THE Jamaica Netball Association (JNA) is moving swiftly to improve the stock of umpires in order
to meet local and international demand.
However, the association must first soothe the hiccup of finding a suitable institution of higher learning to host the training programme, as the most recent crop failed to produce the desired results.
Although the JNA has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport to train umpires, the programme hit a snag in recent times.
President of the JNA Marva Bernard told journalists at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, held at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue head office, that a new approach would be sought regarding how the umpires' training sessions are taught.
"Our MOU with GC Foster is not working and we have plans to revisit it," Bernard stated.
"In 2008-2009 a report was submitted about the number of people who sat the umpires' exam and how many persons passed. Last year we had a report from GC Foster on a number of persons who sat the exam and none of them passed.
"The growth and pace of umpiring and the number of umpires in the pool has not grown with the pace of the game, and our national programme in terms of the level of umpires that we need to have to meet the speed and the positive direction that the national teams are taking.
"So we have been looking at it and it has to be institutionalised because we find that volunteers are not always able to give the kind of support that certain products require, and umpiring requires more focused attention, but in all of the challenges that we face with preparing, training and having enough umpires in the pool to satisfy the game, we have a programme that we are very proud of — the junior umpires programme, which evolved out of a group of girls who did not make the cut to our Under-16 programme," she said.
That programme, according to Bernard, started when members of the Under-13 programme, who did not make it to the Under-16 squad, decided to go into an umpires' training programme, as they wanted to remain connected to the game, largely played by women.
That programme was even emulated by South African netball's governing body.
"They selected umpiring and we set about preparing them in a different way ... they were put in a classroom situation every Saturday morning. They were taught the rules of the game, they were given mock exams, they were given projects, then they went outside and practised on the Under-13 squad that was training at the Queen's School.
"It has borne fruit and I think about seven of those girls are now umpiring in the leagues. It has taken longer than we wanted, but it's a pilot project that South Africa came here, saw, liked, and invited us down to South Africa to share this concept, and they are planning to bring a team of about 20 persons to Jamaica, sometime in July of this year, providing they can get the funding, so that we can replicate the programme to them and they take it back.
"The rule book is broken down into lesson plans, which are prepared ahead of time, so that there is a classroom and there is structure to it. We find that the pass mark and the number of umpires coming to the pool is not enough, and the failure rate is too high, so we are looking at how we train umpires," Bernard said.
Now, the JNA needs at least 250 umpires to satisfy a growing demand, and the organisation's president believes that alternative institutions of learning must come on board, as the GC Foster plan has fallen short.
"So we have to look at how it is being taught. We have no idea on how it is taught, because we haven't been able to get that feedback from them (GC Foster). But we believe that because we have a number of 250 umpires needed to satisfy the growth and development that we have planned, we are now going to be insisting on some changes being brought to bear on how we teach the programme, how we teach the course. How the course is taught will have to change from how it used to be taught.
"The reason why we are saying this is that we have a success in the junior umpires programme where the children were put into a classroom situation and the rule book broken down, tests given, projects given and that is the result of it.
"We are about ensuring that we provide enough umpires in the system to meet this growth and development.
"We are going to be exploring all the options, including the University of Technology, with whom we work closely, as well as the teachers' colleges too. It takes too long for an umpire to be trained," Bernard lamented.