There are not many umpires who can claim they started their AFL umpiring career back in the 20th century but one proud boundary umpire from the sunshine state, who recently umpired his 300th AFL game, certainly can!
Aaron Deckys umpired his first AFL match back in round 6, 1998 between Brisbane and Richmond at the Gabba. Since then, many things have changed in AFL football, but Aaron has proven his ability to change and adapt to the increased professionalism required to umpire at the elite level.
His 300th game last Saturday, between the Brisbane Lions and Port Adelaide, despite being a one-sided affair, was difficult to umpire given the number of forced turnovers by Port and the unpredictable ball movement. However, having family and friends in attendance, a number of Year 12 students from his school, a fantastic running crew out there with him and seeing his family waiting at the race at the end of the game made the day extra special for me.
Aaron is the 42nd umpire to achieve 300 VFL/AFL matches, the eleventh boundary umpire to do so and up until this weekend was equal 10th all-time boundary umpire with Matthew Vitiritti who finished his career on 300 AFL games. In 2001 Aaron was inducted into the QAFL Umpires’ Team of the Century and in 2010, he was inducted into the Sunshine Coast AFL Hall of Fame. Aaron is also a Life Member of the AFLUA and AFLQUA.
The build up to his 300th game was a flurry of messages, emails and phone calls from all over the country. The Thursday prior to the game the Queensland umpiring group gave a special presentation and put on a BBQ after training. Game day was fairly normal for Aaron with the exception that he and his family stayed in Brisbane on Friday night, making his Saturday more relaxing without a 90-minute drive to the ground.
Aaron initially thought that looking after his body contributed to his longevity in boundary umpiring, however on reflection, whilst he thinks it is important, he believes the main factor has been his ability to weather the constant scrutiny. “Early in my career l learnt that there are very high expectations not just regarding performance, but also behaviour and commitment.” Aaron also believes that his ability to reinvent myself from an umpiring perspective and perfect the preparation formula for games have been major factors contributing to his longevity.
Aaron puts his success down to three areas – (1) a strong work ethic where he constantly strives to better his performances, both in training and on the football field, (2) his reliability, when there’s an expectation for something to be done, he’ll do it, and (3) his speed and agility. “The game has become so much quicker over time and particularly now with the four boundary umpire system, speed is absolutely essential to be successful.” Aaron acknowledged Peter Bock and Benita Willis who inspired him to further develop his endurance capacity in recent years and Paul Pearce who developed his speed and lactic threshold.
Two people have had the biggest influence on his career to date. Firstly, his wife Sarah and in more recent times their children, twin boys Zane and Levi and daughter Kyah, have had the most prolonged influence on his career. “I am so appreciative of the fact that she is so supportive despite the length of time l am away from home for training and games.” Since his debut in 1998, Aaron estimates he’s driven roughly 300,000 kilometres between his home on the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane for training and match days.
The second biggest influence on his career has been Grant Kent who had a lot to do with molding him into the person he is today. “Over the 12-13 years he coached the squad up here in Queensland, he put a huge amount of time into developing the group on and off the field. Grant was also big on developing us not only as umpires, but also people.”
Whilst Aaron doesn’t have any superstitions, he does have some pre-game rituals including having pasta the night before games, packing his match day bag the night before and sleeping with it (not literally) in his room, and a pre-game psych up / visualisation in the shower to focus him for the game. Another ritual is to have an hours sleep before the game, “I find it settles me down. From a sports psych perspective l believe my optimal arousal level for umpiring is extremely low. If l’m yawning before the game, l know l’m going to go well.”
Aaron wants to be remembered as the reliable and genuine guy with a top shelf work ethic who as a Queensland-based boundary umpire blazed the trail into the AFL.
Congratulations Aaron on a fantastic milestone and we wish you all the best for the remainder of the season.
Article written by: AFLUA Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Peter Kelly