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The Layout of Your Job Aids Matters (So Does Coaching)

My oldest child is a swimmer, and as a parent, we need to commit to a certain amount of volunteer hours per year. To earn some volunteer hours, I offered to serve a the swim meet announcer last weekend, even though I’d never done it before.

I don’t really know much about organized swimming. I’m honestly scared of the water and organized swimming is an entire sub-culture that I don’t quite understand. I have recently learned how to time my cheering for when the swimmer’s head bobs out of the water during the breast stroke. So, when it came to getting on the PA system to make announcements to help ensure the swimmers knew when to get behind the starting blocks, I was a bit of a fish out of water.

Job Aid #1: A Script

Swim meets are busy events with all sorts of people doing all sorts of things, and the meet organizers certainly didn’t have any time to train me on what to do. They did, however, give me this script to serve as a job aid:

Swim Script 1

The script was handy, it gave me the words to say and some stage directions. But I wasn’t quite sure what “After first whistle” meant in order to announce the race. There seemed to be a lot of whistles blowing, and I didn’t want to screw up and make a mis-timed announcement.

What would happen if I tried blurting out an announcement and the referee was already in the process of starting the next race? What would happen if I caused some swimmer to false start and get disqualified? What would happen if that swimmer would have otherwise swam the race of their life and would have qualified for the championship meet if it weren’t for my errant announcement?

So I skipped that step and waited until each race was in the water and simply announced the next races. It was very clear to me when the race was actually in the water.

At the end of the meet, it didn’t quite feel like I had done the announcing in the right way, but the meet organizer thanked me and said “nice job” and that was it.

Job Aid #2: A Flow Chart

Of course, swim meets generally last the entire weekend, and I was signed up to do some more announcing on Sunday. When I returned to the announcer table in the aquatic center, I noticed a new job aid:

Swim Script 2

This was the job aid I needed!

It offered a much clearer picture for the sequence of announcements. I knew exactly what it was talking about when it said there was a sequence of three to five whistle blasts. The arrow following this instruction directed me to what I should say, and when I should say it. Suddenly, everything was so much more clear to me!

So I announced with gusto. But then…

Sometimes Coaching Improves the Effectiveness of Job Aids

After the first event, I was asked to announce a 5-minute break prior to the next event so that swimmers in back-to-back events had some recovery time. During the break, the meet referee came to my table and observed: “I notice that you’re announcing the event and the heat, but you’re not asking swimmers to take their place behind the blocks. Can you please do that? That will help them know where to be, and when.”

This was the kind of performance feedback that a job aid couldn’t give me. When I left the meet and was told that I did a nice job, I believed it this time!

Lessons Learned

  • Job Aids are sometimes sufficient. In the spirit of the podcast interview I recently shared in which Jeni Johnson reminded us all that sometimes all we need are resources, not courses, there was no need for any sort of actual, formal training to learn how to be a swim meet announcer.
  • As long as they’re well-designed. The first aid I used, a script, was good, but it didn’t help me fully carry out my announcer duties. The second job aid, which was a cross between a script and a flow chart, was much more effective.
  • Observation and feedback are also pretty important. Of course, if the job truly needs to be done properly, following a process, and if there are some real-world consequences, then observation and feedback from a more experienced person can be invaluable.

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