Page Topics

    The "Advantage vs. Disadvantage" Theory ("Unfair Advantage")
    The "I Must See It Twice" Theory
    The "I Don't Disqualify 6 & Unders [or 8 & Unders]" Theory
    The "Don't Ask Me to Judge My Child" Theory
    Don't Infer or Assume


Only a Stroke Judge and/or a Turn Judge can report swimmers for stroke, turn or finish infractions. Only a Relay Take-Off Judge can report swimmers for an infraction of the relay takeoff rule. The Referee must approve all disqualifications.

Upon observing an infraction in his or her jurisdiction, the Stroke or Turn Judge should immediately raise an arm overhead with an open palm. This requirement encourages officials to act decisively and to preclude consultation with other Meet Officials or reflection on the consequences of an infraction. Quickly note the swimmer's lane number and the specific infraction on the BSF's Disqualification Report form. You can always complete the remaining particulars after the race. Go back to observing the swimmer(s) in your jurisdiction until the race is finished.

DO NOT be obvious or say to the swimmer that an infraction has occurred until the race is finished.

Report infractions, in writing, to the Referee immediately after the race, detailing the event, heat and lane number and the violation. Turn Judges should report to the Chief Turn Judge, if available. Note all particulars about the specific infraction on the Disqualification Report form.

Be prepared to explain the three "W's" to the Referee, using the language of the Rules: (1) What did you see? (Nature of the infraction); (2) Where were you? (Where were you positioned and is it within your zone of jurisdiction?); (3) Why was the infraction called? (Rule citation). Do not be offended if the Referee overrules the DQ call. That is his or her prerogative, based on personal observation or rule interpretation.

Ensure that the swimmer receives the duplicate portion of the DQ Slip immediately upon his or her leaving the water. Verify the swimmer's name and club from the heat sheet. If this is not possible, notify the coach. The Referee MUST sign Disqualifications and deliver it to the swimmer or the coach to be valid. If you are unable to find the swimmer or coach regarding a disqualification, report to the Referee, Meet Director or Announcer.

When discussing an infraction with the swimmer or coach and with the Referee's permission, talk only about what was incorrect. Do not discuss what the swimmer should have done, as this is "coaching." NEVER suggest to a swimmer or coach that the swimmer "came close" to being disqualified earlier in the race. "Close" means that there was doubt. Therefore, the swimmer's action was perfectly legal. All benefits of the doubt about the illegality of a stroke, kick, turn, or finish, go to the swimmer.

At the National Championships only, dual confirmation of disqualifications applies. At least two authorized Meet Officials must observe and report infractions: 2 Stroke Judges; a Turn Judge and a Stroke Judge; a Stroke Judge and the Referee; the Starter and the Referee.


Acquiring the technical knowledge required to judge strokes, kicks, turns or finishes is not very difficult. A Judge will gain that knowledge and become proficient with practice. The challenge, however, is to apply that knowledge professionally.

As human beings, a wide range of factors influences us when we try to make judgments. Our brains allow us to apply "reason" whenever we make judgments. Consequently, we have to be careful as Swimming Officials. Do not apply human reason to make poor or sloppy judgments when fulfilling our duties on the pool deck.

Over the years, various examples of this well-intentioned but misguided rationale has surfaced among Stroke and Turn Judges:

The "Advantage vs. Disadvantage" Theory ("Unfair Advantage"):

The question of whether swimmer advantage or disadvantage should influence the official's judgment on stroke, kick, turn and finish violations has been the subject of much debate. Some authorities use the term "unfair advantage" regarding decisions relating to specific situations. Unfortunately, this has also caused considerable apprehension and misinterpretation of this phrase.

Judges must not apply the idea of "unfair advantage" so broadly as to justify inaction by not reporting infractions such as missed turns, touches, etc., because "no advantage was gained." This type of negative interpretation only leads to sloppy officiating and, unfortunately, gives an official an excuse for inadequate performance. "Unfair advantage" may explain one reason why an action by the swimmer is an infraction.

Judges should always report a violation of the Rules and disqualify the swimmer whether he or she gains an advantage or not. Judges should be careful to preclude using this rationale as a crutch for poor officiating.

The "I Must See It Twice" Theory:

Some Judges feel they must wait until an infraction happens more than once before reporting it. They attempt to rationalize this approach to officiating in various ways: "That clears up any doubt"; "That confirms that it wasn't a mistake by the swimmer the first time," etc. Frankly, these statements are crutches and excuses for poor and uncertain officiating.

There is no basis for waiting to see an infraction happen twice. It often does not happen again. The Judge must be certain of what he or she saw and give the signal for a violation when he or she observes it. If there is any doubt about the violation, then do not make any signal. (REMEMBER: The swimmer always gets the benefit of any doubt.) Also, do not concentrate on that one swimmer to see if he or she commits the suspected infraction again. Continue to give all the swimmers in your jurisdiction uniform coverage in observing their performance.

The "I Don't Disqualify 6 & Unders [or 8 & Unders]" Theory:

Officials of this persuasion rationalize their position by saying they do not want to "cause mental trauma to a young child." They may add that they "do not have a problem DQing a 15 & Over." While this may sound good, they have grounded it in some incorrect and extraneous beliefs: (1) It views the Judge's role as punitive, which is completely wrong. Judges should view a DQ as (a) "protecting the other swimmers" in the competition, and (b) "educating" the swimmer who commits the infraction so that in practice the swimmer will not commit the infraction again. (2) It assumes that every swimmer in the identified age group is a "beginner" while those swimmers in the older age groups are "experienced" and, therefore, held to a stricter standard of officiating. However, this approach is also often incorrect. Children enter the sport at various ages. Some 6 or 8 and Unders (having competed for a year or more) have more "experience" than some teenagers just entering the sport. (3) The idea that disqualifying a 6 or 8 & Under will "traumatize the child" is weak. It clearly ignores the fact that children are constantly being corrected during their formative years. That is how they learn. It is the Coach's responsibility to correct errors in the swimmer's form and technique. It is the Judge's responsibility to inspect the swimmers' techniques concerning the style of swimming designated for the event and report any infractions.

The "Don't Ask Me to Judge My Child" Theory:

Advocates of this theory usually fall into one of three categories: (1) "I don't want anyone to think my child got away with an infraction because I was judging." Or, (2) "I don't want to have to explain to my child why I disqualified him or her." Or (3) "I have to turn in my clipboard and DQ pad now because my child is about to swim and I want to go cheer for him or her."

These statements go to the central elements of being a "professional" Judge. The Referee, the other officials, the swimmers, the coaches and the audience must know that the Judge treats everyone in the pool the same - "fairly and equitably" - always. The Referee must be confident that a Judge will report an infraction no matter the effect upon the Judge's child, the child's club or team, etc. This is probably the litmus test of a Judge's impartiality, and Referees are not encouraged to let a Judge "off the hook" for any of these reasons.

For the Judge, this is the occasion to separate oneself from his or her parental role and accept the responsibility of being a BSF Swimming Judge.

Don't Infer or Assume:

Simply stated, this means: You can only report what you see, NOT what you assume. A Turn Judge must actually see the swimmer miss the wall with his right hand. Do not assume that he missed it because, by the time you looked down, the swimmer was touching the wall with his left hand and already turning. A Stroke Judge must actually see a breaststroker take a second arm pull and be past the widest part of the second stroke before her head surfaces. Do not assume that it took two pulls to get that far out in the pool when you saw her head surface.

Another way of stating this is: DO NOT LOOK FOR REASONS TO DISQUALIFY. If you see the infraction and it is clear, report it, but if you are uncertain, remember that the benefit of any doubt must go to the swimmer.


The following list summarizes the attributes of a good official:

  • Be at the pool to work at least 1 hour before the meet/session starts.
  • Report to the Referee or Meet Director and sign in.
  • Honour your commitment to officiate; never be a "no-show."
  • Accept the assignment that the Referee has given you.
  • Do no leave your post once the meet starts.
  • Know the Technical Swimming Rules thoroughly. Read them every time before officiating at a meet, and, if possible, before the changeover in events during a meet.
  • Officials and officiating should be unobtrusive and inconspicuous.
  • Ensure that no swimmer gains an unfair advantage.
  • Be impartial. Disregard club affiliations or personal relationships. If you cannot, then turn in your clipboard.
  • The Dress Code for officials is white: white Official's T-shirt, shirt or blouse supplied by the BSF and white shorts or pants. Officials look much more "official" if dressed properly.
  • Remember that the Referee's decision is final on disqualifications and rules interpretation.
  • Remain cool and professional always. During the race, restrain yourself from external manifestations of any kind regarding an infraction, except a raised hand. Do not cheer, coach or "swap" disqualifications because of the perceived biases of another Judge.
  • The Stroke and Turn Rules apply equally to Under 8's through Over 15's.
  • Be prepared to get wet.
  • If you make a mistake, be professional enough to admit it. The swimmer's welfare is more important than your ego.
  • Do not concentrate on swimmers you think may be frequent violators to the exclusion of any other swimmers in your jurisdiction.
  • Give all swimmers in your jurisdiction equal and undivided attention throughout the race.
  • If you are uncertain about anything, do not hesitate to confer with the Referee. Always give the swimmer the benefit of any doubt.
  • Be consistent, fair and professional about your interpretation and application of the Swimming Rules. Decide quickly and decisively, exercising good judgment.
  • Attend Officials Clinics and stay current on the Rules. Work regularly at swim meets, building on your confidence and experience as a Judge.
  • Personally critique your performance following each swim meet. Always strive for excellence. There is no such thing as the "perfect official" and you may never work at the "perfect meet."


The length of time that it takes you to become a competent Stroke and Turn Judge depends on you. Rest assured that it will not happen overnight or without effort. Knowing the Rules and attending Officials Clinics are very important, but the only real teacher is experience gained by working at Meets. Building the confidence and  experience that a Stroke and Turn Judge requires to become "consistent" is only gained on the pool deck, working at swim meets. Even then, it is vital that the Judge continuously reviews the Rules and works hard at maintaining "consistency" and fairness as an official. Take officiating seriously and work hard at it. Swimmers and Coaches have a right to expect Stroke and Turn Judges to know the Rules and interpret them correctly, fairly and courteously.

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