It is not simply the players who need training, preparation and a pathway to success. For many umpires and technical officials, although a full-time career in these roles is not yet possible, any international umpire will tell you that the commitment they give to the sport is equal to that given to many careers.
The level of professionalism that goes into umpiring and officiating is immense. It has to be – the speed and skill of the top players is now at such a level that everyone connected with the game has to be equally skilled in their role to keep up with the demands of the teams.
All of which goes to explain the level of commitment, in terms of time and money, that PAHF devotes to developing umpires and officials across the entire continent. And spreading the resources makes sense. If PAHF teams want to compete successfully against teams from other continental federations, then the standard among member nations must be high. Argentina men need the competitiveness offered by an ever-improving Canada to maintain their position as number one side in the world; the intensely competitive matches between USA and Argentina women are essential for both teams to remain in the top 10 teams in the world. The results of a strong continental structure is being seen in the progress of women’s teams such as Chile, Uruguay and Canada – all teams that are pushing each other to move up the world rankings.
For these teams to be competitive, the infrastructure to allow a well-run tournament must be in place. From the local organizing committee, to the technical director and his or her team, to the officials running the event on the field of play, professionalism is key. The recent HWL R2 events in Trinidad and Tobago and West Vancouver were both great examples of competitions being run smoothly and efficiently, with all parties involved working closely together.
So let’s take a look at what is being done to raise levels of professionalism in the PAHF region.
The PAHF has an umpiring committee which is chaired by the hugely experienced Roger St Rose of Trinidad and Tobago. During his time as an international umpire, Roger’s umpiring curriculum vitae includes: two Junior World Cups, Champions Trophies, Commonwealth Games, European Cup Finals, two Olympic qualifiers, many Pan Am Games, several Central American and Caribbean Games and the Atlanta Olympics of 1996.
He is joined on the committee by a vastly experienced group of umpires and former umpires: Argentina’s Soledad Iparraguirre; Gus Soteriades and Lurah Hess from USA; Canada’s Wendy Stewart; Martin Schafer from Chile and Alexander Schon who represents Paraguay.
This committee’s brief is to identify, develop and train umpires and umpire managers to the standards needed for both domestic and international competitions. This means ensuring the umpiring training system is sustainable, with new umpires moving up the ladder and more senior umpires working with them to pass on their knowledge.
One controversial point that emanates from the International hockey Federation (FIH) is the rule that international umpires must retire from international umpiring when they reach 47 years. For many umpires, this is felt to be too early but the reasoning is clear – for younger umpires to reach their potential, they must be given international experience. Equally, these senior umpires are then needed as umpire managers and video umpires, where their experience can really be drawn upon as mentors to those coming through the ranks.
While PAHF works in line with this rule, it has its own method of ensuring sustainability. The aim of the Federation is to ensure a median average age of less than 34. As St Rose points out, this gives umpires an extensive opportunity to maximize their potential in officiating. One very clear aim of all umpiring bodies across the world is to encourage more young people into officiating.
PAHF also works very hard with the national associations to try to ensure that each nation has at least one certified national umpire with the competency to officiate at PAHF certified competitions.
Three main ways of achieving a high standard among PAHF officials are now either in place or soon to be adopted. Firstly, the umpire managers regularly attend FIH courses so they are always up-to-date on international umpiring developments – to this end, all umpire managers within the PAHF will be attending the FIH Umpire Manager Seminar in Amsterdam in August 2017.
Secondly, a mentoring program across the PAHF is being developed for all international level umpires, with Gus Soteriades leading on the project. Under his guidance, last year a working group of the PAHF Umpiring Committee met in Chile and mapped out for a mentoring program in which each of the FIH Umpires will be assigned a mentor to help guide them through the various stages of their umpiring career. This is earmarked to be implemented in the second half of 2017.
This third development plan is for a certification process to be implemented across the region. This is important as it drives consistency in standards across all the PAHF countries, something that is important, not just for knowledge of the rules and their application, but also in terms of consistency in training and talent identification.
Wendy Stewart is pleased with the progress made by the certification process since its implementation in 2016. “The PAHF Umpiring Certification program was initiated in January 2016 as there was no PAHF umbrella certification program to ensure umpires of different national associations were on a par with each other”.
“The program essentially had to be sustainable for each national association and help them overcome any barriers such as having no local umpiring personnel to instruct and run the certification or a lack of finances or facilities. We are proud that this new initiative program has already been a great success in Chile and Paraguay, with other countries looking to implement it to their specific requirements in 2017. We are also confident that this certification program will be helping to raise the high level of umpiring at PAHF events and better prepare our PAHF umpires for future FIH appointments.”
The success of the program is highlighted by Martin Schafer, whose own national association, Chile, has benefited greatly in the short time the program has been running. “In 2016, Chile pioneered the full implementation of PAHF's Umpire Certification Program. After two A/B-Grade seminars and four courses on rules and basic technical competences for C-Grades, we have been able to certify 18 umpires.
“During 2017, 51 candidates are set to be assessed. The program levelled-up the set of competences of our senior umpires, providing at the same time a clear development pathway for a group of talented, high potential young umpires.”
And over in Paraguay, Alexander Schon reports that 14 young umpires have taken the certification program over the past few months.
The PAHF committee has high hopes of the program extending out across Uruguay, Jamaica, Barbados, Peru, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico.
The focus on development also extends to technical officials. These are the judges, technical officers and tournament directors who combine to ensure a competition runs smoothly. The PAHF Competitions Committee is responsible for the development of a three-strand pathway for officials – working at national, continental and world level.
To achieve this, the Competitions Committee has designed a framework to allow officials to reach their potential, be it working in domestic events or at world level events. A new Continental Federation Registered Technical Officials List for the Region was launched earlier this year to give clarity and direction to aspiring officials. As the role of technical officials has changed over the past few seasons, the Committee has also introduced new categorizations of officials, so there is a clear picture of what officials are in place to meet the continent’s needs.
To provide training and help people along their developmental pathway, PAHF is running a number of courses, including during the Pan American Cups in Lancaster, USA in August; the Indoor Pan Am Cup in Georgetown, Guyana; and the CAC Games qualifier in Kingston, Jamaica.
Each course will target officials from different national associations at different stages of development. At the Pan Am Cups, for example, the course is aimed at PAHF continental trainees and continental level participants, while the Kingston course has a target audience of elite and elite development.
The point that so many players and coaches sometimes overlook, is that the pace of the game and the organization of the event is only made possible with highly skilled people in key roles; like the players, those umpires and officials at the very top of the game have been through tough training to get there.