“There is a growing awareness that umpiring is a cool and critical part of the game of hockey. Take away the emphasis on ‘us and them’ and people quickly realise umpires and players are a collective working towards a fun, fair spectacle. It is all about breaking down the stigma.”
Kelly Hudson is the perfect advocate hockey umpiring. A top-ranking FIH international umpire, Hudson has been at the forefront of umpire development for a number of years. Now she is in the third year of a unique role created by the Tauranga Hockey Association: a role in which she is able to combine her love of the sport with her natural aptitude for sharing her knowledge with others.
As Officiating Development Officer for Tauranga Hockey, Hudson is paid for 20 hours a week, during which she is charged with promoting training and development of officials. It provides, says Hudson, a chance for the local hockey community to tap into the knowledge she has gleaned from her own international experience.
"If you talk about what we hope to achieve, well retention is key for all officiating bodies in all sports"
- Kelly Hudson
It was a role that she took a part in creating, working with the Tauranga Hockey Association and other stakeholders to provide a service for officials that would be most effective but it was also a recruitment process that followed strict and transparent procedures. Once in position, she has been able to adjust and adapt the role to fully meet the requirements of the job, while delivering on all performance measures.
“If you talk about what we hope to achieve, well retention is key for all officiating bodies in all sports. I don’t tend to focus on the figures but my key focus is to promote umpiring in a vibrant and engaging way, because that is how I see it. Umpiring is a much bigger picture than just standing there blowing the whistle.”
During the course of her 20-hour week, Hudson runs workshops and interactive sessions as well as providing and organising mentoring between experienced umpires and new recruits. Designing resources and creating fresh course content is a large part of the role.
Developing a supportive community of umpires is also a core element of her work, both formally and informally. A Facebook Page exists for the umpires to share discussion points, swap ideas and raise issues. Hudson herself will always make time to have one-on-one chats with fellow umpires and encourages other members of the umpiring community to do the same.
“It can be quite lonely being out on the field but if you can feel part of a community or part of a group then you can swap ideas, talk about the highs and lows of the learning process. Support is a massive part of this. It is always good to know someone has your back, at the same time learning coping tools and challenging you to think outside the box”
Hudson has also developed a log book, which she sees as an important part of the development process. “It allows the umpires to self-reflect and self-analyse. As mentor, I can take a look and work with the umpire to identify key areas for development strategies. That is where the growth comes in.”
The log book is just one part of a range of initiatives that Hudson has introduced. The Blue Badge umpire programme, for example, has been instrumental in bringing new umpires into the fold, targeting teenagers and adults who are keen to develop umpiring knowledge.
She will also be helping umpires tap into the knowledge of umpire coaches. “We have a lot of hockey umpiring knowledge but not so much coaching knowledge – how to deal with people, how to react in certain situations, how to interact with players at different stages. It is casting the net a little wider but it also brings a different perspective.”
The biggest question for anyone who knows Hudson is how she fits it all in. The past few months have seen her umpiring at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, the Asian Games and FIH Pro League Games in Argentina, New Zealand and China.
“I call it ‘fortunate juggling’,” she laughs. “I can work remotely on some of my work. I can also stack work into some weeks, so I can balance my 20 hours a week over 52 weeks of the year. So, over the Christmas and January period I was able to prepare for courses, so I was free to go to Argentina and Australia for the Pro League. I am very lucky that my General Manager allows for that style of working.”