Congratulations to AFL Field Umpires Andre Gianfagna and John Howorth, who were recipients of the AFLUA Leadership Coaching Development Scholarship this year.

This program provided a unique experience for successful applicants to fast-track their career development outside of umpiring. Both Andre and John received the opportunity to interact with experienced Executive Coach Greg Harris and gain one-on-one leadership coaching.

Founder of the Eclipse Leadership Group, Greg’s diverse consulting experiences extends to the corporate, local government and sporting environments, including the AFL.

The Umpires’ Leadership training involves developing focused steps to assist them become better leaders while working in high-pressure environments, both on and off the football field.

Greg Harris (Image credit – Eclipse Leadership Group)

Greg said, “With this understanding as we work with the umpires, [it creates] a learning environment where the [participants] are continually building awareness between the aspirations of what type of future leader they want to be, and the behaviour they need to develop [to achieve that].

“Many of these umpires hold significant responsibility outside of football that require forming great working relationships and providing clear and sound direction for others.

“Participants are challenged in their thinking about leadership behaviour, and provided with effective solutions to implement new ‘stretch’ behaviour(s) to master and/or overcome situations they need to address in their workplace.”

Summarising the progress made by Andre and John within the Scholarship program, Greg added, “Andre and John displayed outstanding behaviour during the Leadership Development Coaching meetings.

“What became very evident from the outset was their eagerness to learn and advance their understanding of leadership behaviour within the context of AFL Umpiring and the professional careers they are developing outside of their AFL responsibilities.”

A former rookie-listed Aussie Rules player with Melbourne and co-captain of the Northern Blues’ VFL side, Andre had ventured into umpiring via the ‘player to umpire’ pathway.

He explained how the Leadership Coaching program helped broaden the overall context of his umpiring career.

Andre Gianfagna (Image by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)

“I learnt different techniques around dealing with different personalities as well as being aware of how people can react under pressure. I was able to learn about what motivates me to be an umpire, what is important and how to deal with feedback,” he said.

“Understanding why I do the job has helped temper unrealistic expectations and made me appreciate what I do well. This has decreased performance anxiety and helped realign my focus areas rather than dwelling on mistakes.”

Learning from Greg was an outstanding experience, Andre added. “Greg was extremely dedicated to the scholarship and enhancing me as a person. He took the time to get to know me and developed strategies that were specific to me and my circumstances.

“Greg has worked in this space for a very long time and has been able to put together a pathway that can enhance leadership within our high-pressure environment.”

John marked his 50th AFL match in Round 8 of the 2022 season (Melbourne v St Kilda at MCG). He felt the Leadership Coaching opportunity would complement his umpiring and his work as Outer East Football Netball’s Head of Umpiring.

John said, “Greg made the work we did directed towards specific outcomes and goals. The work was practical-based and focused on implementing what we discussed immediately, before coming together weeks later to discuss its effectiveness.

John Howorth (Image by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

“We often practised framing conversations with a variety of personalities and personal circumstances that I had to deal with in the past. The practical aspect of this was practising the ability to listen and allowing previous answers to frame the next question or where a conversation may lead too.”

For John, the key takeaways from the program centred around learning to manage large groups of people and how to frame impactful conversations that can inspire positive actions.

“By-products of this allowed me to further understand what my strengths and weaknesses are as a leader, and how I can maximise my personal qualities [both] in management [and] in my team umpiring contribution,” John said.

The next round of the AFLUA Leadership Coaching Development Scholarship will be offered soon. Please stay tuned for more details to be announced.

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