generate a sanction. Once the entries are submitted Meet Management is busy creating a psych sheet and later a heat sheet.

Rocque does much more than “just sit at the computer” as some parents have commented. The Meet Management must resolve every timing system issue and enter every disqualification into the computer. At the end of the meet, results must be submitted to the SWIMS database. When swimmers and coaches are home and back to training, the meet management is still tying up loose ends, such as completing the required financial forms, while they begin the cycle of preparation for the next hosted meet.

From the moment your time pops up on the board, to the results printout, to USA Swimming’s recognition of your time, you have the Meet Management to thank. Take an opportunity to do so the next time you pass by the computer table.

3. Hospitality


Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

How many times have you or a teammate said, “Where did coach go?” only to have somebody answer “Hospitality.” No swimmer wants a hangry (yes, angry due to hunger) coach watching them struggle through an in season 200 butterfly. This is where hospitality comes in to save the day. Seen most often circling the deck with water and little treats for timers, officials and coaches, the folks in hospitality are doing even more off deck.

John and Nancy Potok spent many years as the hospitality co-coordinators for New Wave Swim Team. The Potoks were “responsible for determining the menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” and “purchasing the required items for each meet while working within a budget.” Those responsibilities, in addition to asking local businesses for donations, all take place outside of the actual event.

During the swim meet, often beginning even before warm-ups, hospitality volunteers are handling set-up and meal preparation, and are cleaning up after the last session finishes. Coaches and officials rarely have time to leave the venue between sessions. Fortunately, hospitality has been working hard so that your coaches can have a meal while they browse their heat sheets in preparation for the next session.

According to the Potoks, the hardest part of the hospitality coordinator position is “attempting to create new menus with fresh ideas for the numerous meets that occur throughout the year.” While they “often joke that the coaches and officials can be extremely ‘picky’ eaters,” volunteers like the Potoks succeed not only in keeping even the picky eaters well fed, but also in creating the welcoming environment that helps make swimming “the funnest sport” for coaches, timers and volunteers as well as swimmers.

The next time your coach or timer is happily snacking, give the volunteers from hospitality a “thank you.”

At a swim meet it is not surprising that we are so focused on hitting our goals in the pool that we fail to recognize the equally hard work of the meet volunteers. So, as the long course season approaches its championship conclusion, let’s take advantage of the opportunity to take perhaps the most important lap of the season—the one around the pool deck to say “thank you” to the dedicated volunteers who made our season possible.


  1. Melodie Polidori Harris

    FST is better because of Barb Stevens and Thais Shoemaker Wayment. And of course every official and other volunteers!!! Thank you for art you do!!!

  2. Lynda Balfour

    Rick Balfour! Thank you for volunteering.

  3. Mary Fricke

    thank you to all the volunteers at CAC, Marlins, and HP meets while Sara and Katie were swimming.