Umpiring ambitions vary, some strive for the top whilst others are happy just to be involved

Umpiring - Why We Do It

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By Greg Cudmore
AFLQ Community Football Umpiring Coach

After 31 years in the business I have lost count of the number of outsiders who have asked "Why do you umpire?  The question implies that only a masochist could possibly want to umpire. How do you put up with all the abuse?

It is only as an insider that you can really understand why we do it. Those initiated into umpiring quickly learn that abusing officials is part of the fabric of our anti-authoritarian and larrikin Australian culture (must this always be so?). Recent campaigns to encourage players, coaches, and supporters to respect the umpire are welcome but the reality is, that for every decision we make, half the crowd will be unhappy and express it loudly.

It is only recently that systematic research has been conducted by David Levens and others exploring why umpires umpire. The findings will assist recruiters to attract umpires and coaches to keep them. There are two quite distinct dynamics in such research. The reasons a person becomes an umpire may be quite different to why they continue to umpire. Media campaigns and newspaper advertisements have their place, but most of us can probably attribute our recruitment to an invitation from an acquaintance.

Character Building & Leadership

As an educator I believe we have not realised the potential for promoting umpiring in schools and in the wider community as a very effective finishing school for character building and leadership.  I have witnessed countless examples of young umpires whose maturity and confidence have accelerated and blossomed because of their umpiring.  This is not only because they will be positively influenced by fellow adult umpires but because of the enormous responsibility and challenges that umpiring brings. It requires sophisticated decision making under great pressure; excellent communication and people skills and the required discipline to attend to all the demands of umpiring. Done properly the formation of an umpire will create a better person.  The vast majority of umpires I have met have been decent people.  Hopefully their experience as an umpire has contributed to the person they are.  For coaches this is a humbling realisation. We are not simply developing umpires but are in business of building character.

Challenges of Retention

The challenge of keeping our umpires is even more pressing.  Attrition rates are still high and more research is needed to help coaches create an environment where umpires will be in for the long haul. One obvious challenge is the sometimes conflicting motivations amongst umpires in any umpiring panel. 

On the one hand there will be the ambitious young guns who want to hold the ball aloft on Grand Final day on the MCG. Even if they do not crack the big time they want the local A grade Grand Final and for them its about out-umpiring everyone else. Their pursuit is understandably selfish; their preoccupation is to excel and reach the top of their profession.  Their training regime will necessarily be daunting and relentless.

 However the vast majority of umpires at grass roots level do not aspire to such heights.  Exposing these umpires to the same training regime may drive them away.  The vast majority of umpires want to enjoy what they are doing. They want the fringe benefits that come with membership of any footy club; mateship, fun and a sense of belonging. They are not into rigorous benchmarks, time trials and skin fold tests. 

They are even less interested in exhaustive criticism from observers or coaches who strain to find as many things wrong as they can in the one afternoon.  I have seen young umpires in tears after an observer has addressed them at half time.  Of course we want our umpires to improve; to take umpiring seriously and take pride in their performances. However I doubt we will achieve that by inflicting a watered down version of the processes of the elite squads on these umpires. The irony is that I have seen elite umpires give it away when they do not reach their desired goals. Their expertise and experience would be invaluable at grass roots football but their formation influenced them into believing that umpiring at this level is somehow second best.

By focussing on performance indicators and outcomes an umpire may easily conclude that they have failed if they do not get a Grand Final or are not selected in a development squad. Umpire coaches and administrators must create a culture where the experience of umpiring is the thing.

Regardless of where we umpire its about doing your best, enjoying training, being part of the panel and being paid for running around in the fresh air keeping fit.  For my part umpiring was always a wonderful escape from the pressures of life and ones job, enjoying a hobby and the challenge of never quite getting it right. Only an insider can experience the addiction of umpiring and how difficult it is to call it a day.

Greg Cudmore umpired his 604th and final game on Easter Saturday at Phillip Island.  He has been coaching community umpires for 10 years. 

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