Every three years the AFL Europe hosts its premier tournament – the European Championships. Teams compete to assert their dominance and claim bragging rights against their European counterparts. The tournament also serves to provide valuable 18-a-side (“full format”) experience in preparation for the International Cup in the following year.
In the lead up to this year’s tournament in London, we’ll be focusing on each team and assessing their build up to the tournament.
This time ‘round, we will take a look at the third team – the umpiring team.
What’s happened since The Gathering in Dublin, 2013?
Quite a lot, actually.
Last time ‘round, the team dealt with (and benefited from the experience of) all manner of things – squally weather, a few bust-ups and ultimately quite a few achieved their Level 1 accreditation.
The latter point was quite pleasing as these umpires had worked quite hard to achieve this competency and all are now working towards their Level 2. The benefit of this is two-fold: the umpiring community is stronger and umpires have confidence in our umpiring pathway. Umpires in Europe can achieve AFL-recognised accreditation and the game benefits as a result.
Participating every other day was likely the most difficult aspect about both Dublin and Denmark/Sweden 2010. Ideal recovery and nutrition is critical. The team has learned a great deal about this and we hope to implement our prior learning this time ‘round.
We go over all the critical things an umpire needs to know in our teleconferences – from correct positioning, protecting the ball player, paying the first free kick, enjoying the umpire’s role and game sense. That last one takes a while to master – knowing when the players just want to play footy helps to know when to let it go and when to take control. Here’s an example of a game day plan for umpires – which is not dissimilar to something a game day plan that a coach would prepare.
Ok, so what is umpiring all about anyway?
It’s like real estate, really.
Umpiring is all about position, position, POSITION! Can’t see it, can’t pay it.
Though you will run more than a midfielder as a field umpire, it doesn’t mean you have to be an elite athlete. Sure it helps, but what’s more important is to read the play, anticipate what will happen next and either get moving before it happens or work the angles if you get caught short.
Arc the packs. Don’t walk if you’re the controlling umpire. Trigger.
But surely you need to know the Laws?
But in your first game, no-one’s expecting you to know some obscure double goal Law (Law 12.4), the intricacies of a player count (Law 5.5) or the restriction for more than one player on the mark (Law 16.1). You just need a bit of confidence – and to blow that whistle prompt and strong! We call this the Blow Show GO! Having a basic guide helps.
If you’ve played before, you’ve got a reasonable gut feeling about what’s unsafe, so pay it. The big ones are high, in the back, hold, trip, unduly rough play (a prime example is Yates v Dermie in the ’89 final) and a good umpire penalises those ones every time. Pay the warranted ones that you see – don’t guess, don’t pay 50/50, generally look after the player making the ball their sole intent.
As an umpire develops, then we’re looking for them to get more of a handle on the rest of the Prohibited Contact Law 15.4.5 and to build their rapport with players. They’re also tasked with better understanding the fairness and flow laws, like holding the ball and advantage respectively. The most common decision for an umpire is Law 17 – Play On.
So there’s no chance a first year umpire will have reviewed all 22 Laws – it would be an unreasonable expectation. This is one of the reasons we want first year umpires to shadow more experienced umpires for a while and then try it out with someone experienced up the other end.
As umpires start to become more confident then yes, we would like them to start reviewing the Laws of Australian Football (Europe) more deeply. With their umpire coordinator, the umpire should start with Laws 15 and 19, expand out to Laws 14, 16 and 17, then onto Laws 13, 18 and 20, finishing with Laws 10, 11 and 12. There’s more background around how to approach this on our Laws page.
Beyond that, the umpire should attempt the AFL Level 1 course, which we convene according to interest. The umpire undertakes the online theory module and is then assessed and coached during game day conditions. There are also courses available for umpire assessors.
And do umpires keep a count of Free Kicks?
An umpire at Level 1 or beyond is coached only about the unwarranted ones they paid and the warranted ones they missed. But there’s no point dwelling on it in the moment – this is the other part of Blow Show Go – let it go and assess it after the game is done. Main thing here is that a count of free kicks paid to each team has no meaningful basis or coaching outcomes.
Top performing umpires use a diary to self-assess.
Whilst it’s important to note one or two areas for improvement, umpires are guided to also note their strengths. Think of the set of umpiring skills like a toolbox. Once an umpire has mastered the art of – let’s say bouncing the football – that’s a tool they can draw out of the toolbox when needed – i.e. to restart play. Focus on only a couple of things each week in training – balancing out maintaining strengths and improving another area to maintain motivation. Umpire coaches can use the feedback form when assessing game day performance.
It’s important as an umpire to develop an ability to cope with disappointment. As the mistakes an umpire makes are magnified out of proportion to the mistakes made by players, captains and coaches have a responsibility to foster a positive relationship with umpires. Umpires are human after all.
As a community, it is important that we remember that within the first three years, we lose about half of our umpires because of negative feedback from players, spectators or coaches. Being able to let a bad decision go becomes paramount. A positive training and coaching environment for the umpire is also important.
The best umpires have positive communication with players and have the integrity to put their hands up when they’ve made a mistake – but the decision stands and the game goes on.
What if I wanted to start umpiring, but I’m not quite ready for field umpiring?
Have a go at goal or boundary umpiring.
Boundary umpiring is great for teaching you anticipation, positioning and decision making. Goal umpiring likewise, with the added responsibility of scoring decisions. With all three umpiring disciplines, collaboration is key to getting the correct decision.
Lots of umpire coordinators have found benefit in introducing umpires to the craft via boundary or goal umpiring.
Have a read about how others have approached this. Explaining the basic idea of Australian Football is another great place to start. Struggling? If you truly love Australian Football, this one will truly raise the hairs on the back of your neck!
Do you have many female umpires?
The 2016 AFL London season saw a first for female football. As part of a three-umpire system, two of our ladies took control of the Wimbledon v Wandsworth Round 5 match. Indeed, all three field umpires who officiated that match are in their first year of umpiring. We have no doubt that Kate, Lisa and Chris will go onto great things.
We are seeing a lot of talented female umpires emerge across Europe. This is down to the important efforts of our umpire coordinators in each league. Just a few examples of our ladies umpiring include:
- Goal umpiring as an initial taster in Denmark;
- Shadowing more experienced field umpires in Sweden;
- Coming to our courses and giving umpiring a go in France; and
- Many more.
Australian Football in Europe is as diverse as the region in which we play. It’s just so pleasing to see female umpires right there in the mix. You’ll see some of our ladies during the tournament.
So how is the third team going to umpire in London?
To the best of their ability 😀
Seriously though, I’d expect that the umpires push themselves beyond their comfort zone, whilst still paying only the warranted decisions that they see. They will certainly not guess at decisions if unsighted! Once the decision is paid, it sticks. No benefit in arguing it as the decision won’t change and you might concede 50m. Stay disciplined. Focus on the next act of play as regardless of your argument, nothing’s going to change that decision.
Our umpires will interpret (in accordance with the Spirits) the Laws of Australian Football (Europe) to their level of capability around the concepts of safety, fairness and flow.
The umpiring team are not only looking to support this tournament well, but they’re also looking to put their best foot forward to be selected for International Cup 2017. In that respect, I trust you will wish them well in their endeavours to represent AFL Europe.
And who is the third team for the 2016 European Championships?
The following umpires are confirmed to take part in the 2016 European Championships in London: Geoff Pascoe, Brenton Kanowski, Joshua Davey, Oscar Ayyadi, John Enright, Ian Kafka, Lisa Wilson, Rob Fielder, Emily Hardisty, Phil Crow, Tobias Siegel and Berengere Portal.
I trust that each will seek to exceed their own personal ambitions and do the umpiring team proud. No doubt everyone is looking forward to seeing who is named as the Golden Whistle winner, for the best performed umpire of the tournament.
Head of Umpiring and Community