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Sunday, 3 May 2015

Fear of Failure Week 13: Teenagers

I had my first umpiring session at the new club this week. I went there feeling quite nervous - I'd carved out quite a comfortable spot at the old club. I got given games every week (which isn't a guarantee) despite having to work when most of the games are on. When I won my award, the rest of the umpires were all genuinely pleased for me and like I've mentioned, the coach asked me to come back in a leadership role if I was available this year. Now I had to start again and I wasn't sure how I'd do it. Most of the people in footy umpiring are teenagers and most teenagers tend to dislike things and people for no reason. I know I did it when I was younger.

The club trains at a big private school called Sacred Heart. The school is so big that it takes up about two blocks. I found a carpark just as training was meant to start at 6:00 and then spent another 15 minutes weaving my way through the overly-extravagant buildings, perfectly-manicured lawns and even fountain, trying to find the oval where the club was training. When I finally found it, they were right in the middle of a drill. The kids were handballing a football around and yelling at each other in that obnoxious way that footballers (particularly young ones) do. There was an older man, possibly in his late twenties or early thirties with a shaved head and a very fit physique hovering around the edge of the group, placing cones and barking out occasional instructions. That must have been James, the man I spoke to on the phone last week. I carefully tried to approach him without attracting too much attention. I reached him, introduced myself, apologised for being late and then did a warm-up lap of the oval while the group finished their drill.

When I got back, the group was gathered around James, who was trying to explain the next drill. But he was finding it hard because the kids kept yelling jokes and insults at each other. They were certainly jocks. I kept silent, wondering how to behave myself. It's no secret that I was scared of being rejected by this group. Even if they were people who I wouldn't be friends with otherwise, how much could I really enjoy being at the club if they decided they didn't like me?

The next question was what was I going to do about it? Should I bound up to people and introduce myself, trying to start up a conversation. That would certainly confront my fear. Should I stay silent and withdrawn until someone else approaches me? That may never happen. As we split up and headed to our marker for the drill, I caught the eyes of three boys who were chatting and laughing away. I tested the water with a simple "G'day boys." They stopped talking and one of them suspiciously said "Hey" back. He was a mid-height boy with a young face, swept brown hair and a red jumper. Discouraged, I left it at that.

So it was that during the whole drill, I played the strong, silent type. I carefully watched each person perform their drill while all the people behind me mucked around. When it was my turn, I put in a big effort. Fitness gets respect around these parts. I stuck with that persona even though it was clear that nobody else was taking it as seriously. When James called us back in to explain the next drill, the other boys just kept on playing with footballs and hurling funny insults at each other. I watched both James and the boys, figuring them all out as best I could.

Finally, as we waited for our turn in the next drill, the person behind me spoke.
'Are you new here?' he asked. He was a skinny kid with a small head and short brown hair.
'Yeah, I'm Michael,' I said, offering my hand. I realised that now that someone had broken the silence, I wasn't nervous at all about talking to him. That thought put a big grin on my face.
'I'm Liam. Is it your first year umpiring?'
'No, second. I did a year at North-East Metro last year.'
'Right, how old are you?'
'23.' That probably made me the oldest person training there that night. 'What about you?'
'I'm 14,' said Liam. I was surprised, he looked 15/16 to me.
'And how long have you been doing umpiring?'
'Four years.'
'Wait, so you started when you were ten?' I asked incredulously.
'Yeah...' he said as if he couldn't see why I was surprised. The person in front of me - a taller guy wearing a Crows jumper and a backwards-facing cap over his messy black hair - leaned over.
'Have you been here four years?' He asked just as incredulously.
'Yeah,' replied Liam just as confused.
'How long have you been doing it?' I asked.
'Just two.'
'I'm Michael, anyway.'
'Have you umpired any of the Auskick games at the AFL?'
'Yeah, but I prefer the SANFL. In those ones, you get paid.'
'What, really?'

We carried on talking until the drill was finished and even as we walked back to get more instructions from James. Once there, we were joined by two other guys - an enormous guy who also had a backwards cap and the guy with the red jumper who I'd spoken to first. They immediately restarted the ribbing. But then the big one paused and grinned at me.
'Hi, I'm Barry,' he said shaking my hand.
'Michael,' I returned, then turned to Red-Jumper. 'And...'
'Riley,' he replied distantly. Okay so it was just this guy who had a problem.

From then on, it was like I'd been there for a few weeks. I made sure to keep paying attention when James talked and when others were doing their drills. But I also started to rib the boys I'd met, and they found it funny. More importantly, they allowed me to rib them. It shows a level of familiarity when, during one of the drills, I paid a free kick to Barry for no reason and he and Nick actually got that it was a joke. Barry laughed and demanded the ball and they kept on playing. At the end of the training session, James brought us back in again to give his final notes, and then the group disbanded. I busied myself trying to find my registration form to hand to James, and I heard Nick, Barry and James talking.
'Picking Lewis as your captain this week James?' smirked Barry.
'Of course mate.'
'What do you think of Goldstein for captain?' asked Nick.
'No way in hell.'
They were talking about Fantasy Football - something I'm VERY interested in and spend an unfortunate amount of time per week working on. This was a great turn of events.
'The Traders reckon Goldstein will be the top pick for captain,' I piped up. 'Do you know The Traders?'
'Yeah, I follow them, but I'm not convinced.'
'So you've got a Dream Team?' asked Barry.
'Are you any good?'
'Nup.' The boys laughed. I get between 17-1800 each week.
'Well that's not bad, it's better than Captain Ablett over here,' he said indicating Nick. I won't bother explaining that one.
'Have you got Lewis?' asked Nick.
'Yeah, but apparently he gets low scores against North Melbourne.'
'Have you got your team on your phone?'
'Sure do.' I took out my phone and Nick and Barry went through it, making smart-ass comments about the players I had. We chatted a bit longer and then their ride turned up and they had to leave. I'd made some solid friends that night.

So what did I learn from this? I learned that tackling my fear of failure by diving head-first into it isn't always the smartest option. What's more important is just being comfortable. Somehow I figured out that if I stay quiet and watch for a while, opportunities would present themselves. And that turned out to be the right call. I can't wait to go back next week and let Nick know what a dumb decision it was to pick Goldstein as my captain. I'll probably get a nickname out of it.


  1. Goes to show listening can go a long way and then you can make fun with ease and be more comfortable

    1. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason ;)

  2. Glad that all went so well for you!

    1. So am I, this is going to be much easier now :)

  3. Loving your courageous journey.

    1. Thanks, let's hope I can step it up soon though.

  4. You're so young and brave.


    1. Brave? Aw I don't know about that :P I'll admit I'm young though :)

  5. Finding opportunities is only half the job - knowing when to seize the moment takes skill. Sounds like you have that skill. You go, boy! :-)

  6. Finding opportunities is only half the job - knowing when to seize the moment takes skill. Sounds like you have that skill. You go, boy! :-)


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