8 Confessions of a Parent Officiating Their Child’s Race

Photo Courtesy: Peter Bick

8 Confessions of a Parent Officiating Their Child’s Race

By Courtney Bartholomew

When I was little I remember my dad telling me he was going to become an official for USA Swimming. I was excited to have him on deck because he would be able to cheer for me and DQ other kids swimming in my races. However, after a good laugh, he explained to me that he was not there to personally cheer me on and it was against the rules to disqualify other children if they were swimming the strokes legally.

While at the time my 10-year-old mind could not comprehend why my dad was not on the pool deck to support me and only me, I can see now that what he was involved in a very important aspect of the sport. I am proud of how my dad sacrificed his time volunteering to make sure the sport was done correctly. Without officials in place to make sure races are swum legally, the sport would not be fair.

While officials are there to make sure the sport is done correctly and that the meet runs smoothly, there are moments when it can be difficult to be an official. One of those moments is when their child is swimming their race…

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Here are 8 confessions of a parent officiating their child’s race:

1. “I really hope I do not have to disqualify my child in this race. They might hate me forever.”

How can a parent officiating their child’s race not worry about this? Parents are supposed to be encouraging their children and supporting them when they fall short of goals. A disqualification in a race is rough, but it would be extremely difficult to be the parent who has to not only tell their child that they were disqualified, but also, that the parent had to do it.

2. “I get to watch my kid swim from the best seat in the house.”

Stands in natatoriums are warm. During a swim meet, spectators can sit for hours on end waiting to watch their child swim for a total of two minutes. By officiating races, parents can see their child up close and personal, while at the same time being able to stand up and move around.

3. “I don’t think I’m allowed to cheer for my kid while doing this job (silently cheering in head).”

Neither of my parents are big yellers at swim meets. They have little hand signals that they use to communicate good luck (yes, we still do this even though I am in college!). Over the course of my years swimming,  I have met quite a few parents who do yell loudly for their children. However, when officiating a race, objectivity is a requirement. Parents officiating their child’s race have to cheer silently.

4. “If I DQ another child during this race, will the other parents accuse me of playing favorites.”

Just as I thought my dad could DQ other kids to help me win my race, do other parents think that officials disqualify children to play favorites? I know my dad never enjoyed disqualifying other swimmers, but sometimes swim parents can get really heated about their child’s swim.

5. “I can never tell my child I actually do this for the free food and socialization.”

I vividly remember my dad walking out of the hospitality room carrying wonderful smelling food. Not only was he always really well-fed during meet weekends, but he made a lot of friends with other officials. Occasionally, he would be more excited to go to a meet to see his friends than I would be to swim my races!

6. “Do these kids really have to splash so much when they swim? My shoes are soaking wet.”

Officials are always in the splash zone. Standing at the end of lanes, they get splash from starts, turns, and finishes. Their always soggy shoes and pant legs are badges of their dedication to the sport.

7. “Thank goodness my child finished that race without a DQ. I did not want to have to be responsible for that.”

Relief. Parent’s officiating their child’s races feel relief to see their child climb out of the pool after a legal swim. This relief comes after having thought #1.

8. “I am so proud of my child for all the hard work and dedication they put into the sport. I am so happy they enjoy it.”

Not only do parents who officiate get to see first-hand the technical aspects that go into the sport, but they also get to see up close how happy their child is made by a good swim or just by hanging out with teammates and laughing in between races.

Photo Courtesy: Kristin Karkoska

Photo Courtesy: Kristin Karkoska

While being a parent who officiates might not always be the easiest job in the world, they provide a crucial service to the sport. So next time you swim a race and see an official on deck, say thank you! These individuals may be giving up the opportunity to cheer on their child and the time to enjoy the sport as a spectator.



  1. avatar

    I know an official who DQed one of her kids in the first race he swam.

  2. avatar

    Very pertinent article!
    Fully agree to it.

  3. Tanya Penrod

    Timer Penrod, bet you can relate! Although Chance knows darn well you’ll DQ him… and have!

  4. Karen Tejes-Selby

    My dad was a stroke judge. With 3 daughters on the swim team it only made sense for him to be involved at some level. My dad had to DQ me once. I was swimming the IM and my feet separated when I was swimming the Butterfly. My dad explained that it was the fair thing to do.

  5. Jessica Middleton Newman

    My husband has wanted to dq our daughter every meet he officiated… hasnt happened yet