A little less conversation, a little more action please!
Elvis may well say actions speak louder than words, but here at AFL Europe, we think that it’s the talking that helps our indigenous umpires take their first tentative steps onto the field of dreams.
Australian Football in Europe has seen the number of players and their skills developing fast over the past few years. Considering the steeper learning curve involved in both learning the game and becoming an umpire at the same time, it’s not surprising that our umpiring stocks have been a little slower to develop. Through our “entry level” Level 0 course, we’ve tried to provide learning umpires and their coaches with the fundamentals and a safe learning environment.
Shane Hill, Umpires Development Manager for AFL Europe said, “I was asked a few years back to run a course for umpires at a Euro Cup. Along with a couple of others, we tried to keep it simple, focussed on the most important decisions and gave advice about the game day environment.”
Since then, AFL Europe has run a dozen of these foundational courses across Europe. The content may have been refined, but the message remains the same says Hill, “We need umpires who understand the spirit of the game and have empathy with players. By developing umpires who keep the game safe, fair and flowing, the game will benefit.”
The Level 0 focusses solely on the spirits of the laws, “risky business” and basic positional concepts.
Importantly, umpires, players and coaches all take part in this respectful and safe learning environment, for the benefit of our great game. It is in essence just a conversation about footy. The ability to share a range of perspectives – and experience – helps the group to develop confidence for umpiring, and be able to learn from mistakes in a supportive environment. It’s an environment that can also act as a springboard to further build on club/umpire activities throughout the season.
Over 100 umpires have undertaken our gateway course to Australian Football. The Level 0 is one of the pre-requisites to undertaking the Level 1 and umpiring at key AFL Europe events.
In helping our leagues to develop umpiring, we needed to address the unique European conditions. “Taking the Australian model and telling leagues ‘this is how you develop your umpires’ missed the point – it particularly assumed some inherent learning during an umpire’s formative years. So we went back to basics, including things like 9-a-side, knowing that we needed to talk about what Australian Football actually was in a theoretical sense,” states Hill. “The way our guys and girls here play the game is so different in so many little ways. It’s a thrill to see the game in a whole new light.”
Better umpires really do mean better games.
With better umpires, players are more confident to commit themselves to the ball, pick it up and as a result, dispose more effectively. We all want to see the big marks, strong tackles and long passes to a leading forward, which all benefit when players know the risk of avoidable injury is reduced by having properly trained umpires. Encouragement not only from other umpires but also senior players and coaches who have attended these courses and know how to recognise good umpiring, enables our “third team” members with the positive reinforcement that validates our love of the game. Our club leaders are potentially the most important umpiring resource we have.
Oliver Krajacic, Captain of the Austrian Avalanche had these thoughts to share, “For us Umpiring has been approached mostly the same as Footy – a couple of dedicated blokes who almost knew what they were doing, slowly but constantly improving with time.” It would be fair to say that many leagues have a similar situation locally. Krajacic goes on, “AFL Europe delivered an Umpiring Workshop last year at our home ground in Zwaring, with players from the Croatian League participating as well. For the first time we had a professional tell us not only how to interpret the Rules of the Game in a more detailed way than we ever had before, we also got valuable advice on how to conduct a game, how to position yourself when working with a second umpire and how to communicate on the ground.” The benefits to players and umpires alike were clear to Krajacic, “Apart from drastically improving our umpiring, the workshop also helped players to better adhere to the rules, play smarter and better understand an umpires decisions and the difficulties of umpiring an Aussie Rules game.”
We certainly look forward to seeing Oliver and the Austrian side at this year’s Axios Euro Cup in London, to talk more about how umpiring is developing locally.
Taking it to the next stage, the Level 1 develops further an umpire’s core skills.
In 2013, we ran our first Level 1 course in Dublin, alongside the second European championships. Nearly a dozen umpires took the theory course and, additionally some members the national squads joined our inaugural teleconference. Many umpires involved in both the theory and the teleconference went on to umpire throughout the week in a range of conditions. All involved in the Level 1 programme received on-field feedback and a post-tournament review. As a result, the AFL recognised four umpires, who received their Level 1 accreditation.
Gavin Ward, Umpires Coordinator for DAFL was one of those involved in Dublin, “the past couple of years I have been umpiring on a regular basis. I had been a retired player in Australia for many years, so I’ve really enjoyed learning another side to the game. You learn and understand the game from one perspective as a player; where in umpiring there is a need to understand the rules on a much deeper level.” Last year, Ward took on the role of Umpires Coordinator for the DAFL, “I was asked to help build a team of umpires. I started looking into what training is available to help other umpires in the league, when I heard about the Level 1 course to be run as part of the European Championships. The preparation needed before the course and focusing on umpiring for a full week proved to be quite beneficial. There were a lot of drills, written materials and coaching during and after games. This, along with setting up a social media forum to support and recruit umpires has really helped me to move forward in my role as Umpires Coordinator.”
It’s great to hear Gavin’s feedback. Our Level 1 course is designed to give developing umpires who desire increased performance the resources and support they need to achieve their aims.
Our approach to the Level 1 is more rigorous, with the pre-requisites being completion of the Level 0 and online theory. Successful Level 1 umpires are then observed in a minimum of three matches competently umpiring to a Level 1 standard, criteria including control, position, composure, confidence, communication, consistent application of the basic laws and have a developing understanding of how to self-assess. The criteria are set down by the AFL, who has recognised our Level 1 programme.
So what happens now?
Following feedback from our umpires like Oliver and umpires coordinators like Gavin, the conversation continues. We’ve expanded our development programme this year, particularly in consideration of the remoteness of our “third team.” We’ve held several teleconferences already this year with more to come. We will also be running two Level 1 courses, one in the UK and one in Eastern Europe. A number of forums are now also available, alongside the longstanding AFL Europe Umpires Facebook page. We already have some exciting plans under discussion here at AFL Europe HQ for 2015, so stay tuned!
Want to join the conversation or invite a friend? Our forthcoming July and October teleconferences and in the remaining Level 0 and Level 1 courses still have places remaining. Registration is via Eventbrite (http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/afl-europe-umpires-6007970449?ref=eorgbtn) and for each, registration closes a few days before the event.
Sorry Elvis, but we’ll have a little more conversation for our third team, please!
#umpiresweek #betterumpiresmeansbettergames #thethirdteam