By Ben Pollard
When Cai Davies started umpiring in the SMJFL in 2007 as a 13 year old, he admits he was only doing it for the money.
But Cai had no idea how being an umpire would change him as a person and change his goals in life.
“It’s definitely turned into much more for me,” says Cai, now 19.
So much that Cai this year graduated to the VFL Umpire Development Squad.
It means he is one step closer to achieving his dream of umpiring in the AFL.
But that dream didn’t even exist until Cai dislocated his thigh bone from his hip as an early-teenager.
Quite suddenly, he was told playing football – or indeed any contact sport – wasn’t an option. He says he wasn’t that good at footy anyway, but wanted to stay involved in the game.
So, he turned to umpiring.
After one year as an SMJFL field umpire, Cai graduated to senior football in the Southern Football League. One year of boundary umpiring there quickly progressed to four years of field umpiring.
All the while, his desire to take his new passion further and further was growing.
But perhaps the most important thing is that learning to be an umpire was changing Cai as a person.
“It’s almost like a form of leadership; I always found I needed that as a kid,” he says. “I wasn’t very confident, but I think through umpiring I’ve gained a hell of a lot of confidence.
“In terms of applying for jobs, university and making friends… It’s helped my confidence a lot in my day-to-day life.”
In addition to field umpiring in the VFL Development League and TAC Cup as part of the Development Squad, Cai is also an umpire coach at the SMJFL’s East Malvern Academy.
He can now pass on those confidence-boosting lessons he has learnt in six years of experience to the new batch of aspiring umpires.
And the most important lesson?
“Communication to players, spectators and your other umpires,” he says. “Just letting everyone know you’re there, that you know what you’re doing and you’re in control of the game.
“I think that’s very important, because if you don’t have that communication then your presence drops, your control drops and the game can get out of control.”
Needing the confidence to control 44 players in a game of football is something that hasn’t changed since Cai started out on his umpiring journey, but some things have.
For one, the SMJFL’s umpire training system has changed significantly since Cai’s first year in 2007. The recent recruiting of several experienced umpires – such as Cai – to coach young umpires in more than just umpire fitness has already seen big improvement in performances.
And, as the AFL recognises ‘Umpiring is Everyone’s Business’ this weekend, Cai thinks the general appreciation of umpires has also improved.
By the time he achieves his goal of reaching the AFL umpiring ranks, hopefully umpire appreciation – and Cai Davies’ confidence – are at an all-time high.