A new vision for umpiring: providing resources, tools and support

Umpire watches on as Hampstead & Westminster take on Stourport
A player bursts out of defence and charges down the pitch. He or she is impeded on route to goal, but the whistle isn’t blown and the player is able to slip past the final defender and slam the ball home. It is a glorious sporting moment and it has been made possible because a highly skilled umpire knew to hold their whistle and not stop the game mid-flow.

It is moments such as these that drive home the need for umpires to be as well-prepared as the athletes they are officiating. The men and women on the side of the pitch are crucial to the sport, which is why it is so important there is a top-quality umpire coaching and development programme – for all levels of umpiring – in place across the whole country.

It is also important that, for umpires, clear leadership and clear pathways exist. For every player dreaming of a place at a Commonwealth Games, a World Cup or an Olympic Games, so too our umpiring community should be inspired to reach their own highest levels of performance.

All of which explains why, since 2017, England Hockey, the National Programme Umpiring Association (NPUA) and the Regional Hockey Umpiring Associations have been working on a new vision for umpiring to ensure that support, development and opportunities available to umpires at all levels is right for the game in the 2020s and beyond.

Central to plans is the creation of a unified, inclusive umpiring community in England, that is nationally led but locally delivered. In short, this is to provide umpires at every level of our game with the resources, tools and support to enable them to umpire at their desired level.

Over 1,600 matches per week in adult leagues are umpired by volunteers at adult club level, with the majority of these undertaking umpiring duties around their playing commitments. The availability of these volunteer umpires currently varies from region to region due to the inconsistent approach by leagues on the competencies of umpires required at the local level of adult leagues.

Hockey umpire

For clubs, their interest in this area is to ensure that the right umpires are umpiring the right matches throughout the club, whilst having a supportive structure to promote umpiring opportunities around individual’s playing commitments. This is where amendments to league rules and a focus on the development of umpires at club level is at the heart of a new, inclusive, umpiring community in England.

Currently, 37 different Hockey Umpiring Associations (HUAs) provide umpire training, development and support across England, often in very different ways. Bringing together all of these associations and providing a framework of delivery allows consistency in approach for all umpires across the country. This would be achieved by striving towards one umpiring approach for England through a network of bodies working closely together in a ‘federated’ approach.

Mark Everard, Chairman of the NPUA, says: “Now is the right time for us to look at creating a new structure. If the resolution is approved at the EH AGM, the hockey associations and leagues will be changing, so it makes sense to look at the umpiring world. There have been challenges recently with finding and recruiting new umpires, so a look at the overall pathway for umpires would coincide with working collaboratively with the whole of umpiring in this country to achieve a common goal of supporting the game."

There are also, currently, a huge number of umpires operating within the club system who are not known to Hockey Umpiring Associations and so get little in the way of support and development. These umpires are the lifeblood of the game – their retention is crucial. Among the many measures planned under the new structure to cater for the army of umpires currently servicing club hockey is a direct membership offer for individuals and clubs.

Hockey umpire

Annette Badger of the North HUA says: “A new structure could achieve greater standardisation and consistency of umpiring across the country. Development activities would be delivered by Club Umpire Developers (CUD) and the local umpiring community. Under a new structure, umpires would have a greater sense of identity and “belonging”. Retention and an individual’s rate of progress along the pathway would be much improved for all clubs and umpiring appointing bodies”.

This final point touches on another issue. How do we encourage young people to take up the whistle? If an umpire is to reach elite level and represent England on the international stage, then he or she needs to start umpiring at an early age, not wait until their playing days are over.

Colin Jones of the Midlands HUA acknowledges that ‘generally, people want to play rather than umpire’. However, he adds that adding umpiring to their hockey skill set can have huge benefits for their own game, including the development of a greater understanding of the game and its rules; and seeing the game from another angle – something that will help game awareness.

“Umpiring in not just for ‘old’ people. We must not lose sight of the fact that youngsters are the future of our game. And for ambitious youngsters, this is also another means of making it to the top,” adds Jones. “By introducing umpiring at an earlier age, as well as giving individuals the opportunity to umpire and play, this will support our game and improve the standard of umpiring for all of our game.”

Reiterating the need to attract more people into taking up the whistle, Bridget Midwinter from the Southern Counties HUA says: “Umpiring, while providing a service to the game, is also a hobby, and we don’t want it to be regarded as a chore. We do want people to enjoy taking part in the game, albeit with a whistle rather than a stick, and gain satisfaction from a job well done.”

Aside from a clearer, aligned and nationally-recognised pathway, a new structure will also remove the many instances of duplication in administration that can be confusing, as well as making the system far more transparent and accountable.

Hockey umpire

England Hockey’s timeline will include extensive consultation at all levels in the game, with current HUAs and clubs, to provide time a transition from current structures to the new structure.

Bridget Midwinter says the working group has recognised that most people are ‘time-poor’ and offers reassurance that following an umpire pathway is not going to take up every valuable second of spare time. It is, she says, about working ‘smarter’.

‘A new structure would not provide a magic wand, and we don’t foresee a sudden influx of umpire support resources,’ says Midwinter. ‘However, there is no doubt that we can work ‘smarter’, particularly if we take the opportunity to share best practice between the various delivery areas for umpiring.

And Colin Jones adds: ‘Many club members are unaware of how they can become umpires. A new approach will help to enable a consistent message and approach to be locally delivered to the clubs. This will include details of how to start on an umpiring career, even if that is just within the club environment.’

Mark Everard also says “In five years’ time I would like to see a unified identity for umpiring across the country, with the appropriate umpires appointed to the appropriate games, with coaching available not only on neutrally appointed games but inside of clubs to help with the understanding of umpiring and improve both the umpires’ and the players’ experience on game day.”

The vision outlined by the working group will lead to consistency and alignment of umpiring across the country but more pertinently to the hockey community, it will provide umpires with resources, support and opportunities to take their umpiring to the level to which they aspire – whether that is the local club scene, national league or to international standard.

To see a presentation outlining this vision, please click here or on the image below.

A new vision for umpiring - document thumbnail

To support umpiring during COVID-19, England Hockey are hosting online seminars and courses aimed at new and existing umpires from all levels of the game. Details can be found on the Hockey Hub which can be found by clicking here.

If you have any questions about the Vision document or other aspects of Umpiring, please contact David Elworthy (England Hockey’s Officiating Relationship Manager) david.elworthy@englandhockey.co.uk.