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GLOUCESTERSHIRE are setting an example for the rest of the country over the way new umpires and scorers are being recruited, trained and –  most important of all – retained thanks to a new mentoring initiative.

That’s the verdict of Clive Poulton, the joint chairman of the Gloucestershire Association of Cricket Officials (GACO) as he reflects on a hectic period of activity behind the scenes that has seen numbers across the board increase significantly after years of steady decline.

The GACO Education and Development team has a dedicated team of 15 tutors who, over the winter, have offered a wide range of training courses to suit all needs.

Face-to-face training has been suspended because of the pandemic but a free ECBACO online course, covering the Basics of Umpiring, has proved to be a successful introduction for club umpires who need to know the key laws and players who simply umpire for a few overs on the weekend.

Also available is a free online Stage 1 course which has been designed to provide an overview of the basic laws of the game for new club umpires. And this leads to a blended learning Stage 2 course – a mixture of self-taught modules and online tutor-led sessions – for those who are keen to umpire Saturday league cricket as an appointed official.

GACO further offers all Stage 2 trained umpires a practical session at a member club to practise skills in a match situation before being appointed to games.

And new officials are also being linked up with a team of 24 mentors across the county to provide invaluable support and encouragement, in their first season.

Clive said: “It became apparent that we were training umpires but then losing too many to the game in their first season. I’ve worked as a management coach and mentor in my professional life and thought there were things we could do to help.”

In 2019, mentoring support was offered to 50 new umpires. And this support has been further extended after more experienced umpires came forward during lockdown to complete a zoom workshop in order to assist newcomers.

Clive added: “People who were mentored two or three years ago are now themselves acting as mentors. It’s really good news.

“We’re setting a trend in Gloucestershire for the rest of the country. I’ve also been asked to work with a colleague in Warwickshire and the ECBACO (England & Wales Cricket Board Association of Cricket Officials) to look at a mentor development programme which will be rolled out across the country.

“The toughest time for new umpires is the first or second season … you’re finding your feet and there are times when it can feel challenging out there in the middle. The mentoring relationship makes a real difference as it’s built on trust, credibility and confidentiality … people realise they aren’t alone and there is real support available”.

This increase and retention in numbers is reflected in the number of umpires now being appointed to local league games.

Aspiring young officials undergo a GACO training course at Hatherley & Reddings CC

Pete Sawyer, GACO’s head of education and development and the man coordinating all these training initiatives, said: “This summer we will be providing umpires some weeks all the way down to Gloucestershire County League Division Three – that’s brand new territory for us, in the past we’ve only had enough people for the top division.”

GACO has also been spending time with young people aged 13-16 with 45 enthusiasts completing Young Officials Training, a 3-4 hour course (free for 2021) that covers umpiring, scoring, basic laws and field craft ahead of the Dynamos programme.

It is also piloting a programme at three clubs for parental involvement, collaborating with Gareth Dawson and the GCB. And there are plans to run two, possibly three, innovative courses for women and girls, working with the GCB’s Laura Charles-Price, the Somerset Cricket Board and SACO, with the aim for it to be delivered by female tutors.

The number of trained scorers across Gloucestershire is also on the increase. Sue Drinkwater is the GCB’s county scoring officer. She said: “We’ve run five scoring webinars over the winter for 154 people, from teenagers through to a few who have retired.

“Many are people new to cricket who have never scored before, including parents of juniors and women softball players who want to know how to get it right.

“If the demand is there, we will continue to put on as many courses as we need to!”

To register for The Basics of Umpiring, visit: http://booking.ecb.co.uk/d/jnqlsg

Further information on all courses is also available at www.gloucestershirecricketboard.com. or email Pete Sawyer at: pwsawyer@btinternet.com

Main picture: Umpires Clive Poulton and Craig Blakeway, image courtesy Brian Rossiter

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