Working with the enemy: My experiences within the umpiring fraternity

Over the past 5 years I have been lucky enough to work with the AFL Umpiring Department’s High Performance Team, first as a trainer and now as a physiotherapist. I have been fortunate to work at the biggest games in our native sport including Grand Finals, ANZAC Day and Dreamtime at the ‘G. Whilst a few of you might be able to remember vividly where an umpire cost your team the game, I can personally attest to them being good blokes!

Unlike footy players, umpiring is a part-time profession meaning these men and women have to juggle the demands of full-time work on top of their weekend roles. They typically train as a group twice a week, which involves skills, decision-making and film review sessions plus a fitness and strength component. They are then expected to complete subsequent strength and conditioning and running sessions individually or within small groups. Within the department, there are three very different and distinct disciplines: field, boundary and goal umpires, and each play a pivotal role in officiating the game. This specialisation leads to different physiotherapy management and different injuries for each discipline.

Both boundary and field umpires run in an excess of 15km per game, but how they complete those kilometres are very different. Field umpires running involves a lot of change of direction and lateral running to allow them to be in the best decision to make accurate calls whilst almost 1/3 of boundary umpires total kilometres are ran backwards! The most common injuries experienced by umpires are soft tissue injuries such as calves and hamstrings, lower limb tendinopathies and lower back injuries caused by repetitive bouncing and boundary throw ins.

Like at Restore, rehabilitation of umpires involves settling acute pain, increasing strength and flexibility, improving movement patterns and developing a structured and individualised gradual training program. The High Performance Team works collaboratively with the athlete and coaches to  develop a plan to allow for return to participation, and then optimal performance.  In comparison to AFL players, the typical age of umpires is a lot older and as such requires different considerations in rehab such as more recovery and treatment time in training, a more gradual return from injury and more support networks.

Gameday management and preparation is usually overseen by trainers as physiotherapists cannot service every game. Gameday preparation involves activation and warmup, soft tissue treatment, joint strapping and hydration management. Trainers are situated throughout Australia and report directly to the Head Physiotherapist and High Performance Manager.

Working within the High Performance team has given me a valuable insight into the rehabilitation of sub-elite athletes and allowed me to experience many great opportunities. I will continue my role in 2021 along with my full-time role at Restore. Hopefully it will finish with watching the Saints win their first flag since ‘66!

Will Ogle graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science and a Masters in Physiotherapy from La Trobe University. Will has also completed his APPI Matwork and DMA Clinical Pilates certification and is a certified ASCA Strength & Conditioning Coach. Will has been working with the AFL Umpire Department for the past 5 years giving him a sound introduction into injury prevention and rehabilitation of sub-elite athletes. Will’s special interests include treating back and neck pain, knee injuries, and shoulder pain along with sports specific rehabilitation including basketball, golf and football.

Will uses a holistic approach to treatment including clinical exercise prescription, education and manual therapy to help his clients manage and rehabilitate their injuries to their highest functional capacity.