By: Umpire Interview: Rachel – playnetball

Having recently notched up 100 National League Games we sat down with Rachael Ayre to talk about her journey along the umpiring pathway.

Tell us about your netball and umpiring journey: 

I grew up in Lismore, where netball is strong but it is a smaller regional association and was involved in everything – I played, coached teams and as soon as I was old enough I learnt to umpire. Mum was a good coach and what was then a NSW B badged umpire, she taught me everything. 

I was awarded my C badge at a regional inter district carnival when I was 16 and I was playing A grade, umpiring locally and at State Age as well as coaching rep teams through until I was at Uni. 

I moved to Sydney and transferred universities and joined Sutherland Association where I played, coached and umpired. Robyn Aitkin saw me umpiring a club game one weekend and asked me to be part of the umpiring team that were going to State Championships. From there I went to umpire at NSW night inter-district and was coached by Wendy Archer (OAM) and it was during this time I was awarded my B badge.

I started umpiring at NSW State League the following year and I was still playing at Sutherland in the A1 division. Here I was very fortunate that Louise McMeeking put me forward to go to School Girls Nationals in Perth and from there I went to 17s and 19s Nationals in 2004, where I got my A badge. Chris Burton (OAM) and Maureen Boyle (OAM) then gave me the opportunity to be part of an Australian Sports Commission officiating program and I started going to what was then Opens Nationals and doing a few Commonwealth Bank Trophy games. 

I went to Melbourne for a few years and I stopped playing after I got a stress fracture, however I kept umpiring. I was fortunate to be awarded the AA badge in 2006 and stayed in the national pool under the coaching, guidance and life lessons of Chris and Maureen until 2017 when I took a leadership role with Les Mills Asia Pacific. I was extremely fortunate to also be awarded the International Umpiring Award and travelled to a number of international tests as well as the Netball World Cup in 2011 and 2015 and Commonwealth Games in 2010 and 2014. I re-joined the Netball Australia High Performance Umpire Squad this year. 

You took a number of years away from umpiring, what motivated you to come back?

I really enjoyed the 5 years I worked for Les Mills Asia Pacific as a trainer, presenter and presenter performance coach. I learned a lot about myself, my values, about leadership, coaching and performance. I was drawn back to netball umpiring because I missed being a part of the game. My daughter has just started to play NetSetGo and being a role model for her is extremely important to me. I also lost the value match I had with Les Mills and needed to find it again – back where I started, on the netball court and with a team of people I have the utmost respect for. 

What is your favourite netball/umpiring moment?

 I’ve made lifelong friends umpiring netball, so there are many great times and so many funny moments. I get emotional when I think about the bronze medal matches in Singapore and Sydney because I got to do those games with Sharon Kelly (OAM), whom I will look up to forever as an umpire and a person. I’m also really proud of the two ANZ semi-finals matches in New Zealand where it was just me and Maureen there as my support. I also look back really fondly on the NSW State League grand final days when they used to be on a Saturday afternoon – the atmosphere was so great! 

What do you do away from netball?

I now work in occupational rehab as a Rehabilitation Counsellor. Essentially, I work to assist people to return to work after injury. 

I have a 7 year old daughter, Lia and we have two dogs that are essential members of our family. 

How do you manage to juggle full time work, travelling for netball and being a Mum?

My employer is super flexible, to make life manageable I have temporarily dropped to 4 days per week at work. Between my husband, Tony and I, we have a pretty strong schedule for the week to ensure everyone knows what’s happening. Lia has been coming with me to the gym and netball since she was a baby, so she’s pretty good at tagging along when she needs to. 

Do you have an advice/tips for umpires?

  • Control the things you can control – fitness, nutrition and attitude. 
  • Be good at self analysis, but also know when to let it go. 
  • Don’t expect it to be perfect (Chris Burton told me this and it’s stayed with me forever).
  • Only umpire if you enjoy it. 
  • Work hard and stay humble.
  • Tuck your shirt in. 

There have been many amazing people who have contributed to my journey and I’m grateful to each and every one of them. 


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