I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a cold and raining day at The Gateway Oval, Lilydale. A young umpire crying and shaking as he had just been verbally abused by a parent on his way back in at half time. The umpire, 14 years old, the game he was umpiring, Under 11’s. No premiership points, no lives on the line, a game between two clubs in the outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria.
I remember this because my old man was President of the Junior club, a man who always told us to never talk back to the umpires for a simple reason, they won’t change their mind just because you yelled at them.My old man had to calm not only the umpire down, but the umpires father as well. Both visibly shaken, both not wanting the umpire to continue on. Now the old boy has a way with people, and he encouraged the umpire to continue on, walked by his side out to the middle and back into the change rooms at the end of the game, thanked him for his time and wished him a good day. The umpire did a great job.
The parent, when asked to leave the ground due to their behaviour, took this as encouragement to threatened physical violence, increase his verbal abuse (in front of kids mind you) and be physically dragged away.
Because he didn’t like a call an umpire made in an Under 11’s match, on a cold, rainy Sunday in Lilydale, Victoria.
Working with sporting clubs, of all codes, right across the nation, it is evident that the pandemic has had an impact on sporting communities. None more so then umpires and referees. 2 years out of the game, no abuse, from fans, players, coaches, must have been a welcomed holiday from what they are use to. Leagues and associations are now facing major shortages of umpires and referees, even in top flight local competitions.
Becoming an umpire is harder than being a player or coach. You have to truly love the game, truly want to see sport and competition occur, because for the most part, you are not paid or underpaid, you are abused and hardly thanked. You must truly love the game you are officiating, as you are not the star, you don’t get to win or lose, you are simply there to apply the rules written by committees who are long gone, or who operate a long way away from your local club. You didn’t choose the new rules, you didn’t choose the old rules, you just enjoy being part of the sporting community and culture.
Leagues and associations will tell you the hardest part of their jobs is getting and keeping good umpires, resilient umpires, and there in lies the problem we are all facing. Why do our officiators have to be resilient?
Abuse shouldn’t be in any sport, to any one. It is bullying, plain and simple. Yet we have for years made it common occurrence that our umpires should be resilient, they should be able to overcome the weekends occurrences. Resilience should not be needed, manners and appreciation is what we all need to be doing and should have been doing all along.
You get a bad call, you can be annoyed, but don’t yell at the umpire. You think you should have a penalty or free kick, that’s on you and unfortunately the umpire didn’t see it that way. How about you be resilient, pick yourself back up, move on to the next point or contest and do your best. Players, coaches, supporters, its your turn from now on to be resilient.
We encourage and make sure any partnership from sporting associations and leagues, to include their umpires in our programs. Our program isn’t just for the clubs, its for everyone, and when you ask league staff members, they say the same thing, “our umpires definitely would appreciate this type of program”.
Bravo to the AFL for putting their hands up and stopping players from back chatting the umpires. This is a step in the right direction, because we as an organisation see it in all sports, that umpire numbers are dwindling, their mental health is suffering and more support is needed for umpires from the next generation.
You think you know better, pick up a whistle, start getting your fitness up to run 10-12km a game, learn the rules back to front and get out there and give it a go. For most, I reckon in the first 5 minutes you make more mistakes than that umpire you swore at made in a whole game.
It’s time to change the narrative, umpires are to be thanked, not abused. They are to be congratulated for coming to your mud pile ground, on a -2 degree day in the pouring rain to officiate your match where they do not win or lose, they just love the game.
To all umpires, refs, officiators and volunteers, we see you, we thank you, we are here for you.
Sport is more than just a game, to coaches and players, and especially to our officiators.
Outside the Locker Room