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Netball umpire becomes Australia’s youngest A-Badged umpire at only 15!

30 November 2015

“Oi! Deanna! Come here!!”

It’s the kind of command that would set most people’s hearts, and minds, racing – especially when it’s delivered loudly, and in public, and you’re a 15-year-old umpiring at your first national netball championships.

Certainly Deanna Stainer felt the adrenaline kick in – as well as that old “summoned to the school principal’s office” sense of dread: the person demanding her attention was Australia’s national director of netball umpiring, and Deanna, a national ‘C–badged’ umpire, had just finished umpiring her fifth game of the underage tournament.

Fortunately, she was in the clear: the umpiring director had actually called Deanna over to tell her that she’d been awarded her national ‘A’ badge, making her the youngest ever in Australia to earn that accreditation.

“I was gobsmacked,” she recalls.

For the self-confessed ‘netball nerd’, it was also a very proud moment.

Deanna Stainer’s umpiring odyssey began as a nine-year-old, when she was roped in to umpire club netball practice matches. Within a year she was umpiring match-day club games. By the time she was 14 Deanna had graduated to the Coloured Shirt Program.

The program is an Office for Recreation and Sport initiative, offering support and guidance to young match officials in 28 codes. Those in the program wear a green shirt – the ‘coloured shirt’ which gives the initiative its name. Crucially, the shirt also signals to players and onlookers that the official is a ‘learner’, and therefore needs more patience, leeway, and respect than senior officials often get.

In essence, the program is about making sure young umpires don’t get burned by bad player and spectator behaviour, to the point they just give up and leave.

Deanna Stainer says the protection afforded by the program – and the mentoring provided by experienced officials – made a huge difference to her.

“I just felt really supported,” she says.

“Yes, you’ve got a player’s knowledge of the game and the rules, but the Coloured Shirt Program is also about giving you the confidence to perform as an umpire.

“It’s about having the confidence to make your decisions, then come off at quarter-time and ask your mentor, ‘was that right?’.”

Deanna stayed with the Coloured Shirt program for two years, long enough to learn heaps about the umpiring side of netball, and gain confidence in her own abilities.

At times those abilities – and her on-court calm – have been severely tested.

Only a week after her A-badge elevation, Deanna was subjected to persistent comments by a coach (sorry, no names!) during a seniors’ State League game. The ‘advice’ included that Deanna should get glasses, and that she should finish school before she started umpiring seniors’ matches.

Drawing on that well of self-confidence, and her years of experience and mentoring, Deanna stopped play; the coach’s behaviour was unsportsmanlike, she warned, and if they didn’t shape up their team would be penalised.

The warning didn’t work: when play resumed and the coach responded by angrily slamming down a clipboard, Deanna again stopped play, turned the ball over to the opposing team, and advanced the ball (i.e. let them take it further towards their goal).

Pretty impressive for a 15-year-old!

Deanna says part of being a seasoned, professional umpire is learning to adopt a poker face – to shrug off (at least for appearance’s sake) the effect of negative comments. On that abusive day, Deanna’s poker mask was given a thorough testing.

“I was freaking out,” she recalls, “thinking ‘oh my god I’m going to get dropped and it’s only my first State League game!’”

In fact two senior umpires watching the game congratulated her on her performance, and the offending coach’s players apologised for their coach’s behaviour!

Now 21, and a regular State Premier League umpire, Deanna is making sure the Coloured Shirt philosophy is passed on. As Netball SA’s Umpire Development Officer, she mentors umpires in the association’s City Night Coloured Shirt Program.  Outside of work she also volunteers her time for umpire mentoring visits across SA.

“Having experienced the Coloured Shirt Program and the umpire pathways provided by Netball SA... I am very passionate about giving back, and providing umpires at every level with support and mentoring to develop their knowledge and skills.”

At a personal level, Deanna’s ultimate ambition is to go as far as she can with her umpiring:

“When I first started umpiring my dreams were to umpire at international level and officiate at the Commonwealth Games which I would still love to do.”

First though she’ll have to qualify as an All-Australian umpire, in itself an onerous process, and one that only a select handful achieve.  The last time South Australia had a national-level umpire was way back in the mid-1980s.

Given Deanna Stainer’s impressive record, however, it’d be a brave person who’d wager against her!

Need more info about the Coloured Shirt Program? Check out http://www.ors.sa.gov.au/sport_and_recreation/coaching_and_officiating/officiating