Umpire in action at the EU Cup

Umpiring in Europe

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

By Niels Schønnemann-Rosberg
(Denmark AFL Vice President and Umpire)

Becoming an umpire in Australian Football in Europe is not hard! All you need is a desire to be part of the game, learn the basic rules and voila, most leagues in Europe will take you in – and even pay you a bit of pocket money. What is hard is actually to be an Australian Football umpire in Europe. As the game grows the need for umpires in Europe is increasing and as the quality of the play improves so does the need for better umpires in Europe. If an umpire makes a mistake, they will be told and probably in a fairly heated way.

The above statements relate very well to me, as I started umpiring in Denmark. I had played the game (In Denmark) for about 4-5 years and due to the lack of umpires here, the bye teams are expected to provide umpires for the playing teams. My aspirations to improve my umpiring skills beyond what is required in Denmark came in October 2009 in Croatia, when I volunteered to umpire at the EU Cup (9-a-side championship). Andrew Jones and Shane Hill were in charge of the umpire seminar held the day before the tournament and this was my first chance to learn from actual umpires. The seminar lasted for about 5 hours and a lot was covered; everything from basic positioning, spirit of the laws, conflict handling, signals, behavior, presentation etc.

The whole experience in Croatia gave me a lot of theoretical knowledge, but also practical experience as I could use the knowledge gained the very next day during the tournament. The main challenge for me was that this was the end of the season and a long winter lay ahead of me before more game time would come again.

As it happened, a month later I became Vice President of the Danish AFL and through that I took the measures to make sure that we could have another umpire seminar held by Andrew Jones in Copenhagen the following April. I also took steps to get proper umpire uniforms from Australia to Denmark, so the umpires could look the part and receive the knowledge I had received in Croatia.

The seminar was a great success. Around 30 players from Danish and Swedish clubs paid a small fee (mainly to cover the cost of the uniforms) and participated in the two-day seminar. I knew many of the guys there probably wouldn’t umpire much following the seminar but at least now they could take home a better understanding of umpiring and pass this knowledge to their team mates and thereby make the umpire’s job a lot easier. The current laws of the game could be forwarded to new players (and more experienced players), but also explain how the decision making process is for an umpire.

Not long after the seminar I umpired one of the first games of the year. I had to travel around 400km to get to the game, but it was for the good of the game and my development so I thought it would be worthwhile. Following this game I realised I needed to learn more about umpiring in order for my league to continue to progress. Naturally issues arose:

  • The 2nd umpire didn’t show
  • There was no siren which led to a goal kicked after the time-keeper yelled out time
  • I began to cramp up in the last quarter

For several reasons I didn't perform how I had hoped. 

With a 5 hour journey in front me, sore legs, a bad umpiring experience, I luckily got a “spam” email from Andrew Jones. It was funny, but I wasn’t in the mood for funny! I replied to Andrew about the email, but also about the frustrations I had experienced that day. His answer was prompt. “Cheer up, you’ll learn to like my emails and I can help you make sure you don’t experience a day like that again”, he explained.

Maybe that’s not quite how it was; but it led to Andrew and I agreeing to start having weekly Skype sessions about umpire development in Denmark and to help my own development as an umpire.

The AFL Umpire Manual and the Laws of the game quickly became my main reading material during the week, as I prepared for the coaching session on Sundays with Andrew. With a weekly chapter to go through and certain laws to learn and discuss, our sessions quickly became something I both looked forward to, but they also felt a bit like an exam as Andrew always had ways to keep the topics interesting, but yet very challenging for me. Having to learn the mindset of an umpire is not easy, especially when I have only really been a player (I have played for 10 years in Denmark) and the only umpire coaching I received was from other players.

Learning from Andrew is great. He is always positive and sets clear expectations. Through our discussions it was clear to Andrew whether I had completed the assigned reading. He asked questions about the various sections within the manual I had studied. Through those discussions, we quickly covered good ground. My specific questions even made Andrew think about how to interpret certain laws according to the spirit of the laws.

Andrew has lived in England for some time and hasn’t been around footy in Australia much recently. During this time footy has developed and changed. Despite this, Andrew's reasoning generally made sense despite my very specific questioning. The fact that his mentoring role in England has been for 9-a-side footy sometimes made for confusion when relating the information to what I was experiencing in Denmark. 

As great as it was to improve my positioning, decision making, knowledge, presentation and people handling-skills, I quickly saw another opportunity; umpiring at the International Cup in Melbourne in 2011. I had played for Denmark Vikings at the IC2008 and it was a great experience. Now my thoughts and aspirations were different and gaining AFL accreditation and umpiring at the IC2011 quickly became my goal. In Melbourne next year, I’m sure I would learn and develop quickly.  

The challenges associated with undertaking umpire accreditation in Denmark relate to the isolation. Denmark has no big contact sports and generally people have no knowledge of the game.  Players in Denmark are part of a group of up to 150-200 other like minded Danes and Aussies. However, there are only 2-3 people umpiring in Denmark. Encouraging others into umpiring in Denmark is challenging but by demonstrating & showcasing how rewarding it can be we hope to increase our umpiring numbers.

My most recent umpiring experience was in Milan, Italy, for the 2010 Euro Cup. Unfortunately Andrew couldn’t be there to observe but he will see me umpiring in London at the Anzac Cup next year. During 2010 I had learned so much but injuries meant I hadn’t umpired as much as I would have liked. In Milan I umpired plenty of matches. Umpiring 10 games of 25 minutes was hard, but one of the best umpiring experiences of my short career. I thought I did well and most important, I learned and progressed all day.

MY final match was the 3rd place play-off between Ireland and England and the traditional rivalry between these two teams was evident in the build up for the game. This was their Grand Final and despite it being my 10th match of the championships, I treated it as they did. Focused, concentrated and equally nervous I was confident that my learning curve throughout the year and day had been steep and I was well qualified to take on the challenge.

The game progressed and no issues arose. Some of the Irish administrators even commented that I had been their best umpire all day. I was happy, proud and to get good feedback from the sideline and from my co-umpires, who had seen me all day was great. When I left Milan a few days later, I looked back on a great weekend, a weekend where major strides had been made by me personally, but also for footy in Europe as a whole.

All I can do from here on out, is to keep pushing myself, keep taking in feedback from everyone I umpire and everyone who can contribute to my development. I feel, I have a reasonable chance to get my accreditation early next season and I will get the greatest umpiring experience of my life in Melbourne, but only time will tell. Plans beyond next year, is to get an accreditation scheme going in Denmark and hopefully develop a proper umpire group of guys, whose primary contribution to the game is umpiring and game management. If that can be achieved, the level of umpiring will rise and players will learn more and improve too. In the end it is all for the good of the game!

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