I started playing junior footy with my mates. I did umpiring to keep fit and earn a bit of money.
It's similar to a pathway in any other sport. You start out at the local level and if you're good enough, you're invited to the state-based competitions where you join a squad and umpire the TAC Cup and the VFL reserves. If you perform to a good level at the state-based competitions, you can start umpiring for the VFL senior competition. If you umpire a VFL grand final or another state league grand final, you get the opportunity to try out with the AFL squad. It's quite a long process, but it's not much different to being a player and progressing through the ranks.
At the AFL level, our performance is analysed as in any other job, if not a lot more. Every decision we make on the field is assessed. We have a coach at every game who looks at every decision we make and those we don't make. They also look back over the tapes, which we do as well. We get a feedback sheet that shows all our decisions and the coach makes a judgment call on whether the decision was right or wrong.
With training, travel, the review process, seeing physios and masseurs, it's probably 18 to 25 hours a week. It's quite a time commitment and when you travel interstate for games that can take a day or two.
We all have full-time careers outside of football – I'm a school teacher. It can be pretty challenging and demanding if you're in full-time employment and umpiring as well. It's a big commitment so you need to be very organised.
If you love the game, being involved at the elite level of football is the next best thing. I wish we could allow other people to experience what we do out on the field. People see it as a really difficult job, and it is, but when you learn the skills of umpiring, you get to be involved in some really great games – memorable games. You are umpiring the best players in Australia and some of their skills and abilities are really quite exceptional. And it's a great thrill to be out in front of big crowds.
It can be. There is a lot of scrutiny in every aspect – whether you're a player, coach or umpire – but we don't go into the games feeling pressure. We concentrate on getting the best result we can for the game. When it does get very close, you need to be concentrating really hard because you don't want your bad decision to affect the outcome of the game.
To be honest, I try to take a bit of a backward step and not watch too much footy in my spare time. I do go with mates to games which I'm not umpiring, and sit back and enjoy it. But I do see a lot of footy during the year, so I try not to overload things. You can get pretty drawn into the AFL environment, but it's important to have other interests.
At any level, it's about being in control of the game and certainly making the right decisions. But it's also about building a rapport with the players and speaking to them on a level that is acceptable to them. Sometimes players get pretty frustrated and angry, but your role is to remain calm. Getting the decisions right is very important at the AFL level where there is a lot of scrutiny on games. Fitness is also a big part of it now, given the pace of the game.