How we conduct ourselves as umpires – by Mark Gibson

The following is a coaching session that has been adapted for the website, originally delivered by Mark Gibson at the start of the 2017 season. Mark addresses the way we conduct ourselves on the football field, and how we can control outcomes.

How we conduct ourselves as umpires

An aspect which defines who we are as umpires more than any other is how we conduct (or carry) ourselves.

In many senses this topic is hard to define; it is about a state of mind in how we approach our umpiring. But it is a very important aspect, and something worth thinking about as we commence this season.

To be a good umpire we need to:

  • Know the laws of the game intimately,
  • Interpret and execute those laws correctly, and
  • Be fit and in the right position to make our decisions.

To be a very good umpire we also need to conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner at all times – from the moment we arrive at the game until the moment we leave to go home.

What is your meaning/definition of this? Mine is:

  • The manner in which we approach and respond to situations
  • The appropriateness of our approach and response to situations

We should all aim to embrace/welcome those difficult, challenging situations we encounter on and off the field. It is the manner of our response to these difficult situations that determines whether the situation is diffused and resolved, or whether it escalates and deteriorates. It is in these times that you can exhibit your strength of character, and shine as an umpire.

How we respond applies not only to free kicks that we pay, but to every situation we encounter from arrival to departure, from the oppressive to the benign.

So how do I do this better?

How we behave/conduct ourselves is not easy to teach, nor is it easy to train for. But it is something we can all prepare for by thinking about before, during, and in reflection after a match. It should be uppermost in our mind at all times.

We all have different personalities, character traits, idiosyncrasies, styles, strengths and weaknesses. Some of us can be more:

  • Aggressive / Assertive
  • Shy / Tentative
  • Effective at communication
  • Challenged to concisely convey our decisions

With all these differences, our reactions to situations are going to differ.

Some tips on the manner in which we conduct ourselves:

  • Be aware of our privileged role/position as umpires
    • We adjudicate/judge matters which affect people (players, coaches, spectators). We are decision makers and we need to be aware of the important function we perform and the responsibility which comes with it.
    • We manage people and control the game/situations (on and off the field). We need to do this efficiently, fairly & judiciously with the authority of our role. We determine the manner in which things proceed (and with it the path of resolution or deterioration).
    • What we do, and the manner in which we do it, determines the outcomes. The expectations on us are high, and rightly so.
  • Proceed with quiet confidence (not arrogance). This comes from being thoroughly prepared for situations that we will face.
  • Demand respect. The office which we hold requires the respect from others. But ALWAYS…
  • Be respectful of others. To the players, coaches, spectators, and every situation which arises. Treat each respectfully. Respect given = respect earned.
  • Be professional. Strive for a high standard in all your dealings, whether it be not interrupting the coach during his pre-game address, ensuring each quarter starts on time, or in your presentation.
  • NEVER interact with spectators. NEVER.
  • Be measured/balanced in your response to situations. This usually leads to the making of sound judgments.
  • Listen to/appreciate/understand the views of others.
  • Communicate your position/decision clearly, concisely and effectively.
  • Deal with situations unemotionally; note that doesn’t mean robotically. We are all human, but keep your emotions in check at all times (and understand others may be emotional).
  • Be calm, be composed, be respectful, and act with integrity and dignity.

If we have a plan as to how we will conduct ourselves, everything will fall into place. The beauty of umpiring is that we don’t know what is going to arise: there are unknowns with which we will be confronted. Expect (and embrace) the Unexpected!

Some examples to think about…

Some of these I have encountered in recent years, and have required me to act. Think about how YOU would respond and deal with these situations. For those you have already seen – think about your response and how things unfolded. Could you have handled it differently?

  • Only one football (instead of two) made available by team manager prior to match
  • Dangerous hole in the playing surface making it unsafe to play
  • Walking in to rooms to meet players before the game and realising the coach was addressing his players
  • Players wearing black bicycle shorts, or incorrect socks
  • Interchange steward bringing to your attention that a player entered the field from outside the interchange area
  • Faint/non-existent line markings on the field
  • Faint siren
  • Play held up waiting for an ambulance for an injured player on the field
  • Abuse from a player
  • Abuse from a coach
  • Abuse from spectators
  • A player throwing a football at you
  • A player pushing you away
  • A tense ‘after match’ where the captain and coach are visibly annoyed
  • Any others you can think of!

Feel free to discuss these with your fellow umpires and your coaches – in many cases there isn’t a right or a wrong, and you might learn some new management techniques!

It is difficult to plan for all the unexpected, as you can’t control everything on match day. But you can control the way you conduct and carry yourself in every situation that arises.

Best of luck for the coming season!
Mark Gibson.