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Umpires: The unsung heroes of netball

Mel Stack, Umpiring Convenor, Natives Netball Club

As someone deeply passionate about netball, I've had the privilege to see the game from every angle - player, spectator, coach, and umpire. Each role has its unique perspective, but being an umpire offers a distinct and vital viewpoint that often goes underappreciated. Umpires at the backbone of our sport, ensuring that games are played fairly and safely within the rules, creating an environment where players can showcase their skills to the fullest.


I truly believe that umpires are the unsung heroes of netball. Without them, the game simply wouldn't function. They keep games moving smoothly, ensure equity and safety, and uphold the integrity of the sport. Their expertise in officiating is crucial for maintaining the standards of play and creating a fair and competitive environment.


The main responsibility of a netball umpire is to enforce the rules of the game. This involves making split-second decisions on penalties, footwork, offside calls, and more, all while maintaining a keen awareness of the game's flow. Umpires must have a comprehensive understanding of the rules, combined with sharp observational skills and impartial judgement.


For players, coaches and spectators, understanding some of the most frequently enforced rules can enhance the appreciation of an umpire's role and the game itself:

Footwork: Players must release the ball before their landing foot touches the ground again. This rule ensures fluid movement and prevents unfair advantage.

Obstruction: Defenders must stay at least three feet away from the player with the ball. This maintains a balance between offence and defence.

Contact: Physical contact that interferes with an opponent's play is not allowed. Netball is a non-contact sport, and this rule is crucial for player safety.

Offside: Players must stay within their designated areas on the court. This keeps the game structured and ensures that each position plays its strategic role.


It's essential for players, coaches and spectators to respect umpires and their decisions. Understanding that umpires are trained to keep the game fair can help foster a positive attitude toward officiating. Here are some ways to better understand and respect umpires:

Learn the rules: A thorough knowledge of the game's rules helps players appreciate the umpire's calls and reduced frustration.

Communicate respectfully: If there's confusion or disagreement with a call, players should approach umpires calmly and respectfully.

Focus on the game: Concentrating on playing well and leaving the officiating to the umpires allows for a more enjoyable and focused game experience.

Umpires have an extremely challenging task - they need to keep track of 14 players at once, make quick decisions, and ensure the game is fair for everyone. While they are highly trained, they are also human, and can sometimes miss calls. It's essential to remember that if an umpire calls you for contact or any other rule infringement, they may have missed other instances where you should have been called. This give-and-take is part of the game.

For players, understanding that umpires are there to ensure fairness is so important. If you feel a call is unjust, consider that unnoticed calls might have gone in your favour. For coaches and spectators, maintaining respect for the umpire's decisions is crucial. Remember - they are not the ones making contact or stepping out of bounds - they are simply calling the game as they see it.

We should also remember that umpires are vital to maintaining the game's integrity and flow. As passionate supporters, it's easy to get caught up in the moment, but we must uphold the sport's spirit by respecting and supporting our umpires.


At Natives, we're committed to developing our own umpires from within our club. Watching them progress from NetSetGo through to Division 1 and beyond is incredibly rewarding. We provide our aspiring umpires with training, mentorship, and plenty of game experience. Our goal is to nurture confident, knowledgeable officials who uphold the integrity of the game.

Umpires are indispensable to netball, ensuring the game is played fairly, safely, and within the rules. By valuing and understanding the important role that umpires play, we can all contribute to a more respectful, enjoyable, and well-played game of netball. Remember, without umpires, there would be no netball, and their contributions to the sport deserve our respect and appreciation.

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