Suncorp Super Netball

‘Grand final a career highlight’: Legendary Umpire Michelle Phippard

By Michelle Phippard

Just as teams set their sights on the pointy end of the season, selection for a final is a key objective for the umpiring group, and for many, a career highlight. 

Getting the nod for such a crucial match is a huge endorsement from your coaches of your effort and performance from week to week. 

It’s a great privilege, but also a big responsibility to be entrusted with something that represents the highlight of the competition and means so much to the players.

While it is easy to say that finals are “just another game”, the reality is that they are different because of the added value the teams and their fans place on their outcome. 

Umpires are guaranteed to be on the receiving end of some heightened emotions and exaggerated reactions from both the court and the stands and can expect the players to be pushing the limits from the very first whistle. 

It can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that you should do something “special” to rise to the occasion, but ultimately, it’s important to remember as an umpire that you have earned your appointment through the quality and consistency of what you are already doing. 

Today is not the day to make changes!

In my experience, the key to success is establishing a rapport with the teams early, and that comes from giving them clarity – in the standards you are setting, and in the way that you communicate with them. 

Mutual respect develops when players feel confident that they know where they stand and trust that they will be treated fairly as long as they stick to the boundaries set. 

They understand what is required to “keep the umpires out of it” and allow the game to be a showcase for their incredible skills. 

I should say that this obviously applies to every game – but the added potential for gamesmanship and “niggle” in finals means that it is more important than ever for umpires to work at getting the tone “just right”, so it enhances the contest. 

This is an achievement of which they can be justly proud, and it helps makes the match the spectacle it should be.

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