With the AFL season finally completed, the AFLW Season 8 is just beginning to ramp up as it charges into the second half of the season.
Whilst the AFLW has its own list of 116 umpires, during the first four rounds AFLW games were occasionally supplemented by AFL umpires who have finished up their own season. This provides AFLW umps with the opportunity to work alongside some of the most knowledgeable and experienced umpires the game has to offer.
One such opportunity came in round 1 of the AFLW, where 382 gamer Ray Chamberlain took the field beside AFLW umps Gabby Simmonds and Gen Devenish, who then sat at 40 and 20 AFLW games respectively.
For Ray, sharing the skills he’s accrued over a stellar career at the elite level is often done more through listening than speaking.
“We all share something in common, we’re passionate about the game and we love umpiring… Hearing from them what it is that they’re looking to do, or what they’re concerned about, or where their questions are, I think that’s super important.”
“It’s one thing to listen to someone and it’s another to hear them.”
“From there I tend to lean in and share things [where] I’ve got a similar experience that I’ve messed up, or something I learned the hard way.”
In a game that is uniquely challenging to officiate due to regular rule changes, often nebulous interpretations, and the chaotic nature of play, Ray said that the most difficult person an umpire has to deal with can often be themselves.
“With umpiring, we’re our own worst enemies in many ways… What happens is I have two errors then I fixate on them for a week.”
“You don’t provide the same amount of energy and attention and celebration to the things you did brilliantly.”
Gabby Simmonds, who umpired beside Chamberlain, said that working with such seasoned veterans was just one of many opportunities that come with umpiring in the AFLW.
“It was nice that night, it took a bit of focus off myself and Gen, because the fans all know who he is, the players know who he is. It takes away a bit of the pressure that we might be feeling.”
“He brings such a good energy in the rooms; you know he’s going to have your back and he trusts you to have his back as well.”
For Simmonds, the WAFL’s first female field umpire and now AFLW umpire with 41 games under her belt, the move up to the national comp was a natural progression.
“It’s not a huge jump, but I guess the biggest thing is getting used to those crowds and the criticism that comes around potentially if you mess some stuff up.”
The AFLW currently has thirty-one female umpires in its ranks. Simmonds credits the league for the resources put at the disposal of umps for development.
“For us umpires there’s definitely that scope for a lot of learning and development because obviously we have access to the AFL umpires in the first few rounds, but also so many different voices in terms of coaching. We have coaches that are ready and available pretty much when we need them.”
“I think it’s just a massive step in terms of opportunity for females. A lot of us still have that goal of making AFL Men’s. It’s a really nice little stepping stone and… gives us a few more opportunities to really show what we’ve got beyond that state league level.”
Article By Jackson Kerr