Round 3 saw the South Metro Junior Football League celebrate the contribution umpires make to our game – without them there wouldn’t be any football. In the past few years the League has made a concerted effort to raise the participation rates of our umpires, in particular our female umpires and if the current crop training under Elise Cooper and Shannon Kirby is any indication, it looks like the League has made some serious inroads.
When Cooper started umpiring for the Southern Football League ten years ago she was one of only three girls in the program, and she was by far the youngest at 14 years old.
Fast forward 10 years and not only has Cooper taken tremendous steps forward in her umpiring career, the landscape around her has developed as well.
Alongside fellow umpire Kirby, she is now involved in the coaching of young girls who wish to become field umpires, and this time there are far more than three of them.
“We’ve got 25 girls on the books, but we probably get 10-12 female umpires a week across the two nights,” she said. “The number has definitely grown and it’s become more commonplace for girls to be umpiring now which is good.”
Every week Cooper and Kirby set aside two nights to coach the next generation of female field umpires in a more comfortable environment. They train separately from the boys in order to foster confidence and Cooper thinks the smaller group enables them to be more outspoken and ask questions and for advice that could be intimidating in the larger groups.
Attitudes towards female umpiring isn’t the only that has changed over the past 10 years, clubs are putting their money where their mouth is to provide female change rooms for their league’s umpires.
Cooper and Kirby are also a part of the Youth Girls Academy, which is a potential pathway to officiating in the AFL. Every fortnight they meet with AFL umpire Matt Nicholls to review footage from games, practice drills, and provide and receive feedback from their own in game experiences. In Nicholls, fresh from umpiring his first AFL Grand Final, the Youth Girls are fortunate enough to have one of the best umpires in the game to provide them with any guidance they need.
Through the program Cooper was also provided with the opportunity to umpire the last year’s inaugural AFL Women’s match between Melbourne and Western Bulldogs and last week’s female Anzac game.
From a 14-year old boundary umpire, to a field umpire, then an umpire’s coach and a member of the Youth Girls’ Academy – next, Cooper has set her sights on one day umpiring in the AFL. Looking at the progression she has made in ten years – and the progression of umpiring in general – you’d be silly to rule her out.