Youngsters are filling a void on Central Otago’s sports fields.
Not only are pupils proving their value as players, they are also acting as umpires.
Central Otago Hockey executive member Jono Young, who helps develop umpires, said the children who had welcomed the challenge were invaluable.
“I have quite a few senior umpires who help mentor younger players coming through the ranks. There’s quite a few young ones on the books,” he said.
Among them was a high schooler who umpired senior women’s games and a couple of high school leavers who were umpiring senior reserve level.
Children opting to take up the role ranged in age.
“There’s a lot of year 9s that are [umpiring for] year 5 and 6 currently. We do have a year 9 that is umpiring year 7 and 8 and a couple of year 10s [umpiring] year 7 and 8.”
Overall, they were doing well and it was good to have them coming through the ranks, he said.
Central Otago Netball Centre president Angela McDonald, who is also part of the umpire development panel, said the sport was growing its umpiring pool and had measures in place to support young people in that role.
It had had its fair share of problems over the years, particularly as some teams felt the younger umpires weren’t up to the task, she said.
There had also been times when teams had “disrespected” the umpires.
“And this has led to some of our high school umpires no longer wanting to be umpires, which has been very disappointing.”
Processes had since been put in place to improve the situation.
“In order to combat this, the centre decided this year that each senior team [year 9 to adults] had to nominate two players who would be their umpires for the year. These two players would undergo theory and practical umpiring training and then be assessed by a grading panel as to which level of the competition they are able to be umpiring in.”
Each umpire was required to fill the role about every fortnight, with the aim of helping their confidence grow.
The process meant there were about 65 umpires who were either qualified in the role, or were part of the umpiring programme.
McDonald encouraged anyone else willing to “give it a go” to let the centre know.
The centre would provide theory and practical sessions on the game’s rules and etiquette of umpiring.
“We can also support them during the game they are umpiring so they don’t feel alone and intimidated, and so we can let them know what they are doing well and what they need to work on.”