“Being an umpire has taught me an immense amount about integrity and professionalism and this in turn has altered my outlook in life.” – Sharon Kelly
Officials and umpires may be overlooked when it comes to role models, but they provide the same significance as players and coaches alike. Step forward one of the games great and most recognisable umpires; Sharon Kelly. Having umpired at the highest level for well over a decade, Sharon can certainly be considered as one of the games great role models. Sam Richards talked to Sharon about her netballing past, present and future, including advice for any aspiring and current umpires….
It all began as early as eight years old, when Sharon played at school where her mum and sister were already involved in the sport. She has always played, umpired and coached for the same Association – Northern Suburbs in New South Wales – and her commitment was recognised when she was honoured with becoming a Life Member in 1989.
In a career as illustrious as Sharon’s, it would always be very difficult to choose a stand out highlight. Having umpired major finals, umpiring at events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Netball World Cup, and also being named Australian Umpire of the Year countless times, it would always be a tough choice for anyone. We asked Sharon and she said:
“It is very hard to pick one career highlight. My first Test Series in 1998 between Australia and New Zealand stands out as a highlight and I suppose as the first step to many opportunities that then came my way.
“As the pinnacle competitions of our sports, it was always an enormous honour to be selected to umpire at Commonwealth Games and World Championships.”
Of course being an umpire at such high level comes with its fair share of challenges, but what were the biggest for Sharon? “Two of the challenges of being an umpire would have to be having confidence in your skill and ability to perform under pressure, sometimes that pressure being what you put on yourself”, she says.
So how does a top level umpire cope with these challenges and pressures? Sharon says it’s all about control. “To overcome, or at least realise these challenges and attempt to have some control over them. I continually worked on my skills, be it physical fitness, rule knowledge, interaction with players and coaches, so that I had the right education base and was able to build that confidence in my skill.”
We asked Sharon to reflect on how the game has changed since she started. She indicates the progression of the sport but one certain factor remains the same:
“Since I first started umpiring, the game has progressed into a semi professional sport, where the players can train longer and harder, where there is more at stake in relation to sponsorships, contracts etc. However, the passion for the sport from those that I am involved with, is still the most outstanding factor that drives our sport.”
Sharon also talks very fondly about what netball has done for her personally: “Netball has given me opportunities to see parts of the world that I never dreamt of seeing. Of making friends and colleagues from all walks of life and learning from each and every one of them. Being an umpire has taught me an immense amount about integrity and professionalism and this in turn has altered my outlook in life.
“However the best part of being a netball umpire, is being able to participate and with your skill, enhance a game for all to enjoy playing and/or watching.”
Although reflecting mostly on her memorable past, Sharon talks about the present and what the future has in store. Sharon has recently moved into being an IUA Testing Panel Member (ITP) and says that she relishes the opportunity to pass on her experience to today’s umpires. “Moving into ITP has been a wonderful experience” she says. “I hope that I can pass on some of my experience to assist in their development”’
After achieving so much in her career, Sharon still has goals and ambitions: “I hope that I have the opportunity to continue working with other umpires, players and coaches to promote our sport to the wider community.”
On a final note, what’s her advice to aspiring umpires?
“Work on skills and techniques of umpiring, the rules are only a part of it. Work with coaches and players at all levels, it’s the best education you’ll get.”