Last week I attended my 3rd Pan Pacific Masters Games(PPMG) Swimming competition in the role of Chief Recorder. This is a role that I have created and developed over my time as Director of Recording for Masters Swimming Queensland, and which I believe is critically important to the running of successful large swimming meets.
Preparing to run the meet
In 2018 we had 564 competitors in the PPMG Swimming event. Many of these entrants came from outside of Australia, with a large contingent from New Zealand, New Caledonia and China. This presents a significant challenge to handle. Manual input of entries in to the sports event management software, Hy-Tek Meet Manager, would take many days of work for volunteers. In the past it has been very prone to error. Masters Swimming Queensland has its own online entry system which interoperates with Hy-Tek Meet Manager, but it is usually open only to members.
To handle this, since 2014 I’ve developed tools which allow the data from the PPMG Administration’s entry system to be imported into the Masters Swimming Queensland system. The system uses a multistep approach which allows errors to be detected and dealt with. Every year the PPMG Administration has had a different data format for entries, so for each of the bi-annual events changes have had to be made to the system.
In step 1, the CSV of the entries is uploaded to the MSQ Entry Manager system and a list of entries is created. In Step 2, matches between PPMG Entrants and masters swimming members known by MSQ Entry Manager are flagged and linked. In Step 3, temporary event memberships are created in the MSQ Entry Manager system for non-members and international entrants. Then in Step 4, individual event entries are created for all entrants in the MSQ Entry Manager system.
Individual event entries include what is known as a seed time. This is the entrant’s estimation of what time they expect to swim in the event. This time is used to put entrants into heats with other entrants of similar capabilities.
As part of Step 4 mentioned above, I’ve developed Natural Language Processing technology which takes a wide variety of time formats and converts them into the internally used quantity of seconds. For instance, the correct time format for “2 minutes, 34.23” seconds is “2:34.23”, but this may be entered by users as “2:34:23” or “2.34.23”. Or it may be spelled out as “2 min 34.23 sec”. I’ve had an automatic time normalisation system in place for some time, but a newly upgraded version is now able to handle all such formats and correctly understand the intention of the user when they typed in the time. I’ll be publishing a paper on this technique along with a reference implementation in the future.
From this point onwards the entry data can be handled in the MSQ system in the same way as we handle any swimming meet. Standard checks that I’ve developed were against all entry times, looking to flag times that appeared to be too short(less than 20 seconds per 50 metres) or too long(greater than 2 minutes 30 seconds per 50 metres). I have plans to add automated checks against national and world record times, as well as against individual competitor personal bests, but there was not enough time to get these prepared for the PPMG2018 meet.
The ultimate result of this was that we had one of the cleanest sets of entry data we’ve ever had for a Masters Games. All errors found in the draft entry lists were due to user error by the entrants. Quite simply they were caused by people typing in the wrong entry time, or selecting the wrong events or entrants not knowing how long it would take them to swim a particular event.
There were some issues that carried over from the PPMG entry system. Where entrants had edited their entries on the PPMG entry system, the edits were not reflected in the exported data provided to sports organisers by PPMG. However this was easily rectified because I was able to publish draft lists and we had the time and capacity to make changes to entries before the start of the event. We were able to accepted several late entries and late changes, because our entry management systems were so efficient and refined.
In the final days before the meet, I produced meet programmes for printing and extracted statistics about competitors for use in the handouts to competitors. PPMG Administration required full updates on any changes to the entries for the swimming competition, so I used Trello to manage my workflow. I created boards for To Do, Doing, Waiting, Done, PPMG Informed and PPMG Information Not Required. When a new change request came in via any channel(email, phone, etc), I immediately created a card for it in To Do. Where changes could not be actioned due to further information needed, these were put into Waiting, with notes about the next action required. Once complete each card was moved into Done. From there I made a decision on whether or not PPMG Administration need to be informed. If so, I emailed it to them in the next batch and once done moved the card to PPMG Informed. Otherwise I’d put the card into PPMG Information Not Required, for changes that PPMG Administration didn’t need to know about. This allowed me to keep PPMG Administration fully informed on all changes they needed.
Unfortunately, there were some data corruption issues in the import this time. Some non-master’s member entrants were imported into the system as female incorrectly. This was quickly corrected before the day the meet started. It was isolated to just a small subset of the entries and they were able to be manually checked. The few that were missed were fixed when entrants checked the draft entry list. Others had club information not import correctly, partially because international masters were non-consistent about how they provided their club details. This would have to be resolved as the meet proceeded.
During the Competition
During the competition I oversaw all matters related to event entries and results. Actual operation of the timing system(Quantum Automated Officiating Equipment or AOE) and the meet software(Hy-Tek Meet Manager 7) was handled by two highly skilled contracted staff members who work with the venue on a regular basis.
My role was to act as an interface between Masters Swimming Queensland and the recording staff to ensure that MSQ’s needs were met. I was responsible for changes to the programme, entries and the integrity of the results.
Where changes were to be made to the programme on future days, I would handle these each night after competition. Where a change was to be made in a future event on the same competition day, this was handled by the recording operator. Changes to the currently running event were delegated to the Marshalling team, who would then inform recording. This approach enables us to ensure that entrants are able to flexibly change their entries as needed. If a competitor arrives late for a heat, marshalling is able to put them into an empty lane from another heat. Provided the information is given to recording in a timely fashion, the scoreboard and result information can be immediately updated to reflect the change and to ensure that the correct person receives the correct change.
I’ve always taken the approach that if I can accomodate an entrant’s request for a change, I will. I want the competitors to enjoy the event as much as possible, so they’ll want to return again in the future. Arbitrary rules based on perceived data management limitations prevent this. With the right team and the right procedures in place, result data management doesn’t limit changes to sporting event entries. In sporting events where individuals are competing directly by their own performance there is no good reason to not allow changes to programmes right up to the last minute.
During a large swim meet my start of day routine is as follows:
- Check overnight scratchings and programme change requests. Action where possible.
- Produce a Meet Manager backup file for start of day, provide to Meet Manager operator.
- Produce Marshalling Sheets and provide to Marshalling, so they can get started with organising events and heats for the day. I also provide Marshalling with two copies of the programme.
- Produce Lane Sheets and provide to Chief Timekeeper, so they can be distributed to Lane Timekeepers.
- Produce programmes for the refereeing officials as necessary.
This order of processing ensures that the other teams working on the meet get what they need in order of priority. Recording takes the highest priority followed by marshalling. Marshalling needs to have heat swimmers organised 5-10 minutes ahead of their actual heat, so they need their information before other officials. After that the lane timekeepers need to have their paperwork so they can write down information on whether or not there was a swimmer in their lane and any changes to the expected swimmer’s identity. Finally the referees need programmes to know who they have in different lanes. They have the lowest priority however as if they need to they can work simply from heat number and lane number, referring to recording to find out the identity of the infracting swimmer.
By following this start of day process, even when there are technical delays, I can help ensure the meet can get underway on time.
Throughout the meet, I ensure that any recording problems are quickly resolved.
Each afternoon at the end of meet I did the following:
- Get a copy of the backup from the main recording computer.
- Produce a report of all the day’s results with splits to be sent to the PPMG Administration and MSQ for posting on their respective websites.
- Export interim results for upload to the MSA Results Portal.
- Action updates and changes known for subsequent days.
The other big task for me in my role as Chief Recorder is overseeing the organisation of relay teams. Normally this has been entirely done on the day at the PPMG. This year PPMG Administration allowed entrants to nominate and pay for relay entries when people entered the PPMG. This presented some challenges.
The MSQ Entry Manager system previously only tracked the overall cost and overall payment of an entrants entry to the entire swimming meet. This would not easily allow us to track relay nomination payments.
I had to make some decisions about system design and business rules to enable tracking of these nominations and payments:
- Nominating for a relay event does not automatically put you in a relay team.
- If you’re a member of a club, that club can see your nomination to know that you want to be in that relay event.
- If your club put you in a relay team, in an event you’d nominated for, your nomination payment would be applied to your position in the team. The club would only need to pay the remainder for those members who had not already paid.
- Your club may choose not to put you in their relay team for the event you nominated in. In this case you may be a member of an unattached team, and your nomination payment would be applied to your position in the unattached team.
- If you’re not a member of a club, you can nominate on the day to be a member of a team, pay the nomination fee and we would attempt to put you in a random team.
- Anyone can register a team of four people and pay the nomination fee for those members of the team who had not already nominated and paid online.
- If you had nominated for a relay event, but not been in a team for that event, your nomination fee could be applied to your position in a team in another event.
I upgraded the MSQ Entry Manager system to track the cost of event nominations and payments for those nominations. I created an interface to track those payments. I had planned to also allow new nominations and payments to be recorded, but this was not completed in the end due to time constraints and competing priorities.
An existing interface from previous MSQ meets was used to show the cost of each relay team, and the payments made online for those relay entries. Now that the meet has been completed, I will be exporting these details to Excel spreadsheets so that total amount owed by clubs for relay entries can be calculated and invoiced via PayPal.
Non-club relay team payments on the day were noted in a receipt book for future reconciliation. It would have been good to have this handled in the MSQ Entry Manager system, but again due to time constraints this wasn’t possible.
In future events I’ll have this interface prepared and volunteers trained in advance to operate the relay tasks.
The other part of relay nominations at PPMG meets is actually getting the team information into the Meet Manager system. Relay nominations can be entered directly into Meet Manager, but this is not a user friendly process and requires a second computer linked to the live Meet Manager recording computer.
At my first PPMG, I spent many hours entering paper relay team forms into Meet Manager. This process was laborious and difficult. Some people’s writing was unreadable. Forms were not completely filled out. Entrant names were not able to be found in the entrant list, or entrants had been entered into more than one relay team in the event. After this debacle, I built a new jQuery based relay entry system for PPMG16.
At PPMG16 the new system mean that the volunteers at the Relay Desk directly entered entries into Entry Manager’s Relay Entries module. It would prevent people being in more than one team, and allow search and selection of relay team members from the competitor list. It enforced relay team rules, for instance club relays were only able to have members from that club, whereas unattached relays could have any entrant in them. The system was very successful at that meet and cut relay entry workload considerably. In the end it proved to be easier for the Relay Desk volunteers to take a paper form and then enter it into the computer later, than processing it in the computer at the time of presentation. However other rules I enforced, such as fully filling out relay forms before they could be accepted and requiring relay team contact phone numbers, meant that the desk was easily able to get all relay teams organised with limited involvement by me.
Once relay teams were created in MSQ Entry Manager, they were able to be downloaded as a hy3 file for direct import into Meet Manager. This meant no double handling of the already checked relay entry data and minimal errors.
This time, there were less volunteers available for the relay desk, so on the first day of relays, I needed to spend most of the morning at the relay desk. This lack of volunteers and the early relay events on Day 2 made the day a bit of a struggle. However the system still performed well. Some international masters member club data corruption issues originating in the import of PPMG entrant data did require a small amount of remediation after import into Meet Manager, but the workload was still considerably less than if we’d done it the old way.
As previously mentioned, we intended to put people who had nominated online for a relay event into random teams if they did not find their own team. We did this on the first day of relay events. However many of the people we put into into teams never turned up at marshalling. On the remaining days we only put people who had presented to the relay desk into teams. There were no complaints about this change and it meant less stranded relay team members.
The club data corruption also seemed to cause some problems with the scoreboard when relays were imported into Meet Manager. Entries are usually imported into Meet Manager using a hy3 file. Checking the hy3 files showed no differences between a hy3 file exported by Hy-Tek Team Manager and a hy3 file exported from MSQ Entry Manager. Yet after importing relays the scoreboard’s country field showed the club name, instead of country of origin. The issue had not appeared when the same system was used for PPMG16 and the MSA National Championships in 2017 at the same venue. Further analysis and testing will be required to remediate the problem for future events.
This year I developed and deployed a new online relay entry module was for Masters Swimming clubs to use when registering their relay teams for the PPMG event. Instead of having to go to the relay desk with forms, Masters clubs were able to register a club captain who was then able to use an online interface to register their teams. The module was built using a frontend based on Bootstrap4. As this had to be implemented in our legacy Joomla CMS, the functionality was built using jQuery. Implementing the advanced functionality such a two-way data binding was more difficult in jQuery, but ultimately it was possible to provide a very modern, accessible and easy to use user experience. Over half the relay teams in the meet were registered via the tool and feedback from clubs was very positive.
I will be reimplementing the new relay system in Angular and be part of the new MSQ Quick Entry system under development for future meets. This will allows us to retire the old Joomla CMS based entry system and give me the ability to implement new functionality more easily.
Other Recording Functions
Another function I provide during swim meets is the delivery of statistics and meet information to the announcer. Records broken are provided where possible to the announcer to inform the competitors and spectators. This is secondary to my role of ensuring the meet recording runs smoothly. In this particular meet, due to various time constraints and lack of volunteers, I was only able to provide limited updates to the announcer. In future I’d like to organise a dedicated person in the recording team to provide such information to the announcer, PPMG Administration and media as applicable. This would mean that these functions continue even if I’m busy troubleshooting other higher priority issues.
This meet was the second major event where MSQ has included Multi-class competition. Competitors with disabilities are able to compete in the same heats and events as able-bodied athletes and are scored in their own age group categories. This is something quite new for Masters Swimming in Australia and we still lack sophistication in this area. By and large the multi-class part of the event functioned well, but there were issues in registration and results publishing. Primarily these relate to us just not having a comprehensive understanding of how Meet Manager handles multi-class results, and not yet having a fully developed set of procedures. Through the lessons learnt out of PPMG18, I intend to develop a full set of procedures to be adopted at state and club levels, which will make our operation of future multi-class events easier and trouble-free.
I’ve made contacts with Victorian clubs who are also involved with multi-class and intend to use the connections to work towards an effective nation-wide approach for multi-class recording in Masters Swimming.
Since the end of the event I’ve received a lot of praise for the way the swimming event was run at the Pan Pacific Masters Games 2018. This was a major team effort with huge contributions from Meet Director Shane Knight, MSQ Administrator Christina Scolaro, Susanne Milenkevich, Martin Banks and many, many others. I’d especially like to thank Liala Davighi for her help with relays.
Over coming months I’m planning to consolidate the lessons learned and start building our systems for the next large MSQ events, starting with State Championships in 2019 and the Great Barrier Reef Masters Games. I hope to build an ongoing team in the recording space to ensure we can have world class data systems that allow MSQ to lead innovation in community sports events.
Not many people actually realise all the work that goes into running a major swimming meet. There’s been months in the lead up, and there’s still weeks worth of work for me. I still have to provide official results to international Masters Swimming governing bodies and finalise relay reconciliation information to provide to our finance auditors. At least a couple more weeks of work in evenings and weekends outside my full-time job and family responsibilities. Hopefully this helps people understand what goes into running such an event.