Young Umpires making a big impression

August 29, 2018

Riley Jennings and Nathan Waddle at National Under 18 Tournament in Dunedin

The Capital and Wellington Under 18 teams weren't the only winners at the National Under-18 tournament in Dunedin or the Regional Association Tournament in North Harbour in July this year.

The Wellington umpiring contingent of Nathan Waddle, Riley Jennings, Stephen McLachlan and Aimee Dustin were rewarded for their excellence by gaining leading appointments for the final fixtures.

At the Regional Tournament in Dunedin, Jennings umpired the playoff for third while Waddle presided over the contest for seventh.  McLachlan umpired the decider and Dustin the fifth placed battle at the Under 18s Association Tournaments.

The reasons for becoming an umpire vary, but despite the multiple challenges involved, most agree the experience is truly rewarding.

Tom Rutherford is from a hockey family and started umpiring nine years ago. He umpires Premier I club matches, along with age group representative tournaments.

Rutherford officiated the 2016 and 2017 Under 18 Regional Men’s Finals, winning promotion to the Under 21 grade this year. For the past three years he has umpired the Premier 1 Men’s Final in Wellington. Rutherford credits much of his success to others.

“I can’t stress how important it is having a mentor or coach to help you improve as an umpire. There are always areas to improve on and having someone watch your game from the sideline is really helpful for picking up on things you don’t know. Some of my key mentors have been Devendra Patel, Sarah Garnett and Kelly Hudson,” Rutherford acclaims.

Aimee Dustin started umpiring in 2014, assisting a sibling's team short of an official. Despite a firm grasp of the rules, Dustin concedes she was nervous during her debut.

“I umpired a Division 1 boys game. I can still recall the nerves I felt before the game, but once it started it was an amazing experience,” she says.

Dustin has kicked on to control Wellington Secondary School Premier I fixtures as well as R1 and R3 open grades for both sexes.

Dustin found it hard to select umpiring highlights, but identified an early final as a special moment.

“I was appointed to the P1 secondary girls grading round final earlier this year between Queen Margaret College and Wellington Girls College. I had only just started umpiring in Wellington so to be appointed to a final so quickly was amazing.”

Despite the rapid progress Rutherford and Dustin have enjoyed, both concede the position has its challenges.

“Hockey is an ever developing and changing game,” Rutherford observed.

“The sport is increasing in speed and intensity and it can be a challenge to keep pace with the game. Therefore, it’s important to be in the right position to make sure you don’t miss anything and get the decision correct,” he continued.

Dustin believes there can exist a disconnect between umpires and players.

“The main challenge is trying to enforce the rules to players who don't yet fully understand them. Coaching players while the game is going can be difficult,” she analysed.

Abuse from players and spectators can be unpleasant to deal with and requires a cool head.

“I find the best way to deal with abuse is to remain calm and level headed. Often players, coaches and supporters get caught up in the heat of the moment and as an umpire not letting the emotion of them take over is important,” Rutherford stresses.

“If someone challenges a decision I make, I explain it to them once calmly and then I move on.”

Dustin concurs with Rutherford’s sentiments.

“I try and block abuse out. If I get abuse from coaches I speak to the captain and if necessary I will sanction.”

Umpiring isn’t all fire and brimstone with humour a frequent part of the game. Rutherford shares a particularly amusing moment.

“I was doing a game in Wellington a couple of years ago when a cat hopped onto the turf. I stopped the game and started chasing the cat, eventually catching it and putting it safely over the fence. To this day I still get grief as the cat cop,” Rutherford laughed.

Rutherford and Dustin are deep thinkers about the game and both shared one rule they would like to see changed.

“If I could change one rule it would be something to do with the overhead rule. It’s often a piece of contention for the players and is not very well understood,” Rutherford said.

Dustin would allow both captains and goalkeepers to question umpires when the play is in the defensive circle. Dustin argues, “goalkeepers see a lot of what happens in their defensive circle and umpires as humans do miss things.”

Rutherford’s ultimate goal is to umpire at the Olympics while Dustin has her immediate sights set on the Federation Cup in September. Both are adamant they will remain umpires for a long time and encourage others to get involved.

ABOVE Aimee Dustin (left) at Regional Assoc U18s

BELOW:  Tom Rutherford (left) & Nathan Waddle


If you’d like to get involved with umpiring, Wellington Hockey would love to hear from you.  Contact Jo on or 021 976116

WHA wants to retain umpires and ensure they officiate within a positive and supportive environment.  This year WHA implemented a primary and secondary mentoring programme to help umpires develop and achieve Hockey NZ Accreditations. As a result of this programme WHA has nominated more than their quota of umpires to age-group national tournaments.

WHA would like to acknowledge the amazing contributions of our umpire mentors in this primary and secondary space:

Kerry Scannell, Apera Akavi, Aliyah Wong, Jess Bond, Nano Tunnicliffe, Kevin Richards, Danella Rennie, Iain Hawke, Lucy Lawlor, Nathan Waddle, Mike Ward

And a huge thanks also to our secondary umpire appointments panel:

Stephen McLachlan and Kiri Rakuraku