Women and girls now play a greater role in all aspects of football – from playing, coaching, training and umpiring.
The Ballarat Football League were excited to have a Youth Girls match officiated by all female umpires in mid-August in the Ballarat Junior competition. This included Field, Boundary and Goal umpires and was a fantastic promotion for female umpiring in the region.
Female numbers in the Ballarat Football Umpires Association have continued to grow in recent times with over 20 female umpires appointed to games across any given weekend.
BFUA Chairman Jamie Love said “It is great to see our female numbers growing and in the future they will continue to play an important role in our Association. The BFUA is confident that female numbers will grow even further into next season and beyond.”
In the weekend’s Under 14 ½ match between Redan and Lake Wendouree, Kellie McLeod and Marion McReady officiated as Field Umpires while Sara Tucker, Michelle McReady and Paige McReady officiated as Boundary Umpires.
Kellie McLeod was one of those umpires and at just 19 years of age and has umpired over 150 games in her 7 year career. She was given the opportunity to be the central umpire for the all girls match and is leading the way for other young women to see that being a girl does not inhibit choices on and off the field.
McLeod has a long term dream that she will be the first AFL female central umpire.
“I’m just a couple of seconds away from having the fitness levels required and I’ve been told I have a great understanding of the rules of the game and a strong voice to ensure the game is played in a safe and fair manner ”.
McLeod’s career in community football began at 12, in Warrnambool. When she moved to Ballarat for University she was welcomed by the Ballarat Umpires Association. She now officiates as a field umpire for the Junior competition and a boundary umpire for the Senior competition
She has seven central games under her belt and is aiming for under 18’s before the end of the season.
As a child, McLeod developed an interest in football from supporting her younger brother. Kellie’s father encouraged her involvement when he first saw a female boundary umpire and encouraged his daughter to do the same.
“What I love about umpiring is the fact that I can view the game at such close proximity to the players”.
The fitness side of umpiring as well as the pay are also significant benefits according to Kellie. The pay ranges from fifty to seventy dollars per game. Kellie says the social aspect of training is another attraction.
“It gets me out, I mix in well with the guys and we have a lot of fun.”
BFNL Umpire Mentor/ Board member, Rob Simmonds has recognised that girls could have a huge influence within the Ballarat Football Umpires Association.
Rob believes Kellie is more than capable of reaching her dream.
“Girls respond well to encouragement, which is why I have taken on the role of mentoring Kellie”.
Simmonds gave a few insights into what can be done to recruit girls in grass roots football.
”It’s a confidence thing, aim for friendship groups and promote the fact that they get paid to get fit.
“ It’s good to get them early, say 13, 14, 15,” Simmonds said.
“Once girls start to enjoy the social aspect of umpiring they feel more comfortable. They often need a coach or mentor to encourage them to take the challenge and tend to do well once asked to participate.”
“Girls often lack confidence in themselves ... once they get started they gain confidence and make fantastic umpires.”
When asked what is different about coaching boys and girls, Simmonds explained much of it was about feedback.
“Girls take feedback better; some boys can be really defensive. Initially some girls might second guess themselves, then one day it clicks for them and away they go”.
McLeod is keen to break down myths about the ability and dedication of female umpires.
“I feel that we sometimes may get overlooked by development coaches based on a pre- existing myth that we're not dedicated or good enough compared to the boys.”
As a bid to recruit and retain female umpires, the Ballarat Football Netball League maintains a close relationship with the Ballarat Football Umpires Association. The development focus for females sets a great example in the VCFL by actively involving them in all aspects of umpiring.
Rod Ward explained the increase in female umpires has been pleasing.
“It has been extremely pleasing to see the increase in female members within the BFUA in recent years, with the ongoing aim to continue to increase female numbers.
“Females now play an important role each week within the BFUA with many female umpires now covering Boundary, Goal and most recently Field Umpire appointments on any given weekend.”
AFL Victoria, Fair Game Respect Matters Project Manager Katrina Leason has been impressed with the leadership shown by the League and the Umpires association. Her aim is to support the AFL’s Respect and Responsibility program on a community level. Leason stated that by promoting safe, inclusive environments in grass roots football we are well on the way to increasing women and girl’s participation rates.
“Football clubs are strong role models for community and have significant capacity to promote gender equitable inclusive environments.”
Positive leadership is about initiating and managing this change. Leason believes it is time for experienced female umpires to umpire elite matches.
Ward agrees. "We'd love to see the day when we've got a female boundary and field umpire running round at AFL level," he said.
The league encourages reporting of abusive behaviour. This means women and men speaking up and out when they witness abusive behaviour. Leason describes people who report abuse as champions of change.
The BFNL does not hesitate to sanction behaviour which is not respectful, and it has:
Leason has been working with Simmonds to identify goals the Umpires Association can work towards to create more supportive and inclusive environments for girls.
“It is the connection that the girls feel to the coach that will determine whether they stay or go”.
Whilst adequate facilities rank high on their wish list, what remains most important for girls is to have a good relationship with their Coaches, mentors, team mates and to have fun.