Retaining Umpires

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In any working environment employee satisfaction is a major factor in retention.  Staff turnover can be crippling for an organisation that spends countless hours training employees to do their job to a high level.  Therefore, organisations are proactive in improving employee satisfaction to ensure they retain their employees.

Football clubs and umpiring groups are much the same.  Football clubs regularly liaise with their leadership group to gauge how the players feel about the existing club culture and whether there is anything that can be done to improve player satisfaction.  Players who enjoy their environment may have better performance and will be more inclined to stay at the club the following season. 

Umpiring groups work hard to develop and train their umpires and take great satisfaction in watching them progress through the talented umpire pathway to higher levels of football.  However, there is great disappointment when an umpire decides they no longer want to continue. 

Retirement, moving residence, umpire abuse and employment demands are factors that are difficult for an umpiring group to control.  However, in a 2011 Non-Returning Umpires survey there were many factors that are possible to control:

  • Dissatisfied with coaching approach and environment 38.5%
  • Lack of support from umpiring groups 29.2%
  • Accessing the training/coaching venue 16.9%

If umpires are dissatisfied with the coaching approach and environment what can an umpiring group change to ensure a more positive and enjoyable experience?

How can an umpiring group increase the level of support they provide their umpires?

Can an umpiring group be flexible for those who struggle to make training by offering multiple training centres?

Waiting until the end of the season to consider how to retain your umpires may be too late.  Regularly reviewing the culture within the umpiring group is important to ensuring a positive environment exists that umpires enjoy.  This will encourage umpires to continue in future years. 

Building positive culture

Recent teleconferences in the AFL Umpire Coach Professional Development Program considered how umpiring groups can build a positive culture within the umpiring group.  Some ideas included:

  • Providing support and encouragement for all umpires including regular feedback and creating a consultative approach with a questioning style that gets the umpires thinking and talking about their games.
  • Conducting regular social functions.
  • Seeking input from the group pre-season as to what they would like builds ownership and commitment.
  • Improving facilities to create a more professional operation.
  • Engaging umpires to become more involved in running the group including using senior umpires to assist with training and coaching.
  • Creating a strong focus toward increasing the number of female umpires to improve the dynamic of the overall group.
  • Conducting an end of season survey on training, coaching and drills.  This shows that we value the input of our umpires to the running of the group.
  • Regularly reflecting on the amount of variety we have included in training.
  • Involving boundary and goal umpires in activities with field umpires is important to create a more inclusive and cohesive group.
  • Implementing a mentoring/buddy system with younger umpires being paired up with a more experienced umpire .
  • Using videos to teach umpires in interactive sessions that include role playing decision making.
  • Using football games to engage young umpires - use modified rules to reduce the likelihood of injury and continually rotate the umpire officiating.  Coaches can provide instant feedback for the umpire.
  • Implementing a throw for dough competition where boundary umpires have one throw aimed at a 240 litre bin to win a small cash prize this creates enthusiasm, lifts morale and creates an enjoyable atmosphere.
Off-season strategies

Contact over the off season is a key strategy to keeping people connected to umpiring.  Various strategies suggested in the teleconferences included:

  • Conducting an end of year review with each umpire that discusses their progression, their concerns, how they thought their year went, what their goals were, their expectations for next season, how the coaches can  improve and identify any skill gaps in the particular umpire.
  • Holding social functions presentation night, Grand Final appointments night, pizza nights.
  • Holding regular sessions over summer including beach volleyball, cricket matches (between associations or disciplines).
  • Emailing umpires (including an electronic Christmas card), calling them in December and January to follow up how they are going.
  • Creating a group facebook page although it does require regular news and monitoring.
  • Put together teams in off season competitions, e.g. cricket, tennis, basketball.
  • Involving families with a Christmas Picnic organise Santa for children and run an umpires gift.
  • Off season running group for those interested enter local fun runs.
  • Retention letter thankyou letter to all umpires from umpiring group, signed by coach, chairman of board and league CEO.

With an influx of new umpires to add to the existing group you can look forward to next season with excitement.

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