Top AFL whistler John Howorth has graduated from ENU’s Masters for sports officials

Date posted

26 October 2023


A top-level umpire in Australian rules football has called half-time on his honeymoon to attend his Edinburgh Napier University graduation ceremony.

John Howorth and his wife Morgan, who are from Melbourne, decided to combine the trip to collect his MSc Performance Enhancement in Sports Officiating with their first holiday as a married couple.

The pair tied the knot in January – following two Covid-related postponements – while John continued his studies online from Australia.AFL referee and ENU graduate John Howorth

The 30-year-old AFL whistler had no hesitation in planning the romantic getaway around his walk across the stage at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall – braving the rain and donning a kilt for the occasion.

He said: "Originally Morgan wanted to go to Hawaii, but when our wedding got postponed it didn't work with the footy calendar. When I found out my graduation date, coming here worked perfectly.

"I've always wanted to come to Scotland to play golf, so coming here because of uni was no problem.

"When I brought it up with Morgan she said she'd be happy to pack the big jumpers!”

John credits his time at ENU for bringing about a big improvement in his performance as an AFL umpire – where he takes charge of big matches in Australia’s most popular sport.

He had been officiating at the top level for two years, before he decided to apply.

John said: "I'd made the jump to elite level and found it quite confronting, so I wanted to find a way to improve. I was looking for any avenue to get better – because I had to.

"In my first year in the course I was in the bottom 10% of the umpires' ranking. Within 12 months I was in the top 40%. It was a jump you'd normally be expected to take five or six years to make.

"Consciously I wasn't doing anything different, but the stats told it all. The course was a little golden nugget for me.AFL umpire John Howorth, his wife, Morgan, mum Dianne and Edinburgh Napier University lecturers

"It wasn't a big cohort, but we had a great range of people from different sports to compare experiences with.

"I hadn't done anything like this before. I found it very challenging at first, but the lecturers held my hand all the way through.”

Edinburgh Napier’s MSc Performance Enhancing in Sports Officiating is the first course of its kind at a Masters level, offering teaching tailored to the students’ needs – including skills like communication, game management, high-pressure decision making and leadership.

The first cohort graduated last year, with current and past students including officials from football, basketball, cricket and rugby.

Programme Leader and Associate Professor of Sport Psychology & Coaching with Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Applied Sciences, Dr Duncan Mascarenhas, said: “John will be the first to admit that when he began he was not an experienced academic, but he brought incredible drive, enthusiasm and energy to the group.

“He soon showed that his studies were innovative – and because he operated at the highest level of AFL he was able to show real measurable improvements in his decision accuracy levels.

“In one ‘what happened next?’ study, he developed a training package designed to develop game understanding in a group of community level umpires, which increased his accuracy levels.

“Johnny was class representative for the cohort and other staff have commented how they’re going to miss him at meetings, for his no-nonsense approach and positivity.”

Following their trip to Scotland – with John even making time for a round of golf at St Andrews – the happy couple will conclude the honeymoon in France before heading home.