What Does it Take to be "Great"?

By Steve Horgan, USA Field Hockey's Director of Umpiring | March 23, 2020, 12:55 p.m. (ET)

To be successful at anything, there are a number of actions, qualities and resources necessary to reach a level of expertise that is recognized as “great” in your field. At the 2019 USA Field Hockey Summit in Baltimore, the group of umpires in attendance discussed and produced the following characteristics necessary to get to and stay at the top of the game.

STUDY THE GAME
Field hockey is not the type of game that is easy to follow or understand when it comes to umpiring and the rules. There are many gray areas and options as an umpire depending on the situation and temperature of the match. Just as in any job, there is an initial phase of study necessary to begin and there is ongoing study or professional development necessary to keep up with the continual evolution of the game. Studying is different than watching! Knowing the proper applications of the rules is paramount. Just like studying for a test, the reader does not just read the text once to fully understand it. The information needs to be thought about, but what does it actually say? Is it being understood as intended or is it being over analyzed?

In today’s world of video and electronics, it is also very easy to study the game as a visual learner. While watching any and all video available to you, umpires should view the game differently than the normal spectator. Umpires should “analyze” not critique or look for the mistakes while watching video of themselves or others. To study by video, clips need to be run and re-run just as if the information was in a book, read and re-read. What looks good? What looks bad? How is the game flowing? Is the umpire helping or hindering the game? Are the players content? Is the game tense? Are the rules being applied properly? Are players understanding the calls? Set your list of questions to answer before running the video, then go back with a different set each time so that all topics can be covered.

Studying takes time! Studying is not waiting to learn as others tell you how they would do it.

PRACTICE

No one gets better at any physical activity by sitting in a chair and watching. In fi eld hockey, with the vast number of opportunities to umpire, practice opportunities are easily obtained. Volunteer for a local high school team or club. Teams greatly appreciate the ability to scrimmage with “real” officials. With real umpires, coaches can focus on their team without the extra task of con-trolling the players. Apply previous feedback of umpiring in a low stress environment. Work on the game as the need arises without having to worry about the outcome.

In order to help be the best possible official, it is highly recommended investing in time resources that will provide valuable help through one’s career. Being an umpire who only officiates during the “season” and looks to improve during the season is not being fair to the players, fans and spectators who expect the best performance from officials on every match. Field hockey is now an all year-round sport, with indoor and outdoor opportunities to get and keep the game sharp. With the standard of today’s players playing every chance they get, so should the umpires. If officials would even put in half the time toward learning as the teams’ practice, the game would be a whole lot better.

PROFESSIONALISM 

Yes, field hockey umpiring is a profession that is mainly a paid part-time job in the United States. Therefore, there is a high expectation of mobility, ability and reliability for the money being paid for umpires by schools and clubs. With the expectation of mobility, field hockey umpiring is an intense physical activity when done right. For anyone to think that they can be at the top of the game by just walking onto a field without physical training is in for a rude awakening. Umpires jog, sprint, twist, turn, signal and whistle which all require a level of cardio training to do properly. Thus, “umpires are athletes” and must treat themselves and their profession accordingly. Athletes strive to be as physically fit as possible and so should officials.

The expectation of ability is a perception from others that an umpire is prepared, focused and have professionally developed him or herself for the betterment of the game. An officials’ ability must match the ability of the players and the level of the game. When the ability of the players is above the ability of the umpires, the game can be a disaster. Officials are heavily critiqued on their ability to manage, control and understand the game so that the players and fans get full enjoyment of being part of the game no matter the outcome. Ability does not come to someone just because he/she has umpired many games. It comes gradually by the study of the game and the practice mentioned above.

Reliability is an aspect that every employer loves to have. When an umpire is reliable, he/she are on time, ready to go, calm and consistent in the performance of one’s necessary duties. This includes duties outside of the game timeframe like checking the nets, scorekeepers, field and equipment. If an umpire is not on time for these duties, he/she get passed over and eventual problems can arise. Even though the match starts at a certain time, officials have the responsibility to be there well in advance to be sure everything is in order before the whistle is blown. Umpires also are expected to be reliable in their presentation. Being calm and consistent for an entire match is an art. Officials cannot allow their emotions to get to them as this will invariably affect the ability to make sound decisions. This in turn will also affect the necessity of being consistent which is required in order for the players, fans and coaches to fully understand the umpiring.

“Great” is a term that is used in various ways. In this instance it means being the best one can be as recognized by others with an ability and quality considerably above average. The choice is up to the individual. As an umpire, one can be average and go about the job just to have it. Or one can study, practice and be professional striving to be great at the job knowing that every time they exit the field, they gave it their best and worked to be the best possible.

This article was featured in the Summer 2019 issue of FHLife Magazine. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around field hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to the quarterly publication by clicking here.