Umpires are doing their bit to keep pace with Netball Central’s budding stable of top-quality players, coaches and officials to emerge from the Zone.
With Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse and Central’s Beko Netball League teams showcasing the Zone’s growing player and coaching depth, the little-mentioned umpires are also doing their region proud.
Of the 14 named in the National Umpire Squad – those who officiate at ANZ Premiership and Beko level – six come from Central.
Through Angela Armstrong-Lush, Gareth Fowler, Ann Hay, Jessica Lea, Ken Metekingi and Paul Smith, there is a fair mix of experience and fresh-faced newcomers in the Central whistle-blowing ranks.
And as with the playing and coaching domains, there has been a defining shift towards umpires moving into the higher echelons at a much younger age.
``In recent years, there has been much more of a push to get younger people into umpiring, like college kids, so some of the umpires at ANZ level now are pretty young and they’ve all started umpiring when they were 12,’’ Hay said.
``That has been a big change in our umpiring set-up. Back in the day, it was generally older people that did umpiring and now it’s getting younger and younger as people appreciate that it is a valid sporting pathway.’’
If they want to make it to the top, the umpire’s upward momentum is not that dissimilar to a high performance athlete.
``For me I’m not employed fulltime but I’ve got a part-time job and I’ve got a family, so it’s about balancing your other life,’’ Hay said.
``It’s not just the on court umpiring but your fitness training, your recovery, your analysis after the game, your attendance at team trainings so you can focus on specific work-ons and all the other aspects that go with a high performance sporting environment.’’
At 44, Hay is the most experienced of the Central group having first been selected into a national umpiring squad in 2003 while Lea is the youngest at 26.
Hay puts Central’s strong presence down to long-term succession planning established by former umpires Kirsten Lloyd and Kelly Herbert in the early 2000s and more recently former international umpire Liz Boon.
``They came through, set the standard and it has given others a benchmark to reach,’’ she said. ``That’s the initial part of it and because of that, we have had some really good programmes, workshops and mentoring systems in place that have helped people achieve.’’
Since making her first national squad, Hay has had time out at various stages to have her three children and intends to keep umpiring as long as she is performing well.
Umpires are often placed under extreme pressure and to many it does not present as the most desirable of occupations but for the affable Hay, the rewards are many and simple.
``Being able to be involved in the game at a level that I couldn’t be involved in as a player is huge,’’ she said. ``I’ve umpired so many Silver Ferns trials…... I’d never get to play with the Silver Ferns but I’m on the side of the court, in the game and that’s just such an amazing feeling, being involved with the best netball players around.’’
There’s also the enduring friendships that have come from being part of the sport and the sense of belonging to a wider family.
On the other side of the coin, there’s the inevitable criticism which goes hand-in-hand with the role and which is accepted as part of the territory.
``It’s one of the things you learn early on to deal with,’’ Hay said. ``Generally, when you make a call 50 percent of the people aren’t going to like it so you develop mechanisms…..whether it’s a dump it, park it, ignore it type thing that you deal with in the moment, so that you can stay in the game.
``Generally, for me, I’m not there to tell the players off, I’m just there to rule the game and do that in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary tension, and at times can even relieve some tension. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with putting in an odd smile or whatever if that’s going to keep the game from getting niggly.’’
Hay will be joined by Central’s Fowler and Armstrong-Lush as part of the umpiring contingent who will be in action at July’s Netball World Youth Cup to be held in Botswana.