Why Become an Umpire?

Written by Geoff Northam, RACT Chief BRO

At a recent FISA regatta, I was asked by an umpiring colleague why we volunteer to be umpires.  At the time we were standing on the large concrete boat pontoon structure at the course, which we had come to call “the human griller”, because it was oppressively hot, there was no escaping the heat and at the end of the day you were cooked.  In such circumstances it was a fair question – are umpires mad?

Our conversation turned to the health of the sport of rowing, where we agreed but for volunteers, the sport of rowing would not prosper, and the opportunity for athletes to compete and excel in their chosen sport would be limited and less fulfilling than desired.  We climbed down from our FISA stratosphere and were soon discussing local regattas in places like Argentina and Nicaragua.

So why do we volunteer to be umpires?  We found a common joy of being part of and enabling young people to do their best, giving them the opportunity to participate in a safe environment where enjoyment is the primary objective.  For my colleagues who rowed competitively, there was a strong sense of giving back to the sport.  For my part, having no competitive rowing background, it was about providing opportunity for all the young and emerging competitors.  It was about being supportive and sharing the joy of their ‘moments’, sometimes forgettable and sometimes of great achievement.

I recalled that on an ordinary day, at an ordinary regatta in Canberra, the rowing master from the school my children attended said “those guys over there need some help” [motioning to the finish line].  I went over and offered my time with no expectation of personal benefit.  They seized the opportunity and quickly put me to work!

I look back at that moment, and contrary to my low expectation on personal benefits, I find myself continuously receiving benefits from that moment.  I have shared in the camaraderie of the greater body of fellow umpires.  I have witnessed and shared the heartbreak and enjoyment of countless rowers achieving their goals, knowing that my role was to keep them safe while they competed without being able to see what lay ahead. I have witnessed the expected and unexpected moments and incidents that will live in my memories forever.

From that one moment I have gained immeasurable enrichment and opportunity.  Volunteering as an umpire is an irresistible excuse to enjoy sports competition at every level, and to get something in return from that experience.

RACT will be hosting BRO training October 14th. Please email eo@rowingact.org.au for more details.