Players have had their every move, both in games and at training, monitored and pored over by each club’s Strength and Conditioning staff for well over a decade now. AFL contracted field umpires were presented with their pre-season training toy when they hit the training track in mid-November last year.
The toy was not “big brother” as some had dubbed it, rather it was a modern GPS device that has allowed umpires for the first time in history to have all of their training monitored and controlled by strength and conditioning coach, Rob Jackson. Each field umpire has to wear the device every training session, club visit and during intra club practice matches.
Whether by coincidence or careful programming only a couple of field umpires have been injured during the current pre-season. The last few pre-seasons have seen more umpires in the medical room than on the track.
The feedback has been extremely positive. Umpires have been able to complete their non-compulsory sessions in a timely manner that suits their work and family commitments. Many also prefer to get it done out of the extreme heat of the day. Dean Margetts and Jeff Dalgleish start their sessions at 6am Perth time. Simon Meredith gets his done early so he can focus on his business for the remainder of the day. Contrary to earlier concerns, many umpires have been told to reduce their training loads especially when faced with club visits.
Over 170 club visits have been conducted by our field umpires over the summer months to assist clubs assimilate the new rules and interpretations into their training. In some cases, umpires have clocked up over 16 kilometres during a training session with a club.
Twice this pre-season, field umpires have not had to attend training unless in the rehab group because they had already completed their weekly running load.
One senior umpire who has spent the last two pre-seasons in rehab, injured, said it was the best present he has ever received, “I am fitter now than I have ever been, and I am looking forward to the season commencing.”
One very senior umpire was accused of tying his GPS device to his dog during the tougher off night sessions. He, of course, has denied the accusations.
Fitness is only one aspect of umpiring but if you aren’t fit you will never get into good position to be able to adjudicate on a contest. The proof will come as the season commences.