Becoming an umpire, as a female

Thursday 12th August 2021

With Melissa Juniper

  • Stage Three Qualified Umpire
  • Kent League Panel Umpire (and youngest Umpire aged 32)
  • Level Two Cricket Coach

What were the main reasons for you becoming an umpire and was it just you involved in that decision?

I hadn’t really played cricket but had watched plenty, as I was a scorer for my local men’s cricket team. It became apparent they were lacking in volunteers to umpire, which resulted in a number of games where they had to forfeit the toss. I would also watch on, as run-outs were not given and questions were raised about bias when players were relied upon to act as umpires. I felt I couldn’t comment or change anything unless I was happy to umpire myself, so I subsequently decided to look into becoming an umpire.

Please tell us a little more about the process of becoming an umpire, was it a welcoming and straight forward process?

Initially, I browsed the Kent website and found a local face to face course in Blean for a Stage 2  Umpiring Qualification. Ken Amos was the tutor and other members of the East Kent ACO were present. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, which I was very grateful for, as being the only female was a little daunting. To add to that, having not played cricket before, I had to learn every umpiring law without any practical experience, which was a challenge, but one which I embraced and achieved.

What have been the hurdles in your umpiring journey to date, that you have had to overcome?

One of the biggest challenges personally has been juggling my umpiring with the demands of looking after a young family. To enable my husband and I to fulfill all of our commitments, everything has to be planned ahead of time, because he also plays and umpires and we always need to make plans for childcare.

 Additionally, the perception of others  has been an interesting one to navigate. In my first year of qualification, my club wouldn’t let me umpire men’s league games to ‘protect me’. However, all this resulted in, was not getting any match practice to gain experience and confidence in the role. Luckily, Ken Amos assigned me to umpire indoors for the Canterbury League and a switch of clubs to Betteshanger Cricket Club meant I was then also able to umpire men’s weekly fixtures outdoors too.

 Generally, it is quite unheard of to have a female umpire. There have been numerous times where I have arrived at games and been assumed as the scorer. However, on the whole, my gender has not caused too many issues and I’ve had a lot of mutual respect from clubs and players alike. There was only one game where being a female was unnecessarily brought up. In Division 5 of the Kent League, an ex pro as captain, lost control of his players and confronted me as the umpire asking “Do you know who I am?” going on to murmur “It’s a woman, what do you expect?”. I simply kept calm, treated him like any other player and stuck to the rules as I saw it. As an umpire, you often need these experiences to build resilience and have to accept that as the ‘authority figure’ there will always be someone that wants to challenge you! 

Mel standing as umpire at the 2019 Dyno T20 Finals Day at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence.

Do you have any particular goals to meet with your umpiring looking forward?

Yes, a few. I have recently joined the ECB Women’s Umpiring Pathway and attended the first online training a few weeks back. Led by Hamish Grant, the initiative allows all female umpires to be part of a national network. Sue Redfern, the first woman to have played and umpired in a Women’s Cricket World Cup and one of the eight women on the ICC Development Panel of Umpires, recently delivered an online seminar to us covering the topic of elite decision making. It has since been fantastic to see Sue umpiring live on television this summer, along with a number of other female umpires. 

I look forward to this year having further involvement with the Women’s County T20 Championships and to progressing into higher divisions in the Kent Men’s League. I would be delighted to ever be given the opportunity to umpire the Indoor Cricket Men’s Finals at Lords Cricket Ground and lastly, I would be very interested in becoming an Umpire Tutor, especially if it were to help encourage more women and girls into officiating.

What have been your personal highlights of your umpiring career so far?

I would have to say in general, being involved with all levels and types of cricket, one day umpiring children’s or school’s festivals, the next for the Kent Women, or for a men’s T20 Dyno Finals Day. If I had to pick out specific highlights, it would be umpiring the Kent Indoor League Finals playoffs or being a female umpire on the Kent League Panel.

What would you say are the main attributes of a successful umpire and would you say it is a path open to all?

It is a pathway open to anybody, if a little lonely as a female at times. It would be encouraging to see more female umpires in the game. I think one of the key attributes required are inter-personal skills with the players, showing respect and expecting it in return. Plus a sound knowledge base gives you that confidence to act.

Earlier this year, Anna Harris and Yvonne Dolphin-Cooper became the first ‘all female’ umpiring duo to stand in an ECB Premier League fixture. Click the image to read the article on the ECB website.

As a female umpire, is there a professional, paid career path out there for you currently?

For me personally, I’m not able to have it as my sole career. I also have three part time jobs on the go, including working in a Nursery and Pub and being in year two of six of a part time Child Studies degree to become a Nursery Teacher. I understand it is only right at the top of the pathway where it can become a career choice, for someone like Sue Redfern who umpires at international level. However, with the growth of the female game and the new Women’s Cricket Pathway, further opportunities could well arise.

What advice would you give a female who was considering training up to become an umpire like yourself?

Find a course local to you, have fun, give it a go, be yourself and have the confidence to make mistakes. It is the only way to tell if you will be good or even enjoy it.

Ahead of the autumn we will be confirming two ‘Basics of Umpiring’ courses, exclusively for female participants. To be the first to hear about these courses, click here to complete the expression of interest form.