Being an AFL umpire is not your average every day job. Many attributes needed by an athlete to compete in a sport are similar to those of an umpire.
Umpires must be fit, healthy, disciplined and determined to reach the highest level of umpiring. An AFL umpire will attend training at Princess Park twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays however they are required to stick to a 6 day program that will include running, performing and recovery. Their only rest day being the day before their game. This will ensure that all umpires are running the required distance below an expected time to be eligible for selection in the AFL on the weekend.
At training the mood within the umpires in the rooms and out at training are similar to those of an AFL football team. The group dynamics within the umpires where they all encourage each other and work hard for one another through the tough training sessions.
Umpires are tested on different aspects of fitness such as endurance, agility, flexibility, strength and skills. On Wednesday when visiting the umpires at 2pm they started with a review on their performance from the weekend and analysed possible errors. This was then followed by a physical warm up that included the sit and reach test key for an umpires flexibility. Other stretches included calf, groin and quadriceps stretches.
They were then put through a testing session where they were required to run fifty metres and back three times within one minute (300 metres). They were given one minutes resting time and then they were at it again needing to keep their time under 1 minute for each interval. They would complete this six times making the test a total distance of 1.8 kilometres, almost all the umpires keeping their final time below the target time of six minutes.
However not all umpires were able to complete this aspect of training as some were battling with injury. Umpire Matt Stevic battling with a hip injury completed 300 metre laps around the oval as he was not able to risk worsening his injury by doing this agility test. After doing 6 laps he was back into the rooms with the medical staff receiving treatment. The committed umpire will be required to go through exercises outside of training to benefit his injury so he is good to go for the game on the weekend.
After this time trial the umpires that are medically fit went through skills training, working on bouncing, positioning and decision making. Umpires came back into the rooms and had to endure a cold spa that was then followed by a hot spa which will benefit how they pull up the next day. Finally they will receive the required rub downs for each individual from the medical staff to make sure the umpires have the best possible recovery to make sure they are ready for the game on the weekend and prevent injury. This will be a similar routine that the umpires will go through after games. Training concluded at 5. 30pm and most umpires were off to their families.
Almost all the umpires have had to go through a pathway that included umpiring lower leagues from an early age before reaching the highest level of umpiring in the AFL by their early to late twenties. However umpire Leigh Fisher who played football for St. Kilda went through a different pathway as he became an umpire from his football career. Retiring in 2009 Fisher was promoted to the AFL umpires rookie list in 2012 attending the AFL games as an emergency before he was able to umpire his first AFL game in 2013 and is still going strong this year.
It is not all about fitness to be an AFL umpire they must be mentally strong and have the ability to block out crowd distractions while doing their job. They must be disciplined enough to stick to a strict and healthy diet. On top of this umpires also have to be committed to their families and second jobs. This is where the AFLUA comes into action and ensures that the general well being of each individual umpire is positive and happy.
By Zac Stathis – currently completing work experience at the AFLUA.