Educating entry level umpires

Junior cricket game
Author:  Sharon Phillips
Issue: Volume 8 Number 2

Two years after putting a new Level 1 umpire accreditation program in place, Cricket Australia is reaping the benefits of what umpire educator Denis Burns calls a ‘powerful educative tool’.

More than 1300 new umpires have come into the system as a result of the new Introduction to Officiating course. Umpire training had previously produced officials for competitive adult-grade cricket, and anyone wanting only to umpire in junior cricket had to go through intense cricket law-based courses. The course has been designed to train umpires to officiate or ‘manage’ junior matches.

Burns welcomed the intake of junior officials but added a cautious note. ‘Popular does not mean that you’re going to get quality officials from [the course],’ he warned.

He said a number of safeguards needed to be in place to ensure the program met its aims and continued to be a success.

‘[Cricket] is fairly unique in that it takes a long time to play most games,’ Burns said. ‘Because of the time factor most people who get involved are relatives, mums, dads, friends, and they find it difficult to become involved as officials if they are not welcomed or if they are threatened by a whole host of laws and regulations.

‘What we really want is self-sustaining communities where cricket is being enjoyed, it’s fair, it’s in a safe environment, and those communities themselves are producing the next generation of officials with our help.’

He said one of the first hurdles with the course was negating traditional perceptions of umpires as very old people. ‘The traditional view of an umpiring course is a room that has a whiff of embalming fluid about it because the people are so old,’ he said. ‘You get this impression that they’re people who say “I can’t play any more — my eyesight’s gone, my hearing’s gone, I can’t walk — I could be an umpire!” It has to get beyond that,’ Burns said.

Victoria is one state where the new course is being taken into secondary schools and, Burns said, it has been very successful.

‘You have a group of teenagers and teachers who realise the power of taking an accredited program which they can add to their CVs,’ he said. ‘It enhances them as individuals in terms of their own learnings and success. Managing the sport also gives them a number of transferable skills. It also provides us with a future generation of younger umpires. Victoria has now produced about 170 Level 1 umpires all below the age of 16.’

Yet Burns said that the course’s success in schools or communities was only as good as the facilitator or presenter trainer behind it.

‘It’s impossible to empower people by imposing expertise. It has to be organic. It has to be grounded, therefore whoever is facilitating [the course] has to be very, very sensitive to the needs of that audience. They have to have a passion for what they are doing.’

He said initially state directors of umpiring were interested in facilitating the courses themselves but Burns predicted that would become unsustainable. ‘You can’t have one or two people travelling around the whole state, and in the case of Queensland you can’t have people travelling 2000 kilometres to do their courses.’ He said the next phase of the program would involve rolling out facilitator training in the states and using it as a cascade model.

Much of the tweaking of the program has come from evaluations conducted after the first year. ‘Assessment is part of the integrity of any program,’ Burns said. ‘If you really want to know how the course is going you really need to have a good evaluation tool built in, asking good questions and not giving it to people in the last ten minutes of the course. Preferably it should be followed up with telephone conversations.’

He said that while Cricket Australia’s evaluation revealed some ‘fault lines’ after the course’s first year, he was confident the course would only be stronger from their repair. ‘My personal view is that we will create a generation of people quite happy to officiate locally, to officiate non-competitively, and they’re more informed, they’re more enabled, they’re more empowered if they want to progress.’

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