For the first time on the pitch as an umpire is like driving a car for the first time. You have studied the rules, have passed your exam and than the real moment arrived. Full of knowledge but also full of nerves you walk on the pitch together with your colleague to meet the captains of both teams. Your colleague arranges the toss, the teams and you shake hands and the game is about to start. So far so good.
Your first position, your first whistle, whatever you are doing everything is for the first time and we as experienced umpires we can feel your doubts. To be honest, I had actually forgotten this feeling until last week when I was educator for a group of starting umpires. We explained and discussed the rules, watched video clips, made drawings with regard to positioning and we prepared the new umpires for a match.
At the venue we organised a practical session on the pitch about positioning, practising a penalty corner, a penalty stroke and other situations. After this session the match started and everyone was very excited and then I realised how extremely difficult that very first match is for a starting umpire. Where to stand, when to blow, when to walk, how to signal, what to do next? All these things, that for me are basic items, can become a nightmare.
So what can we do about it? How can we help? Do players and coaches have compassion for this starting umpire? Do parents have compassion for this umpire? No, they don’t, so we as educators must take care of this group of young people.
The Royal Dutch Hockey Federation (KNHB) has changed its approach towards the umpiring course for their so-called ‘club umpires’. They have a digital system in which all candidates can practice drills about rules, signals, positioning etc., but that is not enough. Recently two presentations were made available to be used in workshops at the club in a class room setting to give extra support to these youngsters. The first results after using these education tools have shown an improvement of the exam results.
And still we can do more. We do need to help these youngsters with practical training and support. Theory is one part followed by the first footsteps on that (artificial) grass. You could try to organise a practice match or a match 8×8 and always have a coach on the sideline. Put your faith in a youngster, give compliments, give small development points… and if possible ask the coaches of the team to support as well.
That very first step can be the start of a great adventure that gives you a lot of pleasure, a lot of social contacts, development of personal competencies and it also can give you a wonderful career, a huge learning experience, great friendships all over the world. In short, becoming and being an umpire is a wonderful experience for you as a human being. I am so glad that I have received all these opportunities in umpiring and I love to share all my knowledge and experience to help you with your umpiring adventure.
Yolande Brada is a former international (field)hockey umpire. Since 2000 she travels around the world as a FIH Umpires Manager. Highlights were the Olympics 2004, World Cups Indoor 2003 and 2015, the Youth Olympic Games 2014 and several Champions Trophy’s, European Nations and World- and Olympic Qualifiers. She has almost ten years experience at the Dutch Hockey Federation (nowadays as Projectleader Innovation and Development of Umpiring), is an educator on behalf of the Academy of Sports Education of the Dutch Olympic Committee and has her own consultancy for umpiring projects.