Bridging the gap between classroom and reality ….
Posted on 19th December 2023 at 18:48
Our mentoring programme is the key part of supporting our new umpires
The grandee of South Yorkshire cricket, Terry Bentham, has probably done more to help recruit new umpires than anyone else. He would not claim to have invented the concept of mentoring, but he did bring the idea into cricket from his experience with British Steel.
The seeds of mentoring and providing ongoing support for new umpires were originally planted about 40 years ago when I was a mechanical fitter at British Steel, Rotherham. Back then, apprentices were just put with any qualified fitter so it was pot luck how they were treated and the level of skills they reached. Management realised this so asked for volunteers to attend the companies training centre for a week to educate people on looking after these youngsters. My boss suggested it to me and I jumped at the chance – he probably thought it a chance to get rid of me for a week. I fell in love with the job immediately. The course was quite good and I lapped it up readily. It was a bit of a test getting my first apprentice for a six-month spell. As usual, I was sat in a corner of the cabin just after 6am, having my customary nap, when there was a knock on the door and a lad came in asking for Terry. He was told “don’t disturb him, he will be crabby at this time in the morning”. But I welcomed him readily. Like all the new lads, he had practical experience in the spotless training centre, but was now in the big wide world. He had changed motors, but had never done it in a cellar standing in three inches of water under a 40-watt light. Classroom and reality are a hell of a distance from each other.
This experience I later likened to doing courses for new umpires and then chucking them in deep; as was always the system. I think the courses are great, but going out on the field for the first game is a hell of a test. ‘Newbies’ need an experienced umpire with them, who has seen and done just about everything on the field. They need someone able to support them before, during and after the match – but without making it look obvious as players will pick up on that like lightening, and some will try to take advantage. A chat with new umpire a couple of days before their first game is essential – even better if to take them under your wing at game the week before. I did that a couple of years ago and the new umpire thought it was a great help watching two Premier Division umpires at close quarters. Now I no longer umpire I always try to do that. I will chat before the game as unobtrusively as possible, and in the changing room at tea time. I then wait till the following morning to follow up with a phone call. That gives them time to gather their thoughts, because their minds will be spinning like a Catherine wheel. I don’t tell them what they did wrong – that’s very negative. I try to suggest to them there might be a better way.
In my first season I got a bit ‘mixed up’ and went to my experienced senior colleague to ask, ‘what do I do now?’. I can still hear his reply over 45 years on. “You look after your end and leave me to look after mine”. I like to think we’ve moved on a lot since that day. For me, it is the most rewarding thing in the world when I see new umpires, that I have helped and supported, doing well, a lot better than I ever was! I try to keep in touch with as many as I can and will always be here if they need help. It has been a privilege to be part of their development.
But the acid test is, how much has mentoring really helped? What do our newer umpires think? We invited comments from a number of them, and this is what they said.
…. the league is extremely keen to look after, help and support new umpires by ensuring they are given mentors as colleagues for games. When I began umpiring, not only was I umpiring alongside mentors or very experienced umpires, but there were always others available on the phone to talk to after matches, whether to ask about something I’d thought about after the match or if I just wanted to share something about the game – someone was and still is always on hand wanting and willing to give help, support or just give a listening ear.
During my time in umpiring, I have met some wonderful people and made some great friendships. I would urge anyone who has any interest, however small, to take the first step and sign up to a course. Please do not think of reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t try, rather to ‘take the bull by the horns’! There is a network of people who are ready and willing to help, support and guide all umpires – new and old alike. The main thing first and foremost is to enjoy the experience and develop at a pace that is right for you.
I took up umpiring in 2022 following an injury that then prevented me playing cricket. My only way of staying in the game was officiating - something I was apprehensive about and never really saw myself doing.
I was introduced to a network of current and former umpires with many years’ experience. They offered me a wealth of support and experience on and off the pitch, that allowed me to grow into the role of an umpire. I know if I need to, I can always pick the phone up or meet a senior colleague to obtain what I need.
As an umpire, you see the game differently, which has increased my understanding and love for the game itself. Being an umpire has taught me many things that I have carried through into my working and personal life. I have also made friends for life through umpiring, who all offer a different perspective on the career that I intend to take forward.
I am now a level three umpire, approaching my third season, and already have experienced two cup finals and high-profile games with players who have played first class cricket. I would recommend it to anyone thinking of umpiring.
Cricket has always been an important part of my life, but I knew no matter how much I trained and played, I would never be anything other than a mediocre player. But umpiring could be different. I had a fairly healthy understanding of the Laws, I knew most of the signals and it was an opportunity to be involved in the game I love. I decided to give it a go in 2020 and did the training. Covid then intervened, but when recreational cricket restarted, I was told that due to the lack of experienced umpires, new umpires would not be mentored that year.
At that point Terry Bentham intervened. He would mentor me from the start of the season and give me an opportunity to see umpiring first hand, to ensure I wasn’t thrown in at the deep end. First, we went to a game, where I met the standing umpires with Terry, joined them at the toss to hear the pre-match talk, and sat with Terry on the boundary watching the umpires, where he pointed out good and bad umpiring techniques. That day helped ensure that going into my first game, while I still had a lot to learn, I wasn’t going in completely ignorant. Even after doing the course, I felt unprepared for going into a game. Courses are very important, but their main flaw is that there is only so much that you can learn from watching a PowerPoint presentation. For something as practical as umpiring, having the opportunity to sit and watch umpires performing in real time with an experienced ex-umpire was invaluable.
For my first game, I had not only Terry watching me, but also had one of the umpires from the game I observed standing with me. Although afterwards I knew there were areas of my game I needed to improve, I knew I had given a fairly decent performance for my first game – which I do not believe I would have done without the mentoring. Since then, Terry has called me after every single game I have umpired to talk through how the game went, any areas of improvement or areas of concern. Regardless of if they are experienced players, or never been to a game before, mentorship is one of the most important building blocks to support new umpires.
As a new umpire, my experience has been very positive. I have been supported from the outset, and have been given a network of umpires to talk with. I would highly recommend umpiring, especially within South Yorkshire.
I don’t really know what I expected when I started my adventures in umpiring but what has happened in such a short space of time is nothing short of amazing. Within two seasons I have gone from Division 7 in the heartlands of Barnsley, to internationals in Doncaster and eventually ending the season at the Vatican in Rome. I have met folks from all over the world and have invites to Seattle, Zimbabwe and, in February, to the over-60s World Cup in Chennai.
The comraderies and friendships I have found in both the men’s and women’s games have been overwhelming. I have been and continue to be fully supported, and cannot put into words how much this means to me. I am excited to see what next season brings – if you have the desire and sense of adventure, the opportunities are immense.
I have just completed my first season as an umpire. I was able to put the excellent tutoring into practice that I received at my stage 1 and 2 courses. I was well supported from the South Yorkshire Umpires Association, who have sent people to come and watch me, and offer practical advice. I also have various people I can contact if I need support.
Recruitment of new umpires is more important than ever – we are already at least 50 umpires a week short of where we need to be, and illness and retirement take their toll. It is therefore vital that we continue to build on the work that Terry Bentham and others have done. If you are an experienced umpire who is no longer active, why not act as a mentor and pass on your experience and knowledge to those in whose hands the game is going to be in coming years? Or contribute to the monthly umpires’ socials at Whiston Forge? These undoubtedly play a vital part in ensuring that our new umpires get through those difficult first seasons with as much confidence and satisfaction as possible.
If you would like to try umpiring – whether you are young or old, male or female – at any level, please contact the South Yorkshire Cricket Umpires Association secretary, Jim Taylor.
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