How to become a…netball umpire

I was initiated into the netball community at an early age and the sport has now been a part of my life for over 20 years. For the last 10 I’ve been known for my signature ACME golden whistle.

My aunt and cousin were into netball and my best friend’s mum is Gloria Keech, franchise director at Saracens Mavericks, who are in the Netball Superleague – which meant I was always going to matches as a kid.

I grew up from quite humble beginnings and we didn’t have much money. My mother and step father worked very hard to provide for me and my sister, and I never expected that I would get the opportunity to travel as much as I have.

The first time I walked out in Australia and saw the Sydney Harbour, the bridge and the opera, is something I’ll never forget – and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without netball.

How did you start out?

Netball umpiring is an unpaid voluntary role, so up until recently I’ve always balanced it alongside my teaching jobs.

I was training to become a P.E. teacher at university when my lecturers told me that officiating and coaching qualifications in female sports would be good for my CV. I opted for netball and enrolled on an umpiring course led by Sheelagh Redpath, the officiating manager for England Netball.

In 2005, I officiated my first international match, between Wales and Northern Ireland in Belfast. Since then, I have umpired 11 consecutive Vitality Netball Superleague finals, three World Cup finals and two Commonwealth Games gold medal matches.

More recently, I’ve had the privilege of turning my passion into my profession as the head of officiating at England Netball.

What is your best memory from the 2019 Netball World Cup?

The thriller, one-point final is an obvious choice, or the heart and passion shown by the Roses to narrowly miss out on their first final – but my best memories of the tournament are the supporters: the netball family.

Passionate and partisan supporters came together, all dressed in their country’s colours while celebrating and supporting their teams and the sport.

On a more personal note, reaching my 100th game at the World Cup during the Northern Ireland versus Malawi game was a huge milestone. I marked it by using a matt black whistle I’d helped make with the guys at ACME.

Do you believe the 2019 World Cup helped raise the profile of netball?

It absolutely did.

People might have been disappointed that we won the bronze medal, but by doing that we’re on the path to gold medal wins.

Netball is an underestimated sport, despite the fact it’s played by 1.3million women and girls in the country.

The World Cup took it to a wider audience that wasn’t just the netball family.

What’s your favourite match that you’ve ever officiated?

The Commonwealth Games Gold medal match between Australia and New Zealand in 2010 was widely regarded as one of the best netball matches of all time.

However, for me it is the lesser known battle between the African nations of Malawi and Uganda at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games that rates the highest.

Although not the high-profile contest in terms of sports powerhouses coming together, this was a head-to-head that was no less intense – with two local nations battling it out for their national pride. It was also the first time Uganda beat Malawi.

It was an inspiring win, such a great game to be a part of and it heralded a new dawn for African netball.

What’s the wow moment of your career to date?

Officiating the Commonwealth Games Gold Medal matches will always stick with me.

Another is the three matches that broke the Guinness World Records for attendance, all of which were between Australia and New Zealand. The first was in 2010 and then the two matches during the World Cup in 2015.

A more personal moment happened at a train station recently, when a 10 year old girl came up to me and told me she wants to become an umpire. She told me I was a real role model for her, which was really humbling.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Two words…tiger pants!

I recall umpiring at the Commonwealth Games and returning to the changing rooms after the match to hundreds of messages on social media. I had forgotten my white match underwear and had to wear some black and orange striped ones.

Unfortunately, BBC felt the need to zoom in on these and the commentary team added to the embarrassment. Needless to say that’s one thing I always quadruple check I have with me now!

I also took an embarrassing tumble in the Superleague, which made it into the New Zealand Herald – and then again at the World Cup on national TV.

What is the best part about your job?

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Africa. And expenses are covered so you’re not out of pocket.

You also see the same faces on the international circuit, many I now count as my closest friends.

Jackie Mizon is fantastic UK umpire, truly professional; Sharon Kelly from Australia is a legend who has been at the top of international umpiring for 20 years, and Jono Bredin has been a roommate for loads of international tournaments. He’s a great friend – we’re just two netball dads going about our lives.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Not many people realise the level of fitness required in umpiring. I run and do a lot of bike work to keep fit, as well as stretch twice a day to maintain my range of movement.

You also need to develop your peripheral vision so you can see everything that’s going on – on and off the ball. Finally, you must maintain a rigorous understanding of every aspect of the rules.

Every umpire can identify the regular offences like contact and obstruction, however it’s the lesser known ones that you need to stay abreast of.

How do you feel about negative feedback from fans when you make a difficult decision?

I re-analyse every decision I make on court and make every call honestly based on my court position.

I’m not looking to ‘catch players out’, but am there to oversee a fair contest and help the players showcase their amazing talent.

The best game for the umpire is one where they are not noticed.

What specific qualifications do you need to become a netball umpire and how long does it take to get them?

First, you take an officiating course run by Netball England, then gain experience in the sport through coaching sessions or at a local club.

Within two years of doing the course, budding officials are required to undergo a practical assessment. If you pass, you will be issued with a Pass Card and added to the England Netball Umpires List, and can officiate on a local level or in a school environment.

To officiate at county and junior league level, you have to qualify through levels A-C in Netball Europe.

Very few umpires reach the international level, as it really is a case of being the best of the best.

Any advice for aspiring netball umpires?

The best piece of advice I can give is to use the rules to enhance play, never to catch players out.

At lot of umpiring can be done without ever needing to blow your whistle.

It’ll never make you rich, but stick with it and the experiences will be priceless.

How to become a…

In’s new series, we’ll be hearing from people who have the most coveted sports jobs about how they got there, their advice for others and what happens at the centre of the world’s biggest sporting moments.

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