Have you ever wondered about the umpires you see on television during the Olympic Games? Who are they? How did they get there? Why would they ever want to endure the stress behind the whistle? We stopped to talk with Junior Premier Hockey (JPH), USA Field Hockey and newly upgraded FIH Promising List Umpire Mary Driscoll about her journey and some of these questions: Why umpire?
Driscoll started her career in hockey in sixth grade in a physical education class. “I fell in love with hockey and signed up the following year to play,” stated Driscoll. She had a tough choice in high school though, as she had grown up swimming and had always dreamed of attending Penn State University as a swimmer. Driscoll told us, “as my love for hockey grew, I decided in tenth grade I wanted to play field hockey there instead of swim.” Score one for the hockey community!
After she graduated college in 2004, she wasn’t quite sure where to go with the sport. She stated, “[after] college I coached [hockey], but as I started a family I felt like coaching was really difficult. I had no control over my schedule.” The one place she never expected to go next fell right in her lap.
“One night I was looking online for other ways to give back to the game of hockey, and my husband and I were laughing talking about becoming an umpire,” remembered Driscoll. “As a joke, I decided to take the high school test to umpire and then the next season I started. It was funny for me to even consider umpiring, because I was the player on the field who was always giving the umpire the mean looks and occasionally getting put in time out.”
Occasionally getting put in time outs? Haven’t we all been there?
Driscoll’s career as an umpire took off, despite her reputation of ‘giving the umpire mean looks’. Not shortly after her high school rules test ‘joke’, Driscoll got a call from USA Field Hockey’s Director of Umpiring, Steve Horgan, asking if she was available to umpire at the Pan American Hockey Federation’s (PAHF) 2012 Junior Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. As is only right, Driscoll said she needed some time to discuss this with her family. “Since I have three kids, I must ask my ‘team’ of help first, and not once have they said no.” Being a Division I and Big Ten athlete, Driscoll only knows one way to compete, and that’s all in. With her family and ‘team of help’ on board, she accepted her first appointment in September 2012 and immediately took off.
Driscoll earned her FIH badge, the first step in the international umpiring ladder, at her very first tournament. Shortly after, she was off on another appointment to Australia for the Australian Youth Olympics Festival. From there, she’s umpired at the Pan American Cup, Pan American Youth Championships, two FIH Hockey World League Round 1 tournaments, Hawke’s Bay Cup, and multiple indoor and outdoor test matches.
The FIH ladder that Driscoll had just begun is a steep one. Her FIH badge is the first step of a five-step ranking. From FIH International Umpire, a mark of 7.0, you must increase your score in increments of 0.5 to attain the next grade: Promising Umpire List, 7.5; Grade 1, 8.0; World Development Panel, 8.5; and World Panel, 9.0.
Driscoll’s career, not unlike any other athlete or umpire, has had its highs and lows. Most recently in April 2017, she received some fantastic news. During the Hawke’s Bay Cup, a four nations series with some of the top teams in the world, she received her Promising Umpire List mark of 7.5. Driscoll, however, did not react with excitement immediately. During her past two tournaments, she had already received evaluations of 7.5 twice, and twice did not receive the upgrade to the Promising Umpire List (PUL). These two disappointing moments gave Driscoll some doubt.
“I was very disappointed when I received the score the second time and didn't receive my PUL,” stated Driscoll. She didn’t give up though and she used these experiences to push her forward, stating, “You grow from those experiences and it's all about opportunities.” When she finally received her PUL letter she recalls shedding a quick tear and then she emailed her team to thank them.
“I had a great last tournament at a Four Nations in New Zealand and I felt like if I wasn't given my PUL after that tournament, then I was never going to get it,” said Driscoll. “Umpiring four top teams in the world with an amazing [Umpire Manager], I felt like this was the best opportunity to get my upgrade. Getting my PUL just meant a small step closer to my bigger goals.”
How does she do it all? This real-life Wonder Woman plays the role of PUL umpire, wife, mother and small business owner in the form of a personal trainer. Driscoll told JPH, “Balance - my house is very organized or we wouldn't survive. We use calendars and charts to get us through our busy schedule. I have three kids (11, 9, 7) and they are into every sport you can imagine!” This alone sounds like a lot. How can she possibly fit hockey into this daily schedule? “I think having a family and business makes my hockey career stay in perspective,” continued Driscoll. “I think if I only had hockey I would drive myself crazy waiting for my next appointment. I love that I have so much in my life and that hockey, though it's a major part, it's not my entire life. I know at the end of a tournament I have a lot to come home to, and that makes me work even harder at tournaments.”
With being away so often during the NCAA collegiate season and then even more for FIH and PAHF tournaments, it must take a toll on her family. How do her kids respond to her being away for tournaments?
“I sacrifice so much at a tournament and miss so many of my kids’ activities, that I want to make the most of my time when I'm away from home,” said Driscoll. “I also have a deal with my kids that when I return from a trip I come into their classrooms and talk about where I have just visited. I bring candy from that country and I know my kids feel pride that their mom has big dreams and works hard for them.”
She recently started her own business, Mary’s Health and Fitness, where she offers services as a personal trainer. How does being a personal trainer help her umpiring?
“Being a Personal Trainer is a huge advantage for the physical aspect of umpiring,” commented Driscoll. “I am working out a lot through my week as well as training for triathlons. When I travel to tournaments, I have the tools to keep my body healthy and ready for games.”
When asked what’s next, Driscoll had a great response, “Waiting for the next opportunity!”
Junior Premier Hockey and USA Field Hockey would like to congratulate Driscoll on her recent promotion and wish her the best of luck in her future appointments. We look forward to seeing you on the courts at JPIL 2018 and beyond!