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Umpire’s voice in danger of losing out to player-centric hockey

Hockey is in danger of having an overly player-centric sport, writes our umpire columnist Andy Mair

I was fortunate enough to be working with the umpires at the Premier Division indoors this season. One of the main things to come out of the matches on the first weekend (apart from the inevitable ‘drilling’ education) was the noise level of the play.

It appears to have become the ‘norm’ for players to give a constant commentary on the match, be it to ‘advise’ their teammates, or all too often to make comment to or about the umpire. During my long drive home from matches I often try to get an impression of what I’ve seen, in this case the image that I couldn’t get out of my head was of the ‘Peanuts’ cartoon with the school teacher’s voice being just a noise.

One of the things that players tell me what they like is when the umpire communicates with them. With the current noise levels and constant challenge to decisions, that communication is becoming increasingly difficult. If the whistle cannot be heard because of the play noise level, what chance is there for the umpire’s voice?

At virtually every PC there is comment or full on debate from the defending team, which in many cases can greatly delay the play well beyond the expected time. Of course, we (as umpires) could shepherd the players to get their protective kit on and to stand behind the line, or even give out cards to players that ‘crowd’ us or take too long. But, here’s a radical thought, the players could just get on with sorting all of that themselves.

That may even free up some focus of the umpires that is needlessly being dissipated by managing pointless discussion. You never know, that may even lead to the umpires being able to concentrate more on the play and getting even more decisions correct!

The best players and teams that I have worked with, would look to see what decision had been given, then do their next job – be it backing off five metres to defend the free hit, or to get protective gear on straight away so that they could better plan how to defend a PC. After that task was completed, they could then find a time to ask about the previous umpiring decision, when its importance was diminished by them doing their job well. This could aid in the rapport between us and may even help educate one or both.

Here’s a little bit of education for some. We are still seeing (and hearing) captains challenging umpires, because they feel that is their role and that they are ‘allowed’ to be the voice of their team. This may be a good time to take a look at the rule book: 3.4 Captains are responsible for the behaviour of all players on their team and for ensuring that substitutions of players on their team are carried out correctly. The captain should also be the vehicle for officials to communicate with in regard to their team – not the other way around.

Noise is not exclusive to the players on the pitch, even ‘suspended’ players all too often feel that they are allowed to continue to comment on the match from their sin bin. No! You have forfeited your right to participate in the game in any way, until your suspension has ended.

We are in danger of having an overly player-centric sport (in this country at least), where the athletes believe that they know best and must be listened to. We are also in a situation where we do not have enough umpires to cover all of the matches. Is there a link by any chance?

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