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Q&A with Field Hockey Umpire Nathan Cornish

In sport, we often consider the pressure that players and coaches are under. But rarely do we contemplate the pressure of being an umpire.

Not only are they required to make split-second decisions, which could decide the outcome of a game, they also have to work alongside fired-up players and abusive spectators.

Nathan Cornish first picked up a field hockey stick at age eight. Seven years later, he switched the stick for a whistle. Now, he is a certified Level 2 field hockey umpire in Canberra. Jakob Gisik spoke with Nathan to find out the type of pressure umpires are under and how they deal with expressive players and spectators.

Q: Umpires obviously play a vital role in any sporting contest, just how much pressure is there on umpires?

A: So much pressure. As you said, umpires play such a key role, and many sports simply wouldn’t be viable if there wasn’t someone controlling the game. So there’s the pressure of being the central figure that controls the game, but there’s also the pressure to make the correct decisions during a game, in order to keep everyone happy.

Q: In my experience with sport, much of this pressure comes from players that get angry or aggressive during games. How do you deal with such players?

A: There are many different ways to deal with players and I think much of it depends on the sport and your own knowledge of the game. In field hockey, umpires are told to use verbal communication first, possibly to calm the player down or even issue them with a warning. However, for some players, all it takes is a glare from the umpire to know they are in the wrong.

Q: What options are available to umpires if players persist with being aggressive?

A: If you’ve given a player a verbal warning and they continue being aggressive or even abusive, you can sit that player down with a card. It’s different in every sport, but in hockey you’d start with a ‘green’ card, which is two minutes off, then you’d move onto a ‘yellow’ card, which is either five or 10 minutes depending on the offence.

Image credit: Hockey ACT

Q: Like players, spectators can also become quite aggressive during games, is there a way to deal with abusive crowds?

A: Unfortunately, as umpires, there isn’t much we can do about spectators. If it’s obvious who the supporter is, you can talk to the captain of the respective team on the field, but often it’s too hard to pinpoint which spectators are aligned with which team. The best thing to do is to ignore them and just focus on the game in front of you.

Q: So umpires don’t have the power to eject spectators from the ground or anything like that?

A: I don’t believe we do, no. Umpires are really only responsible for what’s happening on the field and spectators are not a part of that. We can send off the captain of the team for spectator abuse, but as I said, it’s hard to tell which spectators are actually the one’s calling out.

Q: Finally, in an important game, where there’s lots of pressure, what do you believe is the most important trait for an umpire to have?

A: Confidence, without a doubt. Confidence makes it much easier to communicate with players and control the game. If you’re confident with your decision’s, players don’t tend to argue, but if you look hesitant, the players will notice and they’ll take advantage of you and try to persuade your decision’s.

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