Club Chair and technical official Elaine Larkins talks about her officiating journey and why she loves this volunteering role and wants to lead by example at her club.
From raking the long jump pit, or making sandwiches for match officials to liaising with local politicians about my club’s policy on local community fitness I can honestly say I’ve done it all in athletics. But even as the Peterborough and Nene Valley AC Chairman, and a former national relay champion in a far and distant era, I can genuinely say officiating at this winter’s indoor National Age Group Championships was a real stand-out moment in my career so far! It was brilliant fun, rewarding not to mention fascinating to work with some great colleagues who - like me - clearly love the sport.
I’ve long been an official, working mostly at club and county level, but like most people I recognised that the sport is losing a number of experienced and knowledgeable officials. Whether that’s age related or perhaps a sign of the economy and increasing number of things on a family’s agenda, I don’t know, but it definitely got me thinking about how could I help? And as a club Chairman I thought it’s best to lead by example and get stuck in.
Start by shadowing
So, I was particularly keen to find out how such an important event as the National Indoors is put together. It always looks slick on the live stream, but how exactly does it all fall so smoothly into place? Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to put my skills to the test and learn from the best when the chance to help out arose. As you’ll see on the website, England Athletics regularly offer such opportunities to anyone interested in what they call 'shadowing' for the day. You don’t need any officiating qualifications for that, just a passion for the sport. You’ll be assigned an official to follow and they in turn will give you a feel for what working at something like the National Champs involves.
I also did some informal shadowing during the summer of 2022. I helped at a few matches with the starting team - just following the marksman and starter around and helping where I could, like lining the next race competitors up, checking bib numbers were securely attached, athletes in the correct lanes as per the lane draw - just simple things but all very necessary to keep the meeting flowing and on time. For me, it was a different officiating discipline but one I really enjoyed. I loved chatting to the athletes keeping them calm, explaining what is going to happen - especially with the younger, newer athletes. It took me back to my own sprinting days!
Pictured here is me getting some information before I went out onto the Field of Play!
Attend a practical or virtual course
Of course in addition to that and to follow up that shadowing day there are many different courses to try out.
To keep things going, during the winter months I checked on the England Athletics website to see if there were any courses coming up and to my delight there was a Starter’s Assistant course and it was online so I could attend the course in my own home and it was at a discounted rate, so I enrolled. I have to say, the course was very informative and useful. And now all I have to do is attend four events and complete a log of what I learn at each one. Fingers crossed I’ll get my Level 1 qualification confirmed soon.
It definitely helped working alongside the officials in Sheffield, somewhere I was keen to work as a fair few of my club’s younger members were competing. To say that I loved it is an understatement. The officiating team were all so welcoming - as they are to everyone keen to give it all a go - and all offered help and advice on how to do things, what to say to the athletes, what to look for, etc. There was a team of three assistants with a chief along with three starters. Each assistant had a ‘work sheet’ to follow which meant they didn’t do the same ‘job’ all of the time.
I really would recommend anyone to get involved; it is great fun and you get to see lots of the track action. You get to witness the excitement of the event first-hand and see the joy in the athletes’ faces as they succeed. It’s brilliant fun, and a great way to put something back into the sport. As a club chairman I’d also say it’s a great way to get to understand things better and help your own club progress. The officials you’ll work with all have valuable insight and as I found, potentially a different way of looking at things. Suddenly, that tough-to-solve problem has a solution because they’ve been there and done that!
I can’t recommend the officiating route enough. Go for it…
England Athletics are working with competition providers to facilitate a new format - which is a course in the morning and then practical competitino experience in the afternoon at an actual event. We know that our tutors use some informal methods already and we hope to open new opportunities this way.
Prospective officials can always contact their local COfSec (County Officials' Secretary) or go to their County Championships and shadow there and talk to other officials if they are interested. County Championships are generally early to mid May.