Going through the hoops

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A Queenstown netball umpire has just received her first international rating.

Sasha McLeod has been approved as an International Talent Identified umpire by the International Netball Federation.

It lets her umpire international teams ranked between six and 10 and recognises she’s got the ability to get the International Umpire Award to umpire top-tier games within the next few years.

A former international orienteering competitor, McLeod was playing local netball 10 years ago when she first whistled a game.

“I just started doing it and every game I thought, ‘that was fun’, and then I got picked up by one of the Southland umpiring coaches.”

Constantly going out of town to gain experience, she worked her way up to attain New Zealand’s highest umpiring qualification, then last year joined the umpire panel for ANZ Premiership games.

“The first season I felt like, ‘oh, my gosh, this is pretty full-on, I don’t know whether I like this or not’.

“But then I got used to that and this season [umpiring about 10 games and acting as reserve for another nine] I really loved it.”

McLeod says people sometimes think, ‘oh, that looks easy’, but she’ll assure them it’s anything but.

Umpires, she explains, have to sprint up and down the side-line all game, arriving on the goal-line at the same time as the ball, and not only have to follow the ball but everything else happening on court.

Then after blowing her whistle she has to explain her decisions, and occasionally fend off testy players.

“I think a study in Australia found an umpire makes over 3500 decisions in a game, and I can [believe that].”

After every ANZ game, a panel also reviews her performance.

She also has to pass four fitness tests a year.

She trains six times a week, but, at 44, admits “speed becomes an issue as you get older”.

A mother of three, she’s given up her PhysEd teaching posts, originally at Wakatipu High and latterly at St Joseph’s School, to concentrate on umpiring.

“I’m in a lucky enough position that I don’t have to work full-time, but I certainly wouldn’t grumble about how much we’re paid.”

Asked what she enjoys most, she says “I just really like the challenge of trying to umpire the perfect game”.

scoop@scene.co.nz