THE better an umpire is, the less you will notice them.
It doesn’t sound hard in theory, but delivering that fan expectation of umpiring is not an easy task.
As much attention as the gruelling pre-seasons footballers go through gets, umpires too must work hard in pre-season to be mentally and physically prepared.
Russell Brodie, who heads the Rochester Echuca Football Umpires Group, said pre-season training had ramped up in recent weeks.
“We started a bit slow with other sports like cricket wrapping up, but the last two or three weeks the numbers have been really good,” he said.
“Our recent come and try night was quite successful with a good turnout, so our numbers are improving.”
Brodie said his umpires were training well as the season approaches.
“It’s been going well, we’ve been very lucky with the weather and training has been good,” he said.
“We’ve done plenty of theory sessions to work on rule changes and new interpretations as well as lots of running sessions which have been good.
“We probably have been working at a 60-40 ratio of running to theory, and as the year goes on we’ll train more around running and drills.”
The biggest difference in rules this season is the new third man up rule for rucks at stoppages, where only the nominated ruckmen are able to contest the ball.
“That’s the biggest change we’ve had to discuss, especially scenarios involving where a passive player becomes involved in the contest,” he said.
“We’ve seen instances in the AFL where players have been confused with that and we’ve had to spend time managing that and making sure we are all on the same page.”
Another change will see a tighter interpretation of high contact where a player with the ball initiates and contributes to the contact above the shoulders.
Brodie said theory training was important but umpires would also learn more when applying the theory in gameplay situations.
“You’ve got to understand the rules and the interpretations, but as well as going through theory we do practice scenarios and match simulations to put theory into practice,” he said.
With many young umpires part of his umpire group, Brodie said learning to deal with comments and abuse from players and fans was a crucial part of the role.
“It’s a difficult one to coach, you can talk about how to handle it but when faced with it it’s hard to know how you’ll deal with it,” he said.
“Clearly we talk to them and tell them to try and ignore it and not to take it personally. It’s part of the game unfortunately, and we offer them as much support with it as we can.
“We run the younger umpires with a more experienced one to try and shield them from it at first.”
The Rochester Echuca Umpires Group trains on Wednesday nights at 5.30pm at the Echuca South Recreation Reserve, and covers the Heathcote District Football League seniors and Goulburn Campaspe Junior Football League.
Training might have already started, but Brodie said the group was always looking for more people to get involved with umpiring.
“There’s no real time frame on when people can start umpiring with us, they can get down whenever,” he said.
“Our numbers are okay but it’s always tight and we have to stretch our umpires to cover all games. More umpires mean we can reduce the workload on the others.”
Anyone interested in joining the group can contact Russell Brodie on 0417 117 361 or group secretary Marlene Stapleton on 0416 288 767.