Stories

Umpire's call: New minister Tom tells of hockey hopes

Date posted: 30/11/17

Tom Cox

 

“I would love, at the start of my ministry, to help people to understand that umpiring isn’t something I do separately. This is part of ministry. I don’t stop being a minister when I have a whistle in my hand.”

 

Tom Cox has just begun a new post as minister of Oadby Baptist Church in Leicestershire. But before he started he made sure he would be able to keep up another great passion - hockey umpiring. Having first taken up officiating at the age of 16, he is looking to reach national level. Having got married to Ellie in 2016 and with all the demands of starting his new church role, Tom knows this will require plenty of balancing, but the 26-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.

“On a personal level, I love hockey and it’s great to keep involved with it. I could go back and play at a social level, but with umpiring I can get to a much higher level and I enjoy that. I like giving back to the sport.

Tom Cox“On a ministry level, umpiring provides some of the best opportunities I have to witness outside of the church, to sit with someone and talk about my faith and church life. I think it’s good for anybody in Christian ministry to be involved in something outside of their church. It keeps me in touch with a world that I just wouldn’t see sat in my church office.

“Jesus calls us to get out there. If you’re going to witness to the world outside of the church, you need to know about that world.”

Originally from the Wirral, Tom started playing hockey aged 12 and it soon became his main sport. A right forward with Oxton HC, he was a regular junior county squad player.

His first taste of umpiring came at 16 when Calday Grange Grammar School, where he was a pupil, hosted a young leaders course. “I just loved umpiring straight away, even though we probably only had an hour of it.”

 

Seeing the sport he loved playing from a different perspective, and having the chance to serve others, gripped Tom straight away.

His hockey master at school, Chris Todd, a former international hockey umpire who umpired in five World Cups and two Olympic Games, was only too keen to encourage him on that route. Having achieved his level one club qualification, Tom was soon umpiring and playing matches, often one after the other.

Tom Cox“It was around the age of 18 that I realised I could go further with my umpiring than I could as a player. I decided to sacrifice playing to pursue my umpiring career, and soon gained my level two regional qualification.”

While doing an undergraduate degree at London School of Theology, Tom was put on the National Young Umpires Promising List and had the opportunity to umpire junior tournaments at national level.

While a minister-in-training in Bewdley, Worcestershire, Tom joined the Midlands Region Hockey Umpires Association and umpired a couple of men’s Premier division games.

“I’m just about reaching the limit of what I can do with my qualification and I would love to go higher,” he explained.

Off the pitch, Tom has had some great opportunities to share his faith with other umpires and players.

“At regional level, you generally meet your umpiring colleague an hour before the game, usually someone you’ve never met before, and inevitably the question of what you do for a living comes up.

“It’s brilliant having an opportunity to say I’m a Baptist minister as that often leads to conversations about my faith, and my beliefs about all sorts of topical faith-related issues.”

Balancing ministry and umpiring doesn’t just happen off the pitch though, as one of Tom’s assessment feedback reports suggested he may like “to stop being so much of a Christian” when umpiring, especially when dealing with conflict.

He said: “I am called by God to ministry and that rightly impacts my approach on the pitch. I like to build a relationship and rapport with the players so that they come to know my heart is in serving them. Without umpires, there’s no game. So when you get things wrong, it’s better to hold up your hands and apologise. There’s always time to chat it through in the bar over food afterwards.”

 

Further reading: Referees, it's a question of authority

 

 

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Ed Mezzetti

Ed Mezzetti, City of York Athletic Club
Ed runs for City of York Athletic Club and is Digital Content Manager for Christians in Sport. He is a member of St Thomas' Church, York