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Inside an umpire pre-season improvement camp

The work umpires do to improve every season goes largely unnoticed. - AFL,Umpires,Hayden Kennedy
The work umpires do to improve every season goes largely unnoticed.

UMPIRES have a thankless task and are often the subject of criticism, but what goes unseen is the work they do to improve.

Take, for example, the pre-season camp 10 developing whistleblowers went on last month.

The group went down near Lorne, which is about two hours south-west of Melbourne, for a trip that was centred around education, but also served a chance to get together.

Bonding is important for the game's officiators, as umpires boss Hayden Kennedy explained to AFL.com.au.

"They work in teams, so the better they know each other, the better they know what clicks and what doesn't. It's better for them and it's better for the game, so hopefully we'll get the best possible team out there," Kennedy said.

One part of the camp was a presentation from Melbourne assistant coach Craig Jennings, who came down to speak about how people can take ownership of their own career.

It's an area Jennings is qualified to discuss. Off the top of his head he estimates he has about 20 tertiary qualifications and has travelled to parts of the world that include the Middle East, Germany and Japan in his bid to learn.

"I've always had that mindset of getting better every year and he (Kennedy) just wanted me to impart some of that on to the umpires," Jennings told AFL.com.au.

Jennings doesn't proclaim to be an expert in umpiring, so he had them break down the skills involved.

"You just presume that it's about getting better at decision making but they talk about things like match management and assertiveness," Jennings said.

"We talked about different ways they could improve in those areas. It was good fun."

Jennings spoke about looking to improve in ways others don't think about.

One such example for him was mentoring indigenous coaches.

That idea was also sparked on an AFL Coaches' Association study trip to the US in 2017, which was where Kennedy and Jennings met.

Jennings later met up with a group that included Port Adelaide champion and development coach Chad Cornes. Those two, along with Melbourne's indigenous project officer Matthew Whelan, went to Arnhem Land last November to present on coaching at the elite level

The unique opportunities that tour created were embraced by Jennings, who is always seeking new ways to expand his boundaries, with the support of Dees coach Simon Goodwin.

That was one such scenario the umpires found informative.

"The feedback's been really, really positive about what he had to say. Hopefully, they'll all apply what the conversations were into their own development. That was the whole purpose – leadership and development," Kennedy said.