Our latest umpire of the week is Sara Cox. Sara umpires in several of Canterbury's competitions and makes a substantial contribution to the development of our junior umpires.
What is your involvement with umpiring at the moment?
I umpire Division 1 women’s games on Sundays, school games on Wednesdays and on Saturday I mentor junior umpires at Nunweek Park.
What is your involvement with hockey outside of umpiring?
I play for Christchurch Girls’ High School 1st XI and I fill in for Carlton Redcliffes when needed.
How long have you been involved with hockey for?
I’ve been playing since I was about 3! I switched to being a goalkeeper a couple of years ago, and I started umpiring four or five years ago. Hockey is in my family, my dad and my granddad both used to play, as well as some of my relatives on my mum’s side.
Why did you start umpiring?
My sister umpired and I used to see her meeting new people and going to tournaments – it always looked like a fun thing to be involved with. I wasn’t the greatest umpire when I started! I was in Year 7 or 8 and was very easily distracted! My first game was a Saturday junior game and I went from there.
How did you get from there to where you are now?
I did those junior games for about half a year, then umpired summer hockey and began to umpire juniors again at the start of the next season. I then got pushed into covering a school game as someone was away and I ended up going to a tournament with one of the schools that year, as well as a Canterbury tournament. The following year I moved into Div 2 and 3, as well as going to some tournaments, and I did the same last year. Then this season I have made the step up into Division 1.
Which tournaments have you been to?
I have been to Collier twice, the National Maori Tournament twice, a 2nd XI tournament with Villa Maria and also to the Festival of Hockey tournament. I like tournaments because they’re a fun way to meet people and a great way to improve your umpiring as you get so much help and feedback. It’s like having family all over the country! I’m hoping to go to some more tournaments this year.
What is it that you enjoy about umpiring?
I like being able to be involved in the game, either as an umpire or as a mentor helping someone else develop. I just really like being part of it some great games of hockey.
What do you think are the challenges of being a younger umpire in junior divisions?
I think that people don’t always take me seriously, particularly in the men’s grades. They see me and make a judgement that I won’t know what I’m doing, which I find frustrating. People often feel more able to argue with calls I make than they would if it was an older umpire.
What do you do to overcome that?
There are always people around the turf who know me and know that I know what I’m doing, so they usually speak up on my behalf. Other than that, you just have to ignore it, which is quite hard to do sometimes.
What advice would you give to new umpires?
I’d say that if you end up in a tough situation, be confident in your ability to handle it. If you stay calm and focus on what you can do to help the situation, you’ll be able to deal with it without making it worse.
What skills do you think you’ve developed through your umpiring?
I’ve learnt how to control my emotions, especially when things are going on on the field, and also how to interact with people more successfully and communicate more openly.
Who are the people who have inspired you when you were getting started with umpiring?
I always looked up to Holly Beynon and Charlotte Baken, and also Katrina Turner and Lyndsey Jones. Lyndsey always used to come up to me and make jokes as well as telling me things about umpiring! My sister also helped me a lot when I was getting started. It’s always been nice to feel as though people are keen to make me feel like part of the umpiring team.
What do you think are your strengths as an umpire?
I like to think that I’m good at adjusting to the game. For example, if there’s a game where the other umpire is club supplied or there are lots of bad tackles going on, I feel as though I can handle that well and stay calm.
What are the things you’re trying to work on?
I’m trying to develop my communication with players, and also getting rules such as overhead balls and 5 metre calls perfect every time.
What kinds of things do you do to enable your development as an umpire?
I have been working with Max Beech which has been really helpful. Sometimes I have umpired with him, or he watches my games and gives advice which has made a big difference to my umpiring. I also like to watch other umpires and acknowledge the things they are doing, which helps me to consider what I do when I am umpiring.
What are your aspirations with your umpiring?
I would eventually like to become an international umpire, as I think most umpires would! Other than that, I’d just like to keep going as I am, pushing myself to keep going even when there are tough games and I get more commitments to divide my time between.
Thanks very much Sara for your time! If Sara's experiences have inspired you to find out more about umpiring, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discover the opportunities that are open to you.
Our latest Umpire of the Week is Gareth Greenfield. Gareth is one of CHA’s international umpires and he was recently selected to umpire at the last ever Champions Trophy. We were interested to hear about his experience so we interviewed Gareth to find out what it was like. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to umpire at an international tournament, here is your answer!
How are umpires appointed for international tournaments?
FIH do it – they have several different panels of umpires at different levels. The structure has recently changed, so I’m now in what’s called the Pro League panel. This is the Elite panel of umpires from all over the world from which FIH will appoint to the Pro League matches next year, but also look to for appointments to the major events (Olympics, World Cup). There are probably about 25 on this panel currently, from which appointments to the World Cup and Champions Trophy were made. I haven’t been to a World Cup yet, so in a way it was a bit disappointing not to go this time, but it was certainly a lot more convenient for me to spend a week in the Netherlands rather than three weeks in India!
How much notice do they give you when you are selected for a tournament?
About six months, so you have time to get everything organized.
Which major tournaments have you been to in the past?
I’ve umpired at two Commonwealth Games, in Delhi and Glasgow. I’ve also done three Champion’s Trophies, so this one, 2014 in India and 2011 in Auckland, where I was brought in at the last minute to cover for someone.
What’s the atmosphere like when you go to a major tournament?
It depends on where the tournament is – going to Europe for a Champions Trophy is always going to be a fantastic experience! In the Netherlands there was an 8500 person capacity stadium, and the World League I was at a few years ago was the same, just an incredible feeling around the whole event. Then the tournaments in India have huge permanent stadiums that are built for 11000 people, but when you go to Auckland to umpire they have a temporary structure for 3000-5000 people. It’s still cool to do a tournament at home, but umpiring in front of 8500 Dutch fans who know how to party is pretty special.
For the recent Champions Trophy, how big was the team of officials?
There were ten umpires, then there were the off-field officials: four match officials, so the judges and Technical Officers who manage the bench and the timings and all of that. Then there are a couple of Umpires Managers and a Tournament Director who oversees the whole tournament. Then there are a few others who work behind the scenes, for example the FIH doctor.
How do they organize the officials in terms of who umpires which games?
In terms of the umpires, the Umpires Managers work out which umpires are best suited to umpire each game. You have certain umpires that are better at managing different styles of play, or pairs of umpires who are better umpiring together. It’s important to have a mix of umpires that suits the teams, for example if you have a South American team and a European team you might try to have a Spanish-speaking umpire and someone who speaks English, to ensure that communication isn’t an issue. There are certain umpires or nationalities of umpire that are better at dealing with particular teams, for example umpiring the Australia v the Netherlands game there was myself and then a German umpire at the other end, which ensures there is a kind of synergy to the game.
How do the officials get to know each other?
You meet each other 2/3 days before the tournament and you share a room with one of the other umpires, but it’s not a long time to get to know each other. However, the friendship that is created in that kind of environment lasts forever – I was put with a Czech umpire I’d never met at the Chinese National Games last year, although I had seen him on TV. We were in a room together at that tournament and hit it off as friends straight away, and now he’s someone I feel I know pretty well even though officially I’ve only met him at two different tournaments for a total of 21 days!
What are the main differences between umpiring a CPL game and a game at a tournament like that?
The style of hockey is one – international hockey is such an open, expansive game so you’re not making as many close quarter decisions. It’s more your management of the game that is going to be important; because it’s such an open game you have to take the opportunity keep the game under control with a card or a penalty when necessary, but you have to make sure you keep the game consistent and fair. I’ve found it difficult since the tournament coming back to umpire in CPL, there are a lot more small infringements which you don’t get at international level because players pass the ball before they run into a defender!
It’s also different due to who you are umpiring – you recognize faces from TV, and it’s teams like the Netherlands playing India rather than club teams, which presents different pressures. You get to the point though where you are able to just see them as a couple of teams, and that makes it all feel easier.
What were the challenges of umpiring at this particular tournament?
It was the last ever Champions Trophy, the last time this tournament will be played. It’s always a fun tournament and it lacks the pressure of something like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games. Teams try out new things, particularly with the World Cup to prepare for at the end of the year. However, because it’s a round robin format every game matters and the last games of the round robin determine who is going into the final so they are very important. As an umpire there are no easy games or games that don’t matter at the Champions Trophy!
What did it mean to you to be part of the tournament?
It was pretty special, particularly the fact that I was selected to umpire my first ever international final. I went to the tournament wanting to get the final; it wasn’t a goal as such, but in the back of my mind I was thinking how special it would be to umpire the final of the last ever Champions Trophy.
Do the umpires get feedback during a tournament of this nature?
After each game the Umpire Manager gives feedback and you discuss with them key bits of the game. I didn’t get too much feedback, perhaps because I was umpiring well, but also the Umpire Managers are pretty smart and do whatever they need to get you in the right headspace for your next game. I let them know beforehand that if I walk onto the field happy I umpire better, whereas if I’ve been given something to think about and it’s playing on my mind, I’m not going to do as well the next day. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t give me so much feedback! As well as that, there’s a new online platform where all the games are logged and clips of certain parts of games are tagged, so we can go onto there and watch things back at any time.
Do you get nervous when you umpire at the top level?
Yes I do, but for some reason at this tournament I felt really relaxed. Particularly as the tournament went on it was quite a surreal sensation where I didn’t really worry about who was playing, I just saw it as two teams. Even walking out for the final past the trophy didn’t cause the kind of nerves I would expect – perhaps because I knew I had prepared well and was in the right headspace for the game. I was in a frame of mind where I knew I was on top of my game, so even in a really tense game I didn’t feel the pressure of what was at stake for the teams. At times there are nerves even at the top level and it certainly isn’t easy, but when you feel confident they don’t affect you in the same way.
How do you find umpiring with video officials?
When I first started umpiring with video officials I found it quite intimidating, particularly when I would miss something or get something wrong and my decision got overturned. I think the more comfortable and settled you are with your own umpiring, the more you’re able to accept that you’ve just made a mistake and it’s been corrected, which is what the video official is there for.
How do you find being in the role of the video official?
I was really nervous when I first did it, but again the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. It’s like any umpiring, the first few games at that level or in that role are bound to be nerve-wracking, but it soon feels like any other game of hockey.
What is the set-up for the video umpires?
The footage is managed by Hawkeye, who are contracted by the FIH – it’s the same company that does the tennis footage. You’re in the back of a van outside the stadium with four screens in front of you. The operator from Hawkeye is next to you and they have access to every camera in the stadium, which they can roll backwards and forwards and zoom in and out of. You tell them what you want to see and they can put footage from any camera on your screen.
You get a sense when something is happening on the field and you might be needed, so you might be looking at replays before the question even gets asked. Once the signal on the field comes up to you, you look for what you need to. You’ve got three options for a decision – you can say there’s no clear reason to change the on field call, so they stick with their decision, or you can say that you have a decision for them which means you’re going to change what they’ve said because they’ve missed something. The third option is to say that there’s no advice possible, which is when you aren’t able to get the correct camera angle to make a decision.
It’s quite a different skill to practice because as umpires we’re used to making a decision on the spot. The pressure is really on – everyone’s an expert when they’re watching at home! You want to make a decision quickly – the target we try to meet is 90 seconds, so that’s a factor. There’s also the fact that everyone else is watching the same replays you’re seeing but on the big screen in the stadium, so you’d better spot the same things they do! You get used to it – it’s just a different pressure, but it does still feel quite new for me compared to normal umpiring.
What developments are happening in terms of the technology that is being used at tournaments?
They’re looking at using ball tracking technology, like they do in tennis and golf. Hawkeye want to track where the ball is going, for example for shots on goal – did it cross the line, would it have been raised if it hadn’t hit a foot etc. The plan was to have it ready for the World Cup although I haven’t seen it yet.
What do you get out of going to these tournaments?
We don’t get paid but all our expenses are covered. It’s sometimes hard to take the time away from family and work but you meet people who become friends all over the world. The main thing though is that you get the best seat in the house for some of the best hockey in the world. You might have to blow the whistle and give a few free hits, but that’s a small price to play to visit the places I’ve been and watch the games I’ve seen through my umpiring. I’ve been to India, Japan, South Africa, Malaysia, the UK, Belgium – all these places I would never have been to if I wasn’t umpiring.
Do you get days away from the tournament to be a tourist?
At most tournaments you meet three days beforehand for briefings and occasionally there will be a rest day or two in the middle. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get away somewhere – in South Africa we had three rest days and went on a bit of a safari, so you do get to see some things. For the recent Champion’s Trophy we had a rest day but we were involved in the women’s tournament so we didn’t really get the opportunity to go anywhere. We had the last day free though before we flew out, so we had a look all around Amsterdam – it was the same in Beijing last year. It’s not a holiday – you’re there to do a job – but it’s still exciting to be in a completely different culture and environment.
So what’s next for you?
The Asian Games is in a couple of weeks’ time in Jakarta, so that acts as a qualifier for Tokyo Olympics, the winner goes through. That will be interesting as there are some really good times like India, Korea and Pakistan, but also some newer teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, so there will be some really different hockey being played. It should be fun, and it’s somewhere I’ve never been before which is a bonus.
Thanks very much Gareth for your time! If Gareth's experiences have inspired you to find out more about umpiring, contact email@example.com to discover the opportunities that are open to you.
Our previous Umpire of the Week was James Mountstevens.
James is one of the rising stars of the Canterbury Umpiring world and has progressed very quickly from junior games to Men's Division 2. Here he talks about how he got there and the kind of umpire he tries to be.
What started your involvement with hockey?
I came to New Zealand from the UK and I trialled for a Harewood Primary team – my older sister was good at hockey and I wanted to give it a go too. I didn’t do well in the trials as I wasn’t a very good player, but I was told that I might be useful in goal as I was tall. I’ve played in goal for Harewood since then.
What was it that made you start umpiring?
I was a very bossy child!! When I started playing in goal a Harewood coach approached me, as they had noticed that I was very loud and confident to communicate with my team. The coach knew that CHA were looking for some new junior umpires, so they suggested that I might want to give it a go.
How long have you been umpiring for?
I’ve been umpiring for 3 years, I started in the junior summer super 6 tournament. I was about 12 and had a mentor, Levi, who supported me through into the start of the next season. I gave the junior 6-a-side games a go on Saturday mornings and within 3 weeks I was doing 11-a-side! Arthur Whitehead often watched me umpire and he kept pushing me up, so by my second season umpiring I was doing the youth grade, which is now Platinum. By the end of my second season I was umpiring Division 3 men’s games and I had been to two tournaments – the Audrey Timlin Secondary Schools tournament in Dunedin and Mcgrath in Roturua. At the start of this season I started umpiring Division 2 Men’s games, and that’s where I’m at currently.
What are your current hockey commitments outside of umpiring?
I’m the goalkeeper for Harewood Red Division 3 Men’s Gold, and I also come down to Nunweek Park as a junior venue supervisor when the usual supervisors are away. I’m pretty much at Nunweek Park every Saturday, either helping Harewood with their mentoring or helping Lyndsey with supervising.
What is it that you enjoy about umpiring?
I have always been one for rules – I believe that everything has its place, and everything should be in its place! As an umpire I get the chance to enforce that, but also to make the game run smoothly, to keep it fair and to keep it safe. I’m always keen to improve as an umpire and I take pleasure from knowing that I’m constantly challenging myself to do better.
Have you found it challenging to umpire players who are older than you?
Yes I have, and at first I also found it difficult not to use my age as an excuse when I made mistakes. Initially when I made a wrong call and someone challenged me for it, I found it hard not to say “stop shouting at me, I’m 15!” I spoke to my mentor and he advised me to remember that when you are on the pitch you are the umpire, and you don’t need to justify your mistakes or earn your place on the pitch just because of your age. It doesn’t matter what age the players are, if I as a 15-year-old boy do my job properly I get respect from them, and in turn I treat them with respect and together we make the game the best that it can be.
Were there challenges that came from progressing so quickly through the levels?
The main thing I struggled with was feeling as though the players didn’t think I should be moving up so quickly. I had confidence in myself because I’d been told by mentors who I respect that I would be fine in those grades, but sometimes I worried if players who’d seen me recently in the junior grades would question my capability to suddenly be in Division 3. I overcame the problem by treating everyone the same, regardless of their age or experience, and setting the tone of each game right from the start. I make it clear that I can’t be pushed around, although I am approachable, and players tend to get the message fairly quickly.
What do you think are the strengths of your umpiring?
I have been told by Lyndsey that I’m a very vocal umpire; if the players feel something isn’t right they can talk to me as long as they do it respectfully. I’m happy to explain my decisions as long as it doesn’t slow down the game. I communicate when I’m playing an advantage rather than just using hand signals and I’m comfortable using my voice to let everyone know what’s going on. I don’t feel that I’ve done my job if players leave the field feeling confused, because it’s up to me to make it clear to them what’s happening and why it’s happening. I make my expectations clear right from the beginning of the game.
What advice would you give to new umpires?
Take as much advice as you can after the game, but ignore any feedback that’s shouted during the game! I put my metaphorical ear plugs in during the game, but as soon as I come off the turf I want to take as many comments as I can. You need to be able to take feedback, as long as it’s constructively presented, no matter who it comes from. Everyone has an opinion and not everyone’s will be right, but even by saying something that challenges your viewpoint, they are helping you improve. Next time you’re in that situation you will have given it more thought, and will have more confidence about what you should do. I don’t think it matters whether someone is an international umpire or the same level as you, if they take the time to give you advice you should take it, and use it however you can.
Who has inspired and helped you to develop as an umpire?
Nigel Iggo has helped me so much this season. He has been mentoring me and I’ve gone home after games and watched clips of him umpiring in the Olympics. He comes to watch me about every second week, in different kinds of games where possible. The fact that someone of that status within the hockey world thinks that I’m good enough to work with is a huge boost for me. All of the umpires I have worked with have helped me at some point by talking to me before and after the games. They all inspire me because they enjoy their umpiring and they want to help other umpires improve. It’s amazing when an umpire who has watched the game comes to speak to me in the dugout after the game – sometimes it’s CPL umpires, or others in Division 2, and I’m always grateful that people take the time to do that.
What kind of umpire do you think the players would say that you are?
I hope they would say that I’m fair, and approachable. I’m not a ‘nice’ umpire exactly but I’m sympathetic when things don’t go their way. I’m not too harsh – I understand that often players are reacting out of anger and regret something they’ve said or done straight away. There’s a real difference between understanding the rules and understanding the situation – I hope players would say that I can interpret the situation in front of me rather than sticking rigidly to the rulebook. If we played exactly by the rulebook we wouldn’t have a game – it would be awful if we blew the whistle for every single foot or stick tackle. I like to reward skillful play and let the game run as much as I can – I hope players notice that.
What do you do to ensure you continue to develop as an umpire?
I’ve got a rulebook which I keep in my bag, but if any questions come up during a game I will text my mentor Nigel afterwards, and he usually responds with a helpful paragraph explaining his thoughts on the situation. When something happens in the game and I’m uncertain of the action to take I carry on as normal and make a confident decision, but straight away after the game I write down what happened and take it to discuss with someone like Nigel, Lyndsey or Liz and see what they say. I find it beneficial to get lots of people’s opinions – that’s why I enjoy the umpire forums, because even though an international umpire is leading, he lets everyone have their say and you hear the issue from every side. I also get my mum to video games I have umpired and I then watch them back and consider what I could have done differently in particular situations. Improvement doesn’t really happen by itself, you have to put the effort in to make it happen.
What are your aspirations for your umpiring?
I’d love to keep on going as far as I can with it. I love umpiring and I love being in a position where I can have a really positive impact on a game. I want to be one of those umpires people don’t really notice – not because I’m not ‘in the picture’, but because I haven’t affected the outcome of the game. It’s a great feeling when players shake your hand at the end of the game and say thank you, it’s a rewarding feeling that I don’t get from anything else.
Thanks very much James for your time! If James' experiences have inspired you to find out more about umpiring, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discover the opportunities that are open to you.
Our previous Umpire of the Week was Jim Currie.
Please could you explain what your involvement is with umpiring at the moment?
I umpire for CHA, usually in Division 2 at the weekend. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to push myself further and have umpired some Division 1 games, both men’s and women’s. I also coordinate the club supply for University of Canterbury Hockey Club, which means that I sort out umpires for games where we have been asked to provide someone, making sure I’m careful to allocate people to a game that is an appropriate grade for them.
How long have you been umpiring for?
My first game was about 7 years ago, when my kids first took up hockey. They were playing out at Kaiapoi and I got thrown in the deep end when I was asked to coach the team even though I had no hockey background whatsoever! I’d never even played at that point. I grew up playing football, so I used the tactics from that – I didn’t even know how to hold a stick myself! We turned up for a game and there was no umpire so I was pressured into doing it, and then I had to really start learning the rules. The kids didn’t really know the rules either, so we learnt together and I enjoyed explaining things to them as I learnt them myself.
After that I began playing, and when I saw the umpires I thought that was something I could do too. I am a police officer, so I’ve got a thick skin and know how to deal with criticism. I had a heart attack three years ago and after that I began umpiring seriously, as a way to get myself fit again and remain involved in the sport I enjoy.
So what’s your involvement with hockey outside of umpiring?
I had never played hockey until I was 50, when some friends persuaded me to play in the Summer Masters competition. For the last two years I have played for and managed the UCHC Div 3 Apache team. It’s a diverse group made up of people from lots of different backgrounds – Indian, Malaysian, Kiwi, Scottish. It’s like a league of nations, but everyone gets on very well! I’m also on the committee for UCHC and I try to get down to Nunweek Park on Friday nights when work allows to watch the Friday night school league. My daughter umpires those games and invariably there will be a school supply that doesn’t show up, so I usually end up filling in!
How did you progress from the junior games to the grades that you’re umpiring now?
I got myself on some community umpire courses with CHA, the first one was run by Lyndsey Jones which was very entertaining as well as informative. I’ve been to a few since then, hosted by Gareth Greenfield, and every time I go I learn something new. I thoroughly recommend going to those forums if you get the chance. The content is tailored to include every umpire, no matter the level they are at.
When I started umpiring, CHA didn’t have an umpire mentoring programme, so it’s great to see that this is something they’re getting started now. For me it was a matter of reading the rulebook and trying to find someone who had enough experience to give me advice. I was lucky when I started out that Arthur Whitehead was here to give me advice and answer my questions about particular calls I had made. Over this last year I have been mentored by Max Beech, who is helping me so much with my positioning and reading of the game, as well as teaching me how to control the game without going to cards. With their help, I had enough confidence to progress through the youth grades and into Division 2.
What advice would you give to people who are starting umpiring now?
Don’t be afraid, give it a go! Enjoy your umpiring - you have to take some complaints from players sometimes but be confident and blow your whistle loudly. Players are less likely to get grumpy if they think you know what you’re doing. Don’t be worried about asking umpires you know for advice and help, and get involved with mentoring – ask CHA if they can match you up with someone. I’m always happy to help anyone I can, although I can only get them so far, but there are plenty of other people around who are happy to give advice. You have to believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, can you achieve anything.
Have you had any games that were particularly memorable?
There are a couple that stand out in my mind. Just a couple of weeks ago I was thrown in the deep end –I turned up to watch a Div 1 game and ended up umpiring because one of the umpires didn’t show up. It went really well – I had a few niggles because players saw something that myself and the other umpire didn’t see. A few players got a bit mouthy so I just explained to them that I was filling in and don’t usually umpire that grade. The players apologized, which surprised me, and after that I hardly got any trouble at all. At the end of the game the other umpire reassured me that I’d done well, as well as some of the players in the game who also umpire, and that gave me a boost.
There was also a game during last year’s season where I was deliberately asked to umpire because I’m a police officer, and one of the teams had been involved in a brawl in the previous week’s game. I was basically there to keep the peace as well as to umpire! The game started well but quickly got fiery, and I had to control the situation quickly by issuing a green card early on. Once the teams realized that I wasn’t going to put up with it, they settled down quickly.
What do you get out of umpiring?
Fitness and a sore body most of the time! Seriously though, I enjoy giving back to a sport that has helped me; after my heart attack, hockey helped me to get back to health. I believe that you have to give back to the community – that’s why I’m a police officer, to give back to the community and make them feel safe. I enjoy umpiring because I think that no matter what grade or skill level you play at, you deserve an umpire who is going to keep the game fair. I want the players to walk off the pitch having enjoyed playing and looking forward to coming back next week.
What kind of umpire do you think they players would say you are?
That would depend on who you ask, and how soon after their game! I hope they would think I’m fair and honest, and that I don’t take sides. I try to bring integrity and respect to the game, and stay completely impartial. Once I’ve got the yellow shirt on it doesn’t matter if you’re my best mate off the field, you’re not going to get any advantages. I stand up for my calls and admit when I’ve made a mistake. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’ve made a mistake, the players will respect you more for that than for sticking with a call that you’ve realized was wrong. You need to listen to what the players are saying, although that doesn’t mean you have to change your call just because of what they say. I would advise players that if you want to question the umpire about a call, ask them politely. If you are abusive towards them, they will not listen to what you’re saying.
Were there particular people who have supported you in your development as an umpire?
I’ve been lucky to get to know so many people through my umpiring. When I first started Arthur Whitehead was always available to give me advice, and he still does this if I have questions. He is so up to date with all the technical knowledge. I’ve also got Max Beech helping me now, he often comes down and mentors me in a very positive manner which is great. Both Max and Arthur have been very good at guiding me towards being able to reflect on my own game, rather than telling me what I’m doing well or need to improve on – that’s what proper mentoring is about. I’ve also been fortunate enough to get feedback from Gareth Greenfield, and have recently had the privilege of umpiring with Lyndsey Jones in women’s Mid-week Open, which was fantastic for my development.
What are your aspirations for your umpiring?
I would like to progress to be a confident Division 1 umpire. I’ve done a lot of Division 2 games this season and have started to get comfortable, which means it’s time to try to move on! You have to push yourself if you want to keep improving. Now that CHA are getting their mentoring programme underway, that’s something I would really like to be involved with next year too.
Thanks very much Jim for your time! If Jim’s experiences have inspired you to find out more about umpiring, contact email@example.com to discover the opportunities that are open to you.
Our previous Umpire of the Week was Angela Reimer.
Please could you explain your current involvement in umpiring?
At the moment I’m mainly umpiring Division 2 and Mid-week Open women. I’m hoping to move up to Division 1, so I’m umpiring there now and again and working on getting better. I’ve been umpiring seriously for 3 years and Division 1 is as far as I’ll go, I don't think I'll be a CPL umpire.
What about in the wider hockey community?
I play in goal for Southern United in Mid-week Open – one year I was in goal for three teams but this year I’m just doing one, thank goodness! I also play on the field on a Saturday afternoon on grass. I actually came back into hockey 10 years ago after a 25 year break. My son started playing hockey, so I took him along to his training and the coach suggested that I came to play. I thought I might as well give it a go as it would be good for me. I used to play school hockey and was a fairly average player – it was always on grass and we usually had to chase the sheep off the field so that we could play! I was always more into music than sports at school and have to give something up, so hockey fell by the wayside and I never thought I would end up playing again. I came into Canterbury hockey having played all of my hockey out in Darfield, so I was completely new to the hockey community here and didn’t know anyone.
Why did you start umpiring?
My son Billy actually got me into umpiring. He used to umpire Division 1 and CPL – I remember standing on the sidelines for his first CPL game, I was so proud! I was inspired by him really. I used to watch him and praise him because he was so young – 15 or 16 – and dealing with much older players. For example, I played in the Masters women’s tournament and he came and umpired my grade one year. I asked him how he handled the stroppy 55-year-old women and he told me that he just pretended it was me telling him off and he zoned out until they had finished! I recognized that when I was playing I hated games when we didn’t have good umpires, so I thought that instead of moaning to CHA that there weren’t enough good umpires, I would moan but also become an umpire myself!
What steps did you take from there to begin umpiring?
I started my umpiring in Masters. We needed a club supply umpire and nobody would do it. I thought “I could do it!” I didn’t know the specifics of the rules but I knew how hockey was supposed to be played, where people were supposed to be, what was right and what was wrong. After a game Billy had umpired at Masters there was a game that needed another umpire, so he suggested I should do it and he would watch. I remember it clearly – it was on Nunweek 3 and I had just finished playing in goal so had a goalie top on as my umpiring top! That was probably 4 years ago.
What was your pathway from there to where you are now?
I found I was quite good at umpiring and really enjoyed it. I umpired every week after that and by the end of that first Masters season I decided that if I was going to commit to umpiring, I was going to do it right. I sat down and read rulebooks, I got to know Lyndsey Jones and Mandy Watts a lot better and asked them lots of questions, I went and watched CPL games to see how it all worked. I knew CHA were short of umpires and I felt that I had the time to commit, so I picked up a regular school game on a Wednesday afternoon. I got a feel for umpiring some younger games as well as the Masters umpiring I had been doing. There were some incredible players in the Masters grade and such an in depth knowledge of the game, so it was interesting to umpire the other extreme – young players who were fast and had quick skills but lacked the understanding of the game. I found myself talking them through a lot of the rules at first, which I really enjoyed and it was great for my own understanding of the rules. I then picked up some club games on Sunday mornings and worked from there. I got more and more confident as I received positive feedback from coaches. I really, really enjoy umpiring. The first season I was so nervous as I was so worried about getting it right, but I’ve since learnt that you don’t need to get everything right all the time, you just need to be fair and safe and support the game.
What advice would you give to people who are just starting umpiring?
Try to reflect on each game. Think about what you did well, but also consider what you could do to make it better. Every person on that pitch is giving up their time and their energy as well as their money to be there, and they deserve good umpiring. Think about what you could do to make the game better for them, because if you make it better for them you are going to make it better for you. It could be simple things like clarifying a rule for yourself or considering your positioning when the ball is in different areas of the pitch. Self reflection is the best way to make sure you keep improving, but don’t forget to give yourself that praise too as you are doing a difficult job out there.
In what ways do you think your umpiring has improved since you started?
I’ve gain confidence – I’m confident in other areas of life but I wasn’t in umpiring, so that has come a long way. I’ve developed my positioning and understanding of the rules, as well as learning to recognise and reward good play. Things like learning what playing a good advantage is can’t be taught, you have to learn and feel them for yourself. I have learnt not to pull everything up but to try to let the game flow.
What have been the challenges of developing as an umpire?
There are a lot of ‘on-field umpires’ out there. Some do have valid comments but you can’t let that affect you during the game. That’s been hard. Being passionate about something makes people very focused and determined, which can turn them into a bit of an unpleasant person on the field. I had to learn to recognize that the players are not picking on me and it isn’t personal, they’re just sending it out to the universe that they are annoyed with something that just happened. You mustn’t let it have any impact on how you respond to that player for the rest of the game. A great piece of advice I had from a younger umpire was that it’s ok if the players are angry, as long as they’re not angry at you. I want all the players to be happy and enjoy the game so I don’t like it if they get angry and upset, but I’ve finally learnt that if that happens it’s not about me.
Have you had any games which were particularly memorable?
The one I was proudest of was at the Masters tournament last year. I umpired the over-50 Women’s Silver/Bronze match. I knew one of the teams was coming out with a medal so that was the most pressured umpiring I’ve done. All games are memorable for different reasons though. Usually I’m able to have a laugh during the game. I forget the bad ones because they’ve gone!
What kind of umpire do you think players would say you are?
I hope they would say that I’m confident, consistent and fair. I like to think that they are pleased to see my name next to their game because they know they will get fair umpiring, often with a dose of laughter, either when I do something stupid or they do something stupid!
What do you get out of umpiring?
I get to spend time with some really cool people. I know at least one person in every team I umpire, so it’s always nice to say hello to familiar faces. I also get to watch some amazing games of hockey. The hard thing can be remembering that I’m umpiring rather than spectating! I always enjoy the fresh air and the exercise too – so it’s the people and it’s the sport that I enjoy.
What are your aspirations with your umpiring?
I would like to be a regular, confident Division 1 umpire. As it’s an area I’ve got some strengths in, I would also like to do some more mentoring of younger umpires coming up into Division 3, because that’s actually a very difficult grade to umpire. We need to support our umpires coming up, so I would love a role where I could lead by example and pass on the sage bits of advice that I was given when I started out.
Is there anyone in particular who supported you along the way with your umpiring?
Billy was pretty amazing but then again, he’s my son so he has to be!! He was completely honest with me and was a new enough umpire that he was passing on fresh new information that he had just received. Other than that it’s not fair to name names really as all the umpires I’ve worked with have been so supportive and have always answered all of my questions. Think of all the good umpires out there, male and female – I would have picked up something from them all.
Thanks very much Angela for your time! If Angela’s experiences have inspired you to find out more about umpiring, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discover the opportunities that are open to you.
Our lastest Umpire of the Week is Max Beech.
Please could you explain what your current involvement with umpiring is?
Within Canterbury Hockey I umpire in the Premier Men’s grade on a Saturday. I also umpire school games on Fridays, some Division 1 games on Sundays and some Mid Week Open games when the time allows. I also mentor some Division 1 umpires on a Sunday.
What about in the wider hockey community?
I play Mid Week Open for Marist, I coach the Hornby Division 1 women’s team I and am the assistant coach of the Hornby women’s CPL team, so Hockey is 5 days a week for me at the moment!
Have you always been involved in hockey?
Yes – I played one year of football when I was 5 but had a miserable time, so I took up hockey at 6 or 7 and have been involved ever since. I chose hockey because one of my mum’s friends suggested it, but hockey had never been a part of my family until my brother and I played. My parents had no idea of hockey whatsoever until we began to go away to representative tournaments – now they love the sport and have become hockey people, not that they would ever play!
How about umpiring, when did you start that?
That would have been when I was around 11 or 12. As a player I was (and unfortunately still am) quite a hothead on the field, especially about things that went wrong and decisions that had been made. It all came to a head when someone within my club told me I was going to be umpiring after I’d played one day, to give me an idea of what it’s like. I think the idea was that I would struggle and it would make me less critical of umpires, but in fact I absolutely loved it, took to it like a duck to water and from there I was umpiring every week after I played.
What was your pathway from those first few experiences up to where you are now?
Within Counties Manukau where I began umpiring we had our Division 1 grade which was within Counties, then we had 4 Premier teams who would play within the Waikato intercity competition, so they play against teams from Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua and Ngatea. I was umpiring in the Division 1 grade, then when I was 16 I did my first intercity men’s game. I remember it very clearly - it was raining, cold and I was terrified of what would happen! I got through it though and umpired Premier hockey from the age of 16 until I left Auckland at 18. When I moved to Christchurch in 2014 I started off in CPL – the first game was Selwyn v Avon and Hayden Shaw the Black Sticks player was playing. I still remember that game very clearly too! It will be 5 years this year that I’ve been umpiring CPL in Christchurch.
Have you umpired at many tournaments?
In 2007 I went to Hatch Cup to play, and the week prior I went to the Northern Region U13 B tournament to umpire. That was my first tournament experience, then following that I umpired at Hatch Cup two years in a row, in Wellington and then Invercargill. As an Auckland boy, it was certainly a new experience going all the way down to Invercargill in the winter to umpire! Since I came to Christchurch I’ve only done one, U18 regionals in Napier in 2014. I haven’t been since then due to injuries and other commitments, although I would like to get back into it. I did plenty of tournaments when I was still in the Midlands, however it’s eased off since I came to Christchurch. Coaching has filled the gap the tournament umpiring left.
Do you find it hard to balance playing, umpiring and coaching commitments?
Not really, I usually manage to umpire at the same ground the teams I coach are playing at, before or preferably after their games. Then when I play on Monday I usually umpire a game before I play too. I’m very lucky that I’ve got a supportive partner at home who doesn’t mind me being gone for hours each weekend for hockey! The hardest thing is to fit all the hockey around my life outside of hockey, but when you enjoy something as much as I enjoy hockey, you want to be there as much as you can. I think I’ve got a good balance at the moment.
What do you get out of umpiring?
I loved playing Premier hockey but it wasn’t something was going to be available to me long term. Being an avid sports fan I want to be involved as much as I can, so I thought about how else I could be involved in the game and umpiring was that. I get the best seat in the house, I get to be part of all the highs and the lows that the players feel. If there’s a fantastic last minute goal I get to feel the elation that moment brings, but I also feel the pain that the team who have conceded the goal feels – I get to be part of the whole picture. I get to live the game without being one of the players. I had a game the other week where this was emphasized because my fellow umpire Duncan Coates and I actually played a part in three goals that were scored right at the end of a game – he and I both played advantages instead of blowing for penalty corners and the teams both scored, then I let a quick free hit carry on and again they scored with seconds left on the clock. There’s so much riding on those moments and I thrive on the pressure of being the umpire who makes those calls.
What kind of umpire do you think players would say you are?
It depends who you ask!! There have been players I’ve had run-ins with and others who have been good friends ever since I moved here. It was difficult moving to town at the age I was without knowing any of the players, and in Midlands players saw different umpires all the time whereas in Christchurch players are used to having the same umpires. I would like to think that I’m approachable and I’m becoming very willing to admit that I’m wrong when I am wrong. I hope players know that my decision will always be fair whichever way it goes. From a player’s perspective that’s the most important thing.
What advice would you give to younger umpires, or those just getting started?
Be conscious and smart enough to take all the advice you’re given and apply it to your game as you see fit. The advice that works for someone in CPL might not make sense for someone in Division 2, the context has to be taken into account. You’ll always get differing advice, so be open to all of it and never disregard someone who is giving you advice. As you develop as an umpire you’ll understand more about the kind of umpire you want to be, so you can be more selective about the advice you take.
What is it you enjoy about mentoring?
I had a huge amount of mentoring available to me in the midlands, there were always people watching my game and wanting to help me, whether it was a rainy Sunday night or the best game on a Saturday. That really did help me, especially during those younger years when I was stepping up into difficult grades. I owe both Dean Curley and Dave Potter a lot for the time they spent with me back in Counties. I look at all those great Division 1 umpires that we’ve got coming through in Canterbury and the fantastic potential that’s there, and I see an opportunity to give back to the game and help these umpires develop, the same way I was helped not so long ago.
Do you have aspirations with your umpiring that you haven’t fulfilled yet?
I think most umpires who have had a taste of national tournament hockey have aspirations to get there again. When I was younger, like most umpires I was working with, I wanted to be an international umpire and we all wanted to go to the Olympics or a World Cup. I would like to go further, I don’t want the U18 Regionals to be the furthest I got, but I need to stop and reassess my options and whether I would be able to break back into it as I’ve been away for a few years. If I don’t end up going any further I can still be involved in other ways – helping younger umpires prepare for tournaments and seeing the enjoyment they get from that means just as much to me.
Thanks very much Max for your time! If Max’s experiences have inspired you to find out more about umpiring, contact email@example.com to discover the opportunities that are open to you.