We asked the Clerk of the Course at the England Athletics Age Group Combined Events championship weekend to document their day!
Who is the Clerk of the Course? Part of the Technical Team of officials at a competition, the Clerk of the Course helps to ensure that each event site is ready for the athletes and officials at the right time.
Note this article has created a generic 'day' from the weekend.
Here's the Technical Team at the start of the weekend. I'm Nicola (taking the selfie) and I am one of the three Clerks. Gareth and Tom are the other two - generally we have a mix of track and field officials so that between us we have knowledge of the whole area of competition. Tom and I are field officials and Gareth is a track official. Just behind me is Tony and he is the Equipment Officer. Jim is our boss - he's the Technical Manager.
At events lower than National level the team might be smaller, and sometimes (at a local league for example) the Field Referee and Track Referee have to play the role of the whole Technical Team as well!
I drove up to Manchester the evening before from Cambridge as it was a long drive. Tom and Jim were more local and were able to do some of the set up on the Friday, but we all had a quick breakfast on Saturday at the nearby hotel and it was at the stadium for 7.30am. First up we had a meeting with the Technical Team and some of the other volunteer officials who were in charge of organising and managing various parts of the weekend.
We keep in touch with radios. Once I had collected and signed for my radio I had to go to the First Aid area to get a bit of plaster to keep the earpice in over my glasses. But then we could all talk to each other wherever we were, plus event leaders usually have headsets too and can call us if there are any problems. We were channel 2. There's usually a channel for the start team and for presentations team as well.
Jim had drawn up a duty sheet for us all so that everything was covered and we knew what had to be done by a certain time. We used this as a guide and helped each other out - especially at the start when it's all go! Equipment Officer Tony is busy measuring and weighing all the implements that are going to be used.
We prepared giant trugs for each event site that would contain everything we'd need to set it up, and what the field officials would need during the events. For example, tape measures, runway markers, flags, warning horn. In the photo we also have droppers for the pole vault, a vertical measuring device, and a bungee practice bar.
Sector set up
There would be different throws events during the weekend so the plastic tape sector lines needed laying down and checking. We also marked subtly on the grass where they would have to be moved to later in the day for javelin (because the javelin sector is narrower). Once they were checked we put out distance markers to help the athletes and spectators during the competition.
We have to make sure the throwing sector angle is correct - for shot and discus it is 34.92 degrees and for javelin it's 28.96 degrees. Luckily there's an easy way to check! For the circle throws, you remember 2012... 20 metres from the centre of the circle along the sector lines, they should be apart exactly 12m. For javelin it's 10m across at 20m along (this time from the 8m mark on the javelin runway).
While Gareth started preparations for the track events and started getting lots of hurdles ready with hekp from the ground staff, Tom and I went out on the field to prepare long jump, high jump, shot put and pole vault areas. This included a lot of moving water around - emptying the pole vault box and sweeping water out of the flooded shot circle!
As we put out the equipment needed at each site before the athletes arrived for warm up, we did final checks, for example:
- Does the clock work ok and we can show any field judges there how it operates (there's no standard clock!)?
- Can you operate all the scoreboard numbers without getting your finger stuck?
- Is the EDM (electronic distance measuring device) set up for the right event - we need to tell the machine where certain reference points are such as the centre of the circle or the javelin arc.
- Are the correct throwing implements on site ready for the athletes?
Good to go!
It's a satisfying feeling to do a final walk round and find everything is looking smart and ready for action! From here onwards, it's a matter of getting implements to the right place at the right time, making sure areas are cleared and ready for the next one when they've finished, and general troubleshooting. This is where Jim's Duty Sheet - combined with our radios - was invaluable.
We didn't have too much to troubleshoot this weekend; mostly we were trying to keep up with the rain.
- Stiff scoreboard number blocks can be unscrewed and swapped over, if you have spares.
- The pole vault support bar was bent slightly downwards after a dramatic no jump - after removing it, a bit of work with a mallet and a right angle metal rule sorted that one out.
The high jump uprights didn't have any verniers on them and pen had been used to make the mark on the metal to line up to the height measure. In the rain this didn't work very effectively, and it was difficult to see and to line up. I cut up a piece of plastic tub and used existing screws to attach to the part the bar sits on. This then made a nice wrap-around piece to be able to mark with pen or tape and line up with the height markings right alongside.
Although it's very hectic at the start of each day, once initial set up and implement weighing is done, the day can become more relaxed. Tony was still getting personal implements in during the weekend and needed to check those, and the Clerks and TM were on standby and observing everything ready to help as needed.
Sometimes the clerks might have to help at an event for a short while if the timetable is tight for officiating duty allocations, so I did a bit of javelin retrieving towards the end of the Sunday. I also got the chance to say hello to the England Athletics mascot Leonard the Lion.
The final countdown
Although the Clerks can clear away events as they finish throughout the weekend, there's always a lot of final tidying up. This includes getting all the implements and equipment in (in this case with help from the lovely ground staff team), picking up litter and lost property and leaving sandpits etc as you'd like to find them. Luckily at Manchester there is an electric buggy that can be driven around the track to save any more miles being walked. We love the buggy!
The whole weekend was busy - but you do get to see a different side of a competition while carrying out so many different tasks. A weekend event is enjoyable as well because you still get to socialise with officiating colleagues "after hours" (not many were up at 7am though). Don't tell anyone but being allowed to drive the buggy at the end of the day was possibly my highlight!
Towards the end we were pretty tired - much of it due to the inclement weather which made for extra work. It was a physical job but with a good feeling that you were really helping the athletes and officials have a good performance.
We were a great Technical Team of differing experiences and skills and I never felt out of my depth during the weekend. I enjoy problem solving more than people management and being creative to ensure something is made more useful or easy to use.
It was also a good opportunity to work with the same team all weekend, especially with someone like Gareth who would usually be a world away from me track judging! I did gain 2 pairs of very squelchy shoes by the end though - I should bring wellies next time.
And I am reliably informed that it's not just the endurance athletes who cover a lot of distance at our events - a Clerk can do anything upwards of 35,000 steps a day!
Officials come in all shapes, sizes and ages and many have useful transferable experience outside officiating. Once you have take a Level 1 course you can get an idea of the general role but there are loads of opportunities for whatever you enjoy doing within the sport as an official!