Who Would Want to be an Umpire?

SEPT 2013 edition

Much has been written in past issues of this magazine about the difficulties facing clubs when trying to increase their playing membership. I have been particularly interested in the views of other contributors in relation to encouraging youngsters to take up, and continue, in the sport.

This recruitment issue not only affects clubs with lack of bowlers to play in their friendly fixtures but it also extends to associations such as the English Bowls Umpires Association when trying to fulfil the ever increasing demand to provide officials for regional competitions.

As National Development Officer of the EBUA, I am concerned about the future, not only for the sport but for the numbers of officials available to support the players in competitions. Over the past few years, our association has been haemorrhaging umpires and I am aware of sister associations that have the same issues. In England, there are a number of explanations for this exodus and in my position I am keen to see this trend reversed.

YOUNG UMPIRES A RARITY

One area in particular worries me and that is the lack of younger people who take the step to become markers and umpires. In the past decade, we can count on one hand the number of under 25s that have passed through the training programme and successfully qualified as umpires. Those that have popped their heads above the parapet have been excellent and have gained a lot of experience at county and national level, but they buck the trend of the stereotypical umpire and are few and far between.

One of the youngest to officiate at the very highest level at the Manchester 2002 and Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games was Mark Woolner from Devon. He, along with Daryl Rowley from Australia, showed that there is room for young officials at this level.

However, they buck the trend and there are not enough young and enthusiastic umpires out there. Of course, there are many factors influencing a young person’s decision whether to be an umpire or not, and preconceptions and/or reasons such as the following could hamper attempts to get younger people into umpiring:

  • Players would rather play bowls than stand around officiating.
  • Players of a good calibre are sought after by their clubs, counties and country.
  • Family life (and girlfriends/boyfriends) are important factors – and I agree with that one too.
  • Earning respect from players is harder for a young umpire.

I would agree that it is perhaps very hard to get the balance if you want to be a successful player as well.

THE TYPICAL UMPIRE

Many umpires often come from players that have reached the twilight years of their competitive playing careers or recognised that they will never be much good but wish to be involved in the sport nonetheless. When carrying out introductions on training workshops, the common reasons for people becoming an umpire are:

  • “I am struggling with bowling on outdoor greens nowadays.”
  • “I want to learn more about the laws because of all the disputes in my club.”
  • “I am (was) a coach and now want to become an umpire.”
  • “I want to give something back to the game.”

All of these are very commendable reasons.

So, the question to be posed is: ‘How can associations like the EBUA encourage more young people to take up this rewarding part of the sport?’ Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers but I am keen to improve our recruitment, training and development programme to ensure that officials can see a clear path to success.

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