Blowing the whistle at the wrong time: mentoring in the workplace & poolside at swimming galas


I passed the first stage in my effort to become a British Swimming Judge Level 1 and am now a Qualified Timekeeper, pretty much all thanks to a lady called Jane. There was just the one very audible hiccup along my way. I’d donned my white kit and was poolside at Southbury Road. I’d had it explained to me twice what my role would be as guardian of my lane for the 1500m race. The second the distance came up I thought ‘Help, how many more than a lot of lengths is that?’ and scrambled to check on my phone. Of course it’s obvious, but if you’re at the end of the lane with the stopwatch in your hand you need to know for sure if it’s 60 lengths or not. I was stationed at the start / finish line / ‘evens’ end. My job, beyond timing, was to check turns were all legal, and to blow my whistle for a very loud and long time as the swimmer approached the turn into and out of length 58, to tell them they’re into the home straight. Clutching a lane countdown sheet, numbered down from 59, which was confusing as I was at the evens end, I was ticking the lengths off. Quick it’s time to blow I thought, how odd no one else is blowing, well I’ll just get on and BLLLLLOOOOOOW. I’m not sure why I peaked and blew two lengths early, but everyone poolside sure did hear my loud and long blast on the whistle. Mortifying, yes, very mortifying, yes. I didn’t dare ask the tired swimmer if I’d confused them. Lesson learned: work out your own system, and if you normally count up not down then do that.

For the afternoon session – yes quite a full-on long day by the pool – I was mentored throughout by the best possible person. I know only that her name is Jane. She is fully qualified. She stood beside me through the racing peppering the afternoon with questions, what are we looking for in a butterfly stroke, what should we watch for on a breaststroke turn, is it legal to stop during freestyle (yes, but no steps may be taken). Mentoring is an essential part of training to be a qualified official, as a newbie you get to learn from someone who has days and weeks and years (not hours) of poolside experience, knows the rules backwards, and understands what’s an infringement and what’s not. Thanks also to the day’s referee who coached and coaxed me along as he questioned exactly when to blow the blooming whistle next time.

I asked another club parent about mentoring and volunteering for the club, and he explained how he thought it was his way of giving back. Someone else’s parents or guardians have watched over your child at galas and at training, and here’s a chance to pass on your thanks through your own time. It’s very simple, if a club doesn’t field officials (qualified / trainees) then it can’t enter swimmers to race in a gala. Having been to many galas I’m very conscious of the need now to give back. But at the same time I have to remember that I have two children, not one, and a husband, and only two of the household are Really Into Swimming, and sometimes the footballing team need the car and we all need family time.

Mentoring is all around us: in the workplace on a formal level, when you’re matched with A Mentor, and also at a very informal and unofficial basis with people – or perhaps one person – helping a new starter, showing them the ropes, guiding them as they start out in new surroundings, with new colleagues and unfamiliar systems. I’ve been really lucky embarking on my job to be guided along, no more so by the person who suggested, ‘Make a difference with little things before beating yourself up about big things’ and the other who told me it’s ok to feel a bit like a fish out of water as you start adapting and learning, as everyone does.

At home I suppose we’re trying to mentor our kids through their transition into secondary school and beyond. When we’re not over-parenting or nagging that is.

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