How to create great umpires #teamwhite

Apologies for the delay in my second posting, the plaster cast on my hand has meant typing has been fairly impossible – too many typos and general frustration!

Now I have a healthy respect for our umpiring community in the UK but having been involved in both club and school netball for a number of years now, I know that teams are always scrabbling around to find good umpires and many clubs have players that end up umpiring simply because they don’t have another option. How do we create more umpires and get youngsters inspired to be umpires as much as players?  Having spent some more time at Netball North Harbour, it seems they have some solutions and have created a buzz around being an umpire in their teenage players.

Picture this, half term at the netball centre. I walk past a classroom setting and see a group of 10/11 year olds marking out their distance, appearing to be in great discussion on the correct distance.  I think that this is a holiday coaching course with the girls looking at defending, however this group are on a 2 day holiday umpiring course. Can you imagine your kids/juniors going on a holiday umpiring programme?

The centre produce their own pathway to elite umpiring in the ANZ (previously anyway) and International matches, starting with Year 6s and going through the teenage years to senior netball.

Now how do they do it? Well it comes down to the culture around netball here. Teenage club players are expected to both coach and umpire matches from lower age groups within the club.  The players are given coaching courses to allow them to coach the basics properly.  In the same vain the players are given the opportunity to take a local, centre based umpiring qualification where they attend a number of theory sessions before being mentored at club matches; for example, a 13 year old would be umpiring 9-10 year old matches. They would then receive feedback from their mentor across a series of weekly matches. All this takes place at the centre with staff they know. As the umpires get older, they already have confidence in their knowledge of the rules and the ability to control a game.  This has led to 16-17 year old umpires having sometimes 5 years plus umpiring experience and are then handling school/club regional finals.  These teenage umpires are looked up to by younger players and umpires and are considered somewhat celebrities at the centre; they are someone to aspire to be for the younger kids. The umpires have their own umpiring office and lounge area which the younger umpires take great pride that they are allowed to enter, it is a status symbol of sorts.

Following the centre based junior award, the umpires are then supported and mentored through their higher Netball NZ awards.  Being an elite umpire is an alternative to being an elite player here. The pathway to elite umpiring is as planned and respected as that of players reaching that elite level. I think this is a big difference from my knowledge of the UK (please do correct me if I’ve missed something) and something that can be fairly easily  put in place alongside current adult courses/mentoring.

Bearing in mind that the whole netball community for each area plays all their netball (school/club/holiday camps) in the same centre, it makes it much easier for the junior players to be more involved in the other aspects of netball rather than just playing.  This is a significant factor in the success of both the umpiring and coaching courses BUT that’s not to say its not possible to implement in larger junior/senior clubs or at county level.

If you are interested in more information on what Netball North Harbour do on the umpiring courses and with the qualifications they offer, then Sharon Fraser ( is the woman to talk to. She has designed many of these courses and has information she is willing to share. Alternatively, check out the link below with how the courses are set up for junior umpires.

Netball North Harbour Umpiring

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Warning: netball geeks only

Everyone knows that New Zealand have a tendency to beat England at netball (and rugby but we will stick to the round ball for now).  This isn’t a new thing, it has been happening for a while now and given the performances in the recent Quad series, it looks like it will be continuing for the foreseeable future.

I decided to try and figure out why a country with a population of 4.5 million can continuously beat England with an approximate population of 65 million people.  It shouldn’t happen given the disparity between the two populations with players to choose from but it does continuously.  Just to prove I like a good stat, England Netball posted participation numbers in 2015 at 164,100 playing once a week (not including school players).  NZ Netball have an approximate 300,000 players participating annually.  In terms of % of population that is a huge difference between our two countries, but the thing I am most interested in is why there are more regular netball players in NZ than in the UK, and therefore a larger pool of players and infrastructure for the national team to thrive on.

I could have started anywhere, but given a recent move to Auckland and an amazing introduction to NZ netball by Michele Wallace, I will begin with facilities.

Michele Wallace is one of those netballing gurus who knows everyone there is to know in the netball network in Auckland.  She runs the North Harbour Netball Centre based on the North Shore of Auckland.  Michele is also heavily involved in Westlake Netball Club, one of the longest standing on the North Shore.

So to put this in context; imagine every team you play against, those you know from different tournaments, the friends that play for different teams from Regional/Prem to Surrey Div 8, all of these teams playing at one central venue.  23 (yes 23) all weather courts, floodlit with an arena court indoors with seating, which can be split into two courts.  Now imagine the league is run by the Netball centre; all the leagues, affiliation, umpires, all costs, fixtures etc.  No outside body, no volunteer committees (accepting that these do a grand job in the UK), no annual committee meetings to attend.  Whether home or away, everyone plays at this venue. How much easier to organise lifts, players, availability without having to travel from Chertsey to Shirley for a Met League match?!

Schools also use the netball centre for league matches; again which are run by the centre so no additional time burden on teaching staff.

I know the UK does have lots of netball courts but these are spread out, usually at schools or dodgy recreation grounds where the courts surfaces and facilities can leave a lot to be desired at times.  The schools here also have their own netball courts; one local school (state not independent) has 6 courts which are all undercover (protection from rain and sun), but still play their league games at the netball centre.

North Harbour Netball Centre is funded by sponsorship, some central funding and with the clubs affiliation fees.  They also run kids coaching camps over the holidays to raise additional funding, using players from the collegiate teams who have been taught how to coach as the coaches.  The centre develops coaching programmes for players in the teenage age groups so that they can give back to the junior age groups as coaches. The centre also runs a coaching programme for parent volunteers who want to help coach their own kids age groups, giving them basic knowledge of the principles of netball, alongside umpiring courses for younger players to give them a qualification (more of that to come in future weeks).

The biggest bonus of all you wonder?  An onsite medical centre staffed at all times by a physio plus an emergency doctor when the centre is at its busiest.  Any player who pays affiliation fees can book an appointment with the physio as part of their membership package. Twist an ankle in a game? No hopping to the side of the court to sit for an hour freezing cold whilst the game finishes before the team trying to figure out how to get you and your car to A&E.  Over comes the wheel chair, takes you to the medical centre where you are assessed and given emergency treatment.  Looking after your ongoing rehab as a matter of course.

The weekly junior camps start at Year 5 on Monday after school. Giving the kids a place to come and play, and one set of facilities which will be their netball hub until they are much older. I spoke to players who had first started being coached by Michele when they were in Primary school, and were now in their 30s and still playing at North Harbour for the same club at the same place.

The netball centres gives a sense of community, belonging to more than just one kick off time on a Saturday on a dodgy Primary school court in the middle of nowhere.  The court surface is safe regardless of weather conditions plus there is a fantastic cafe on site doing the most amazing potato wedges with bacon and sour cream!

What is most astonishing to me about this place is that there are 4 netball centres like this in Auckland alone.  Now Auckland isn’t a big city by London standards; imagine Kingston or Croydon, that is the size of the main city with the suburbs sprawling out into the countryside.  Meaning that no matter where you live in Auckland, there is a netball centre within 15 minutes of you. Surely that must have an impact of players committing to playing more often?  Plus if you have a single venue that you have been visiting for years on end to play with your club and with school, then you are surely more likely to continue playing.

Now I am not saying it would solve every problem to suddenly construct these netball temples, but you have to admit it would certainly make it a damn sight easier to attract and keep players playing.

Any suggestions on how to build our very own netball centre in Surrey/London please go ahead and suggest away, we can start a petition!