Richard Cotham

Well thinking back it all started like so many other officials via their children. In my case it was the local primary schools cross country competition where if your child finished in the top ten the local town athletic club member was at the finish line giving out invites to come along to training (inferring to the parent that their offspring had potential to be the next Olympic gold medalist).

So you go to training nights, kids enjoy it, you meet other keen parents who enjoy watching the kids get some exercise so they go to bed and sleep, while you both can then relax in front of the telly with a glass of (orange juice, wine, Beer delete as appropriate).

Well low and behold your child actually can run/throw/jump like most 11 year olds (or potential Olympians) so they represent the club in the local athletic clubs/county clubs competition. This is when one of the club committee members approaches and asks in all innocence could you hold a tape/you know how to use a rake/could you do positions 7 and 8 and of course you say yes , and that's it you are now I willing volunteer official.

The next stage as your child is still keen and now competitive, you both progress to the YDL league of course you've helped out at local events but this is serious competition now so all officiating will be done by highly qualified officials. So the last thing you expect as you settle down in your chair by the finish line to watch your child finish, cool drink in hand with sandwiches and pringles is to be approached by a club committee member.

We are short of officials could you possibly help replace the bar on the high jump? 1 hour later... I don't suppose you could retrieve the shots? then spiking discus is easy and there will be another experienced official spiking too so don't worry, (other official/parent started last year). It was when the Field Referee came over at the end and said well done, but just one thing when spiking make your mind up as you approach the mark/marks and put the spike in positively not like we had done on one throw, stood and discussed it as we had three fresh marks close together, my first lesson always make decisions in a positive manor.

The years pass all too quickly first child fails to make 5 foot so sprinting/javelin not suitable, but moves to cricket, speed and a throwing arm have since caught out many a batsman when they hit the ball to her on the boundary thinking they can run two.

Once one child goes to training the others follow, so of course you keep officiating then you are approached by a club committee member suggesting you go on a course, you start collecting FR signatures on ROE forms (it was all paper then) acquire a rulebook spend the 2/3 hr coach journeys reading it on the way to Bath, Yate , Cardiff and Cwmbran. While officiating at a E.S.A.A  county combined events competition I was approached by the National competition coordinator asking would I like to officiate at the regional (Stoke that year) event. Drive to Stoke and find its a whole new ball game at this level !!! At this time I was officially still a level 1, there had been a hold up with the paper work although I had done enough events for my level 2 (only 1-3 levels then).

Over the several years of officiating I had helped set up event sites for competition as you do,and was expecting to be a field judge on the day this time. However, I arrived to be told the C.O.C team are short, so I find myself on a team of clerks of course 1 track 1 field his 16 year old son and me with 4 HJ beds, 2 cages, 4 LJ/TJ pits and a PV bed to set up. Fortunately the field clerk had some experience and we got everything set up in time, then the track needed another experienced official so I and his son were then left for the rest of the day and the next to do the field clerking.

As an official you learn time management and preparation especially as a clerk. That day I learned to get the timetable, rewrite it for equipment on site, equipment required, anticipated time off site, delegate who is doing which event, and communicate with the equipment officer and FR.

I have continued to officiate in the E.S.A.A combined events competition from then to now and officiating in this competition has been in valuable as I have had the pleasure of working with many experienced officials from all over the UK, and continue to learn as the rules are in the rule book but officiating comes from the experience of doing it.

The years past 2nd daughter now at uni still competing, I have continued to officiate, its then you realise its you approaching new parents asking if they wouldn't mind replacing a bar for the HJ,  and I was quite happy as a now level 3, when the county COFsec approaches you why don't you do your level 4.

It's then you need to make quite a big decision as the children by now can compete independently, so that reason has gone, so do you want to continue officiating when the time commitment is not light.

So I went to Alexander stadium for the Level 4 course presented by Dave Jessett, who suggested I could do indoor at NIA Cardiff which was quite handy as my 2nd daughter was competing for her uni against Cardiff Met and also entered in the Non Thomas indoor competition. I have since had the pleasure of being selected to officiate for many years now and appreciate the hospitality and kit given to me by Welsh Athletics and officials.

Over the next 2 years as a P L4  I Field refereed my county champs, clerked the Midlands and S West senior champs and then Field Ref for same, (ironically in the stadium where I had sat down to eat sandwiches and pringles years ago) also my out of area events, such as The Celtic Games (boy Swansea's a long drive but worth my final assessment from Sue) Blackburn ,Exeter ,Bedford and Boston, other  National/International and televised event opportunities then become available as you are assessed, learning new protocols of officiating at higher grade meetings, I have been fortunate also to have had experienced mentors on my athletic officiating journey for advice and guidance.

The highest grade meeting I have been fortunate to be selected for being the European Indoor Champs (it was my head the shot bounced past as it hit the BBC camera) and 2nd daughter has reached the final of her event at the 2020 British Indoor champs, (proud parent still holding onto that primary school cross country training invite inference).

The motivation to officiate for me is the satisfaction of ensuring an athlete has the necessary environment to compete to the best of their ability whether its an elite athlete breaking a national record or a group of U 13 girls at a county club shot event competing for the first time, and getting them all with at least one valid putt. As who knows, one of them might just be the top putter in Wales and third in the UK one day (so far).

An Honorary Welsh Official (who likes a level sand pit)

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