Thursday, April 25, 2013

Let's get this straight

So many people have contacted me to say I got things wrong about last Sunday's Avon League that another post is inevitable.

First, nearly every club provided a reasonably full complement of field officials. There were problems with field events caused by the numbers of athletes, but by and large, officials coped. This wasn't the case on the track and this led me into some extremely intemperate language that I now accept caused great offence to clubs and to people who I respect and have every reason to be grateful to.

Let me name them: Steve Coghlan, Rachael and Martin Fisher of North Somerset, Rich Cook of Bitton, Dave Lucas of Forest of Dean. And there are probably others.

North Somerset in particular are a club that has achieved an enormous amount in the relatively short time they have been in existence. We only have to look at the numbers of young athletes they bring to matches and the standard that those children achieve to see what a good job they are doing. And their commitment to scoring the league and getting results out does them credit - though I will come to that results system in a moment.

There are some good ideas floating around now to address the problems that the league's success has caused. If a meeting can agree some of those ideas then we could well have an excellent local league that really does the business for all our young - and not so young - athletes. But that is matter for a meeting, not this blog.

In talking to people about the numbering system I have struggled a bit to explain exactly why I think it is doing us no favours, especially when they say they have tried it and managed to get results out. So let me try to set out the case carefully here.

By identifying athletes individually rather than as members of a team (as happens in other leagues) the nature of the competition is changed radically. That may not be a bad thing altogether, but we can't ignore that it happens. Athletes are identified individually in open meetings and in championships: in a league match they are identified as the first or second athlete for their club. Only 'guest' athletes are identified separately - and then by their club's allocated numbers.

When the numbering system was first explained to me my reaction was that I was glad I'm not a track judge. And I think I've been proved right. In longer races it scarcely matters what an athlete wears on her chest. But in sprints judgements have to be instant and accurate. A full team of judges, faced with eight closely competitive athletes wearing single character numbers can make those judgements in a matter of seconds. Double character numbers double the difficulty.

Because of the numbers of athletes competing the large majority of athletes in the Avon Track and Field are wearing three character numbers. Not being a psychologist I've no idea at what point it becomes impossible for the human brain to register eight three character numbers in order in the split second that's available. But it can't be far away. Even if the team can be split so that some take the first four runners and some take the last four, the task is approaching the limit of possibility. The track referee gets round the problem by getting the athletes to stand there until the team has had time to discuss and organise their thoughts. And that means that an event which should be dealt with from marksman's call up to timekeepers' recording in about three minutes is actually taking nearer ten.

And, of course, there isn't anything like a full team of volunteers doing the job....

Maybe the answer is to get sprinters to fold their numbers over so that only two characters are showing. There might then be duplicates but they wouldn't be from the same club. Or if we arranged it so that there was only ever one athlete from each club, the first character of their number would be different. But there'd be nearly double the number of races. Aaaaargh!

So, to sum up, I'm glad that writing Monday's blog has made people think about what we are doing and maybe willing to take the action necessary to stop experienced officials from walking away from the league.

But very sorry indeed that I caused bad feeling amongst a dedicated group of people who are doing their best for so very many children and whose good opinion I cannot afford to throw away so carelessly.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Stuart.
    Many thanks for the updated Blog update, I appreciate this very much and look forward to a meeting to iron out the issues highlighted from last Sunday and the continuation of what is now a very successful gathering of Athletes for all ages and ability in the local communities.


    Rich Cook BRR



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