Nitro Swim Team | Official’s Corner by Jessica Evans

Official’s Corner by Jessica Evans

Really? I false started?

At most meets, several swimmers are disqualified for false starts. Sometimes I overhear parents tell their kids that they didn’t leave early and that the officials made a mistake. So what’s a false start?

When the starter says “take your mark,” all swimmers should assume a stationary starting position until they hear the beep. After swimmers are set, the starter imagines a plane of glass in front of each swimmer. Any swimmer who breaks the glass plane prior to the start is moving forward. Note that moving forward doesn’t always mean has left the block. Sometimes simply taking a deep breath, adjusting the starting position, or nerves cause forward movement. Forward movement prior to the start is a disqualification.

Only the starter can initiate a false start disqualification, and the deck referee must independently confirm it. Because the starter and referee are looking straight down the blocks, they can see movement that others — whether they are watching in the stands or by the side of the pool — can’t detect. When there is forward movement, the starter and referee independently note the swimmer’s lane on their heat sheets, and then compare them without discussion. If they match, the swimmer is disqualified. If the starter sees movement but the referee can’t confirm it, or if only the referee saw movement, then the swimmer is not disqualified. A heat is only recalled (stopped) for unusual circumstances, such as an equipment failure. But REMEMBER! Even if a swimmer thinks he false started, he should still RACE! There’s always a chance that the movement wasn’t recorded in a way that will disqualify the swimmer.

Sometimes the referee will ask a swimmer who false started if something interfered with his start. If the swimmer thought he heard or saw something, he should tell the referee. What’s the most honest (and best) answer I’ve heard? One swimmer told the referee that he really needed to go to the bathroom.


Jessica Evans, a USA Swimming Certified Referee, started officiating in 2004 when her daughter, Hannah, joined the local summer swim team.

Hannah swam for Nitro and Lake Travis HS, and Jessica is a USMS swimmer.