I’m trying to think of ways to get more people to volunteer as race judges. It looks like we’ll need several more people to help with Fizz Cup 2009 and the other planned regattas that will follow.
I’m impressed that over a year ago there were numerous discussions of racing rules involving many sailors. It was “a hot topic.” These days however, fewer sailors spend time focusing on rules issues, and my guess is most sailors are sort of happy with that. The nuances of racing rules might seem pretty dry and boring to some sailors, akin to interpreting the Talmud. (Private note to Armchair: I’ll explain the Talmudic Race Rules later…)
I’m not being critical here. The sailing community continues to expand in SL, and I think we all agree there is plenty of room for a wide diversity of races that incorporate any variation of the Rules that the race director du jour thinks is appropriate. Some big regattas might insist on “serious rules,” while fun races for novice sailors might choose to have no Rules at all.
Right now however, we have a small problem. There are very few sailors who are interested or willing to serve as Judges.
Considering all of the enthusiasm and ability within the sailing community, this should be something we could easily fix together. I guess I’m suggesting we find ways to make the Racing Rules and Judging more “glamorous” so we can build a racing infrastructure for the future. Over the past several days I’ve been discussing this issue with sailors from most of the clubs to get their ideas and help with the issue. So far, most sailors agree with three pretty simple ideas; there may well be many more:
1. We should provide more opportunities to talk about the practical issues of Judging and how sailors apply the Rules in different SL races. Those interested in helping out could get their questions answered and see where they might best fit in. For the upcoming Fizz Cup races, for example, NYC and a few other clubs are scheduling two Judges for each race. Judge 1 should be someone with past experience judging SL races; Judge 2 could be someone familiar with all the issues and interested in how to handle protests in SL… but a person who has never done it before. That might hopefully provide an opportunity to match an experienced judge with someone who wants to help out, but feels more comfortable when there is a judging partner around who’s been through prior SL regattas.
2. Judging is a thankless job. When a race goes well, the judges usually stay quietly in the background and seem barely involved in the regatta at all. You really only hear about judges when there’s a major protest and one of the parties refuses to accept a judge’s decision. It’s understandable that some sailors refuse to judge because they feel nothing good can come from the experience and is a significant chance if they volunteer their services some sailors they like will end up hating them forever over a particular rules call.
I think we have a responsibility to do some simple things to change that perception. Having some simple guidelines for protest resolution and stating the obvious fact that good sportsmanship means the judging is part of the sport and the judges rule is final. Like the sailors competing, the judges use their knowledge, skill and experience to do their best. They are not perfect. A “bad call” is still the best decision that a Judge could make in the situation, and therefore the judges’ ruling in RL and SL needs to stand as valid. In some ways, there is actually no such thing as a “bad call.” When a regatta is over there is always plenty of time to rehash the events, and to talk about what happened over drinks at the club. During the competition, however, a judge’s ruling is final. It’s an essential part of good sportsmanship.
Since the job of being judge can be pretty thankless, I thought at least for a brief time we should all do whatever we could to show the judges our appreciation. One idea I had was to offer “thank you gifts” to the judges willing to help out over the next couple months. Many people thought this was actually a pretty good idea, and I received commitments from several vendors and boat builders for a series of gifts they’re willing to offer to those poor, neglected judging volunteers… [grin].
The only objection I had to such a “thank you gift” idea came from the actual people who currently serve as judges. They point out that such a gift looks like compensation, and they don’t want it. They as volunteers, they love sailing. Receiving compensation for judging could, in a few fundamental ways, change the entire perception of how sailors work together on sailing events. They have a point, though of course, that wasn’t the original idea. The idea was to come up with a way to say thank you to the people who are willing to do a difficult job that occasionally seems underappreciated. I’m not yet sure how we actually do that so it’s comfortable and appropriate for all parties involved. It could take some additional thinking and discussion.
What I learned from the discussions so far, however, is that the need for regatta judges is understood and the people serving are highly valued by the entire sailing community. Perhaps we just need to state that again and emphasize it more.
3. Maybe part of the problem is simple public relations. The rules of racing and serving as a race judge might not be considered an incredibly “sexy” thing to put on your SL resume. I think that perceptual disorder could be fixed by the clubs through some simple, and maybe even silly things. Coming up with nicely designed and distinctive jackets for regatta judges, for example, would be a pretty simple idea, but if done right could advertise judging, serve as a perk, enhance the glamour of the position, and provide a new avenue to educate the broader community about sailing. I think Bea Woodget’s uniforms for fizz cup officials are both stylish and practical, and the sort of thing I’m thinking about. It could be a fun design-challenge to come up with a way to identify judges in SL Sail-races, whether they are wearing a Fizz uniform, a Zinnemann Cup Jacket, or, my favorite, an SWB Sailor Jacket. The key thing is that it can’t be ‘nerdy.’ We need to makes judging sexy! (I mean… isn’t it?).
Let’s get more judges!