Staying ahead of the game

AFL umpires in discussion at workshop
AFL umpires at mentoring workshop Credit: AFL
Author:  Cathy Reid
Issue: Volume 7 Number 2

Despite having a highly successful coaching system in place for maintaining and improving the standard of umpiring, the Australian Football League (AFL) has established a professional development program for umpire coaches to ensure it stays ahead of the game at community level.

The AFL umpire coach professional development program has already made an impact in just three years, according to Jim Cail, AFL Manager, Umpiring Development.

‘The program is all about improving community-based umpire coaches and equipping them with the skills to ensure they can continue to improve,’ Cail said.

The program focuses on two key areas:

  • the environment in which the umpire operates
  • the approach to coaching and communicating with umpires.

‘The AFL has recognised that we can do all the recruiting we like, but if the environment in which an umpire participates is not positive, friendly, interactive and supportive then we will lose new recruits.’

Now in its third year, the program supports 183 umpire coaches around Australia.

The first stage of the program is an ‘umpire coach in training’ year. In the second year the umpire coach undertakes their Level 1 umpire coach accreditation, while in the third year umpire coaches either go into an umpire coach network group or a head umpire coach scholarship program.

The program is delivered through a series of workshops, teleconferences and an annual conference.

‘These provide an ideal way for coaches to interact, share ideas and experiences, and strengthen their networks while developing strategies to improve their approach to coaching,’ Cail said.

Facilitator, David Levens, from Glenlyon Consulting believes the key to success is the program’s supportive environment and engagement with umpire coaches.

‘We believe if we get the environment right we are more likely to attract and retain people. Then it’s a matter of keeping it interesting and challenging,’ Levens said.

‘We provide an opportunity for people to come together, share their experiences and build on what they already know, rather than just tell them how things should be done.’

‘It’s all about growing. In year one the umpire coaches start on a professional development plan. In year two they identify a project they are going to work on related to their coaching, and in year three they are expected to provide a stronger leadership role in the program.’

Leading by example is Brian Goodman, the Victorian Amateur Football Association senior umpire coach, who is in his third year of the program.

Goodman was appointed umpire coach and manager for the 2008 AFL national under-16 championships at the Gold Coast.

‘I had to bring umpires together from all over Australia who I had never met before and work out a strategy to manage every aspect of the championships including the umpiring techniques, drills, fitness, appointing umpires to games and providing feedback on performances,’ Goodman said.

‘I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I felt prepared and confident that I could do it because of the skills I’d developed through the umpire coach professional development program.

‘I think it is one of the best things that has happened in the AFL from an umpiring perspective. The program certainly gave me the confidence to be able to go to the next level.’

Another bonus is the retention of senior officials such as Hugh Moore, who is one of the longest serving umpire coaches.

‘If it weren’t for the program I would have retired from umpiring three years ago,’ Moore said. ‘It really gave me a new lease on life and a different outlook to my coaching.’

The Dandenong Juniors umpire coach looks after a team of seven umpire coaches and 160 umpires, and manages the appointments for 72 games each weekend.

‘We put together a training program for their coaching and fitness skills, then go and observe the umpires each week and provide feedback,’ Moore said.

‘Thanks to the program, I’ve changed the way I conduct my coaching sessions and we now have more numbers than we’ve ever had. I put it down to the environment we’ve created and our philosophy of doing it right the first time.’

The changes in the coaching approach have been noticeable across a broad spectrum of umpiring panels according to Don Cooper, the South Australian Umpire Development Manager.

‘What we’ve seen is an increase in professionalism across the board,’ Cooper said. ‘And while the program is targeted at the grassroots level, it’s good to see the involvement of a number of our state league umpire coaches as well.

‘This is also opening up the channels of communication between metro and country panels of umpire coaches as well as those involved at a higher level.

‘There is a lot more interaction among the umpiring groups with people feeling more empowered and able to contribute. It’s a great way of tapping into everyone’s expertise.

‘It’s about recognising that we each have different ideas and something to contribute and if we all network together we can share them, and everyone improves.’

For more information please contact Jim Cail, AFL Manager, Umpiring Development on (03) 9643 1930.

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