Saturday, 4 January 2014

Hanging out with AFL South Africa

In December last year I spent two awesome weeks with the lovely guys at AFL South Africa. This was in fact the second time that I’d had the pleasure of working with Phindi, July and all the others, where in October 2012 I spent a week helping the umpires during their National Championships. As an umpire in Melbourne, I've been exposed to a lot of umpiring coaching, training and AFL football, so I believe I have a lot to offer all the umpires and players in South Africa. That’s why I decided to come back and further impart my knowledge onto these AFL lovers that are hungry to know more and gain more experience of the game.

My aims while I was in South Africa were to develop a more substantial manual for umpires and coaches to access any time they want, as well as a training handbook so the umpires could fine tune their skills and keep the practice going. Unfortunately umpiring in South Africa is not high on the list of priorities, and it’s been like that in Melbourne too. The players are the ones who usually receive much more training than umpires and have a few more opportunities to better themselves. Unluckily, umpires seem to get left behind and are often an after-thought. But this is changing, in Melbourne and in South Africa.  AFL South Africa are committed to giving umpires the proper resources and coaching that is needed to be great umpires. I guess letting me help out is proof of this. 

On one of my final days working with AFL SA, I was lucky enough to travel to the big smoke of Johannesburg to run a day-long session all about umpiring to the umpires and players of the North West and Gauteng provinces. It was incredible to see familiar faces that I’d met at the Nationals in 2012, and to witness their passion and enthusiasm for an Australian sport continuing to grow. All of the umpires and players there were so eager to learn and better their knowledge of the game that it was hard to end the workshop.

Throughout the day, we went through the manual and training booklets that I had created. This was everything from the rules of AFL to the roles of each of the umpires, knowing how to get the best out of yourself as an umpire and much more. Everyone had lots of questions to ask, particularly the players about decisions that had gone against them during past games. I was happy to assist and help them understand how an umpire may have reached his/her decision. After a bit of explaining and reassurance, the players soon realised just how important the umpires are to the game. Without them the game wouldn’t and couldn’t be played. Sometimes this is forgotten by the players, however I made sure they understood that respect for umpires, and for others players is crucial to the success of an AFL game.

The main dilemma with umpiring in South Africa is there aren’t many places where you can learn and see professional umpires doing their thing. Not everyone has access to cable TV to be able to watch the one game that’s shown per weekend. Nor does everyone have internet to see highlights of past games. Nevertheless, it’s truly amazing how much these umpires and players have picked up along the way without much proper training. After the theory segment of our workshop, we headed outside for some real training where everyone had a chance to show off their new found umpiring skills. Whistles were blown loudly, voices were clear and signals were strong, even the boundary throws-in were great. Umpires were being developed right in front of my eyes and it was wonderful.

Unfortunately after five enthralling hours, the workshop had to come to a close. However, I know that everyone learnt something new, be it where a boundary umpire stands at the start of the match, how to signal a deliberate out of bounds, or how working as a team as umpires is so important. Everyone took something out of the day, and hopefully they can take it onto the footy field as well, whether as an umpire and a player.

A big thank you to the team at AFL South Africa for putting their trust in me and allowing me the opportunity to give back to the game I love so much, and to teach people that are so eager to learn. I can’t wait for August 2014 when the South African Lions come to Melbourne for the International Cup. Hopefully they’ll have a few talented umpires in tow.  

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