04 June 2020

Behind the scenes with a Wimbledon umpire

July 4, 2011

Sportsister talks to up-and-coming tennis umpire, Kelly Thomson, who has just finished at Wimbledon  and gives some advice for other young women who want to follow in her footsteps.

KellyThomson2Kelly is infectiously enthusiastic and passionate about both tennis and tennis umpiring and is looking forward to a long and successful career. Speaking before this year’s Wimbledon championship she told Sportsister;

“I’m really excited about umpiring at Wimbledon this year because I’ve passed my bronze badge certification with the ITF which means that I can do more main draw matches. Last year I did the boys single final on number one court and I really enjoyed that because we had a crowd and the atmosphere was really good. Doing main draw matches will be really exciting this year.

“You do thrive off the excitement from the crowd during a match because their excitement makes you realise that your job is worth something. You also know it is special to the players because every match is obviously so important to them.

“The best thing is being on court with some of the best players in the world. You get to be involved in some of the best matches in the world and have the best viewpoint.”

“Hopefully over the next few years I can progress even higher in the chair. Maybe six years from now I can be doing some main-draw matches on centre court. I think that would be a dream to do a chair at centre court at Wimbledon.

Kelly’s career got off to a flying start as she progressed quickly, but how exactly did she begin her career as a tennis umpire?

“When I was younger I used to play tennis and they were looking for young umpires in my area, so I went along for a one day course. We learnt basic rules and how to call a line and I was recommended and was put on a fast track course. The following year I was at Wimbledon.”

Kelly makes the process sound so simple but it takes a lot of hard work and training to be in the brilliant position she is in today.

“We do on-court training where you have to call the line and you’re taught different techniques about calling the line. You’re not allowed to stare at the ball because otherwise your focus goes. You keep your eye on the ball and get your eye on the line when the ball comes close. You also do some classes to learn all the rules.

“Once you have the techniques in place, you should be able to see every ball, but everybody makes mistakes and sometimes you can’t get your eye in quick enough.

“You also have to have 20/20 vision and 20/20 hearing to be an umpire and you have to have a good level of fitness. I play tennis to keep fit and I still enjoy playing because I’m so involved in the game. During tournaments, a group of us will have a game in the evenings and I always try to play when I’m not working but it can be hard with the hours we work.”

This all sounds too good to be true, surely there are some challenges to being an umpire?

“It can be a challenging job due to the pressure. You realise that it is the livelihood of these players but you’ve got to use that pressure and overcome it to have a good match. There can be outbursts from the players on court but you just have to try and deal with it. It’s their profession so they’re going to get angry at points and sometimes you just have to let it slide and we have a code of conduct to help us ‘control’ them.”

Another challenge for Kelly, and other female tennis umpires, comes from the fact this is such a male dominated profession.

“As a woman, you have to prove yourself even more than the men. You are capable of doing exactly the same job and we are trying to promote affiliating to females and show them that even if you have a family, you can still do it.

“We’re gradually getting more women and we’ve increased the number of chair umpires in the last two years. Two years ago we only had about 12% female umpires and that has risen to around 26-28%. We’re getting there but we’re still not 50-50 so we need to keep going.

“If any young women are interested in becoming a tennis umpire, they should push themselves as much as they can and keep trying to show that men and women are both capable of being professional tennis umpires.”

Monica Stott, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Kelly wears the official Wimbledon uniform provided by Polo Ralph Lauren – www.ralphlauren.com

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