Rebecca Woodcock (England), Daniël Veerman (Netherlands), Lena Oswald (GER), Daniel Stewart (ENG) and Luka Zupancic (Austria) became the latest graduates from the EHF Umpire Development Programme (UDP) last week.
The UDP is an excellence umpiring programme which aims to improve the performance of highly talented young umpires who have shown the potential to become an international top-level umpire.
Their journey began in 2019 with an opening weekend in Zandvoort and has since taken in a comprehensive blended learning approach.
This incorporates a mixture of online workshops and in-person sessions at major events with this group taking in EHL Men’s KO16 in Barcelona in 2019, a preparation indoor tournament in Vienna in 2020 and last weekend’s EHL Men’s KO16 in Hamburg.
For Woodcock, she says the UDP has had a huge impact on her umpiring career, going far beyond the simple nuts and bolts of decision-making to help tweak methods and think about her role in the game in new ways.
For instance, last weekend saw her group have a talk with German women’s coach Valentin Altenburg to discuss the interaction between officials and coaches.
“He spoke about what he thinks about umpiring and what we can learn from their perspective but also what he can learn from us?” Woodcock explained.
“It is something I had never done in so much detail. It was so interesting in how he approaches coaching, looking at ‘how can I help these players?’
“You sometimes think of coaches as super-directive but, actually, he flipped that. It was interesting to apply that to umpiring and think ‘how can I help this game?’ rather than ‘this is my pitch and you do things my way’.
“How can I help this coach or player who is maybe giving me grief? To hear someone’s perspective who might traditionally be seen as not our friend, he spoke so openly about the need to work closer together. Coaches and umpires have so much to learn from each other to work together to help the game rather than being us vs them.”
It is an example of the collaborative approach Woodcock has enjoyed over the past three years under the supervision of Mirjam Wessel and Roel van Eert, a step away from the usual interactions with umpire’s managers.
“It is a mentor role; they are not assessing you; they don’t have a formal role in how you progress. They don’t decide on appointments or if you go to a European Championship so you can really open up and say I am struggling with this aspect or say I have tried a few things and they aren’t really working.
“UDP mentors are great people to go to because they are not judging you and very rarely are you getting that feedback elsewhere.”
The programme itself sees a mixture of classroom-based learning sessions where participants talk about the principles and thoughts behind umpiring alongside a hugely practical pitchside element.
In Hamburg, Woodcock was tasked with analysing how the umpires managed “escalation and de-escalation” of tense situations in the match between Club Egara and Real Club de Polo, watching out for techniques used to manage fiery moments.
“We had directed learning to reflect on how the [on-field umpires] did. It was great to then be able to talk to the umpires and ask them about certain moments. Many are ex-UDP and happy to talk through things, say whether I thought it worked and then ask them whether they thought it worked?
“You get a really direct conversation with those who were on the pitch. It is a really nice way to learn.”
And those increased interactions are an intrinsic part of the UDP’s value: “It gives you a really great network of contacts, not just your immediate team with your two mentors, but access to this wider family.
“Everywhere you go, you do a UDP photo and it makes it quite a special club. Now, when I go to tournaments and I haven’t met someone before, you almost have a connection already and they are not a stranger.
“We get such great learning opportunities to hear from guys like Valentin and have the input from experienced mentors who have all been very experienced umpires or umpire managers. It is the type of experience you don’t get in such a direct way anywhere else in the world.”
The EHF UDP is a two-year programme with annual nominations by the EHF Officials Committee, including up to eight new participants each year. Participants are usually aged between 18 and 25 who are either on the FIH International Panel or graduates of the Umpires for Europe programme.