Effective Communication with Umpires

By Brian Woodhead (VAFA - Field Umpire Coach - Cadet Squad)

Umpire coaches often find themselves asking umpires why they took a particular action, what position they were in, how did they see a particular circumstance unraveling or even why did they not turn up for their game!

I am sure we have all had some entertaining responses and in my case I reckon I could write a book. To be honest the first four chapters would be full of my own stories that I filled the ears of my coaches with back in the 70’s / 80’s.

Nevertheless, I am now in the role of coach and am wondering how I combat the vast array of responses the come my way.  Most of the time the umpires tell me what I want to hear rather than telling me what actually happened. 

The start of 2010 saw me set a goal to change my communication style given I was dealing with Gen X and Gen Y umpires.  

My goal was to vary the communication mediums and styles.

I aimed to broaden the communication styles and techniques so that I was more acceptable to the whole group. In the past I had relied totally on email – as I thought that was the be all and end all to modern communications.

However, I’m finding that SMS texting has proven to be quite successful in engaging responses from the younger generation whereas email may still be the preferred method for some of the older umpires.

Of course Twitter and Facebook are the mediums for the current batch of umpires.  However, we must be careful to continue engaging our umpires in one on one discussion.  This helps foster a strong relationship between a coach and their umpires.

One on one discussion is important.  I do not simply wait for umpires to talk to me at training or wait for them to raise any issues they may be dealing with.  Instead I take the front foot and ensure I get around to most umpires in the squad during training and ask how they are (even if it normally “OK”).  When the circumstances permit I will ask umpires:

  • How their last game went;
  • Who they ran with;
  • How they worked with that umpire;
  • If there were any issues;
  • What were the good and not so good aspects of the day
  • Were there any particular situations in the game they wanted to discuss
  • Did they pick up any valuable advice/feedback from their umpiring partner

The aim through asking basic questions is to build a rapport with these people (many of whom are half my age or younger) giving them the confidence to engage with me. 

As coaches we are generally busy people and we undertake these roles in a part time capacity.  With limited time to spend with our umpiring group we might tend to be direct and straight to the point.  We should be careful though because this direct approach can give the impression that we are not interested in our umpires or their input which can lead them to feeling inhibited to speak freely about their game or a particular situation.  Particularly if they may have been wrong or carried out a duty incorrectly you may find umpires only tell you a portion of the truth.

Over the year, as relationships have built, I now am in a position where I can engage a least 50% of my squad in meaningful ‘coaching discussions’ and dig a little deeper into the processes the individual umpires follow during their decision making.

Now I would like to think I could have achieved this level of engagement prior to now but perhaps I wasn’t communicating with them in the most effective manner.  I used to get frustrated with the ability of the umpire to understand my messages.  Perhaps I should have been considering how I was getting my message across.

Anecdotal evidence suggests my new communication style has been well received.  Although, perhaps they are just telling me what I want to hear. 

Brian Woodhead
Field Umpires Coach - Cadet Squad
Victorian Amateur Football Association.

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