Picture Derek Clarke
By Gavin Ward, DAFL umpires coordinator
“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
After moving to Denmark with my Danish wife in 2002, I came across Australian Football by accident and to my surprise. Being a retired player back home and out of the game for many years, I saw this as a great opportunity to firstly get involved with the Danish society and secondly to give back to the game the great experiences it gave me growing up.
As umpires are like hens teeth in a minority sport, being asked to umpire came quite quickly. I thought I would give it a go, and I’m glad I did.
My first game was bit hairy at the start with a few tense moments, but I pulled through unscathed. Looking back, you realise how challenging umpiring can be, due to the considerable amount of focus and concentration required. From a playing perspective, the challenge of umpiring probably goes unrecognised as your focus is on yourself, your team and winning the game, and not much appreciation is given for the umpires’ efforts.
The past couple of years I have been umpiring on a regular basis.
I find that umpiring a good way to still be involved in the game, maintaining fitness and enjoying the social side afterwards. I started really enjoying learning another side to the game. I found you learn and understand the game from one perspective as a player; where umpiring has quite a different focus and a need to understand the rules on a much deeper level.
I’ve since been asked if I would like coordinate the umpires and help in trying to build an umpiring team.
Once I took on the role, I naturally found the need to dig deeper into umpiring, to improve myself as an umpire and help other umpires do the same. Last year’s AFL Europe Level 1 accreditation course was really helpful in moving forward in my role as coordinator. The preparation, coursework, drills and feedback were all beneficial to me both as an umpire and as a coordinator.
One of the highlights I have had in umpiring was umpiring the European Championships in Dublin.
You can really notice the different standard of the game – it gets the heart rate going and motivates you to perform! Umpiring in those games was really enjoyable because all involved wanted to do well. The Championships were quite exiting to umpire – it was nation up against nation every couple of days, which gave a feeling of being as part of something special. Another, more recent highlight, was umpiring the Scandinavia Cup in Malmo, Sweden. It felt like a local derby, as the intensity level was quite high.
As an umpire, these are the types of games that send chills down your spine!
Coordinating a team of umpires comes with its ups and downs. I knew it would be challenging trying to recruit more umpires as well as retain our existing guys and girls. Setting up a social media group helped with recruitment and engaging the team. A lot of questions the guys and girls had leading up to games could be discussed privately amongst the team, and I think everyone appreciated the support. Using the website for promotion and encouraging new umpires (or injured players) to try out goal and boundary umpiring as a taster seems has shown some positive signs.
The most rewarding part of my role as coordinator so far has been seeing new umpires pick up the whistle for the first time and love the part that they play in our great game. Takes me back to my first time in control of a match!
One of the biggest challenges is encouraging new umpires to umpire rather than play.
Umpiring is to an extent seen as something to do after your playing career has finished and the few regular umpires we do have are retired players. Keeping the young guys involved who have ambitions to play is an issue, so something we may try next year is “Play one day, Umpire the next.”
Ideally, we would also like to work with the clubs ahead of the season to identify three or four rounds where new umpires will officiate alongside an experienced umpire. This will boost interest in umpiring and help handle those first-game nerves. Also, some of our female club supporters have been helping with goal umpiring this year. Potentially we have our own Chelsea Roffey in our midst, or better still one will go on to become a regular field umpire.
The last few years in the DAFL have seen more neutral umpires, which is improving the culture around umpiring.
It’s really important to have a supportive environment around our umpiring group, as it has helped retain umpires. In addition, since AFL Europe introduced accredited training and support, the standard of umpiring in the league has improved, as it gives our guys and girls something to strive for. I am also hearing this from Umpires’ Coordinators in other leagues, who all seem to be doing well in developing their umpiring teams.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the 2014 season and am starting to plan for next year already. Reminds me of how it went my playing days, really!
#umpiresweek #betterumpiresmeansbettergames #thethirdteam