Louise Travis: international netball umpire, Human Resources Director, and mother of two. How does she fit it all in, we hear you ask?
Our latest #KnapChat featurette has some fantastic achievements to her name, including umpiring Netball Superleague Grand Finals and the World Championships in Singapore. But for Louise, the hard work is only just beginning…
She spoke to us about her goals, ambitions and roots within netball, a sport many are saying is now at “the peak of its powers”.
KW: How did you get into being a Netball umpire? What made you decide to pick up the whistle?
Louise: It’s all my mum’s fault! She taught PE at my school, and she used to have practices and matches after school. I would have to wait for her, so when I wasn’t playing myself, I would pick up the whistle and umpire her practices – it was either that or do my homework! So I’ve probably been umpiring since I was about 14!
When I went to university, I had to choose my sport – I was always a much better hockey player than netballer, but I realised I could umpire a few games a week which funded my social life…. I mean studies! So, netball (rather than hockey) was chosen.
KW: How does umpiring abroad differ from umpiring here?
Louise: It differs in a few ways. Netball playing styles vary across the world – which is fantastically challenging as an umpire. Some nations play a very aerial game, with very long high balls being played, whilst others are more about a very quick short game. When these different styles come together, it is wonderful to watch (and umpire!).
Outside of the on the court stuff, umpiring abroad can be very different in terms of venues, size of the crowds, facilities and that sort of thing.
However, what stays the same wherever I have been to umpire in the world, is the passion for netball from all those involved. The crowds are always vocal and love the game and the players are incredibly proud to be representing their country and therefore always bring their ‘A’ game.
KW: How do you approach umpiring a game involving teams that don’t speak English?
Louise: Generally, it is not too much of an issue. As umpires, we have a clear set of hand signals which we must use when officiating a game. These are part of the international rules of netball, so are consistent across the world. So, when umpiring a game that may involve non-English speakers you just need to make sure these are very clear.
KW: How do you balance umpiring with work and your family?
Louise: It’s tricky, for sure! But I have the most incredibly supportive husband, family and friends, who step in with childcare, school pick-ups etc. I simply couldn’t do it without all of them.
Work-wise, I run my own HR/Reward consultancy business, so thankfully I can flex my hours with my clients to work around my netball.
Technology helps a lot with keeping up to date with work whilst I am away, and keeping up to date with daily events at home. When I’m away I try and FaceTime home at least once a day. It allows me to stay connected to home life whilst away for long stints.
TV also means the children can see mummy if my games are televised – but they don’t understand why I don’t wave back when they are saying hi to me!
KW: What are your ambitions/goals with umpiring?
Louise: There is still so much that I want to achieve. I would love to umpire at a Commonwealth Games – that’s the big thing that I am missing from my umpiring CV at the moment – I missed the last couple because I was having babies. The next one is on home soil too, which would be incredible.
To get there, I will need to be umpiring at the top of the game for the next few years, so staying fit and performing at my best is a key goal for the next 2-3 seasons.
When I do step away from active umpiring, I would like to qualify as a tutor and assessor – I have only got to the level I am at through the guidance and coaching from world class tutors and assessors, they have made me the umpire I am today.
One day in the future I would like to be in a position to help someone else with their umpiring journey and to achieve their umpiring ambitions.
KW: Would you rather play in a World Cup final or umpire it? And why?
Louise: Oooooh good question…….I would say umpire it of course.
To be involved as an umpire in a game of that standard would be such an honour and privilege – it is the pinnacle of our game. Also – I was never that good as a player, and I’m definitely not tall enough to play internationally!
KW: What’s your favourite thing about being an umpire?
Louise: Being involved at the highest level of any sport (in any role) is a huge privilege. But being involved in a sport that is raising the profile of women’s sport generally across the UK and has got an incredible spotlight on it at the moment (because of the Commonwealth Games win last year) is unique.
Umpiring top athletes week in, week out, who are the best in the country at what they do, has to be my favourite thing about being an umpire.
KW: What’s your proudest moment as an umpire?
Louise: I’ve been lucky to have some amazing experiences through my umpiring. Umpiring Superleague Grand Finals is always a highlight of the domestic season.
I umpired the deciding test of the Constellation Cup between Australia and New Zealand in Auckland in 2010. Umpiring in front of 10,000 people (a record crowd at the time) and the New Zealand Prime Minister is something that will stay with me for a long time!
However, my proudest moment would have been last season when I umpired the 2018 Superleague Grand Final and was awarded the Umpire of the Season Award, in front of my 2 children. It was the first time my youngest had seen me umpire live, and having them both in the crowd alongside my husband, mum and other family members was pretty special.
KW: I’ve seen various articles saying things like “World netball has never been as strong as what it is now.” How does that make you feel as someone so involved in the sport?
Louise: I feel very privileged and proud to be involved at the top level of the sport at the moment. The profile netball has got through the Commonwealth Games gold medal, BBC Sports Personality Team and Sporting Moment of the Year and many other awards means there has never been such a spotlight on our game.
The awards have been the main drivers behind the boost, but they have been carried through with grassroots participation at its highest level ever and increased coverage on Sky TV.
I think there is a general appetite from the public to see more sport, particularly women’s sport in the media. There is a much higher profile of women’s football, hockey, cricket and rugby at the moment. As a general sports fan, this is brilliant to see but we need more!
I have been involved in netball for nearly 25 years, and to finally see it getting some of the recognition it deserves is incredible. To also see participation at a grassroots level up is amazing. It seems that on a weekly basis I am meeting people that have gone back to netball for the first time since their school days – that is just brilliant, and will only help to drive interest and involvement in the sport.
KW: Are there parallels between HR and umpiring?
Louise: I have never been asked that before! I guess you could say people management – HR is mainly about helping manage people to perform at their best in the workplace, and as an umpire I see part of my role as managing players and coaches so that the game is the best it can possibly be.
KW: As an HR professional, what do you believe are the key to keeping employees happy?
Louise: For me the key components of keeping employees happy are communication, involvement and development. Regularly communicating to employees so they understand what is happening in their business and what impact this has on them is critical. Most people can accept things if they are told about and understand what is happening.
The other key component for me is getting employees involved in the business – the most successful people initiatives I have been involved in have been where employees have been involved and fully engaged.
Finally, providing employees with opportunities to develop is critical. In my experience, the main reason people become disengaged and leave a company is when they cannot see the opportunity to develop – personally and/or professionally.
KW: How do employers perfect the balance between productivity, efficiency and great morale?
Louise: For me, the starting point is great morale. Having happy and highly engaged employees will always drive up productivity and efficiency.
Focus on increasing morale/engagement amongst the employee base and the rest will follow.
The companies I’ve worked in and with who have shown the biggest bottom line growth are those which had the highest levels of employee engagement – that is no coincidence!
KW: Why is it so important to reward employees? And what makes a good reward?
Louise: For me the best reward is that which is appropriate, accessible and understood.
It needs to be appropriate – both for the company and for the individual. The company needs to focus rewards (financial and non financial) on the behaviours that will drive up the overall performance of the company. Rewards need to be linked to overall business aims and strategy, all too often it isn’t, which means it is ineffective or undervalued.
Rewards also need to be accessible. Employees need to be able to see the link between personal performance and the reward they get – both financial and non-financial. Information about reward mechanisms also need to be accessible to employees. There is no point having fantastic rewards but keeping them secret!
Without understanding the link between what they do on a day-to-day basis and how that will be rewarded, employees will never be motivated enough to perform to achieve that reward.
KW: Drawing from your own career experiences, what are the key ingredients to building strong relationships?
Louise: Strong relationships are built on a couple of key things – mutual respect and honesty.
A relationship will be doomed from the start if there is not an element of respect for what the other person brings to the table. But this has got to be coupled with honesty – the best businesses I’ve worked in/with have been where people have been comfortable to give honest opinions in a supportive and respectful way.
Louise’s passion for netball is clear to see, but it’s her enthusiasm to help others and determination to continue progressing that is most admirable.
Not once did she miss an opportunity to underline her goals in the game or express her gratitude to those who have helped her journey so far. From her “incredibly supportive husband, family and friends” to the “world class tutors and assessors”, Louise fully acknowledges that her umpiring career would not be where it is without the relationships she has built over the years.
It’s always refreshing to hear someone speak so passionately and enthusiastically about sport, especially one that is “raising the profile of women’s sport across the UK”.
Umpires and referees are sometimes seen as the pantomime villains in sport, but Louise’s enjoyment of her role is evident, and judging from her accolades and achievements within netball, her peers appreciate her hard work, dedication and ability too.
“Employees need to see the link between personal performance and the reward,” she says, and this link has never been clearer than when looking at Louise’s multiple appearances at international netball competitions or her Umpire of the Season award.
If it’s a dedicated and talented performance that warrants a reward, it’s only a matter of time before we see her at the Commonwealth Games…