Believe it or not, Australian Football League (AFL) umpires are human...they do make mistakes (only about 6 per game). Umpires award about 44 free kicks per game, with many other decisions (about 2,000) often going unnoticed. So 6 errors out of about 2,000 decisions is pretty good! This is even more impressive when you consider the physical aspect of their role, whereby they cover between 10-12 km per game. Low intensity exercise has been shown to be beneficial to cognitive performance, however, at near maximal intensities such as those often completed by umpires, the ability to correctly perceive perceptual information is limited. As such, our study examined how the position and movement of an AFL umpire may impact their decision-making accuracy.
Umpire coaches review every free kick decision made by the umpire and classify them as correct, missed or unwarranted. We used this information to identify when and where free kicks were awarded, and to identify the umpire movement at this time. This approach identified the instantaneous speed when a decision was made, and how far they were positioned from play. We also assessed their movement demands prior to a free kick being awarded by examining the GPS devices worn by umpires during these games.
Umpires were often positioned between 15-20 m from the ball when a free kick was awarded, however this did not impact on their decision-making accuracy, nor did their movement speed at the time of a decision. However, increased running speed 5 seconds prior to a decision resulted in a greater likelihood of an error being made. These increased running demands may elicit various physiological changes, which negatively impact the umpires’ information processing abilities. So, although umpires make the correct decision in most circumstances, this study identified that by limiting their high intensity activity, they may be less likely to make an error.
For more information about this research, please contact Nathan Elsworthy and/or check out the following journal article:
Elsworthy, N., Burke, D., Scott, B., Stevens, C., & Dascombe, B. (2014). Physical and decision-making demands of Australian football umpires during competitive matches Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 14 (2), 401-410 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000567