With the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games less than two weeks away, a number of people from PAHF are preparing to travel to Australia as part of the team tasked with ensuring the Games run as smoothly as possible. PAHF is well represented at the event with five Technical Officials, including Paula Parks (Canada) and Willard Harris (Trinidad & Tobago) leading the way as Tournament Directors for the women’s and men’s event respectively.
Also on the roster of officials at the 21st Commonwealth Games will be Ayanna McClean (Trinidad & Tobago), Reyah Richardson (Trinidad & Tobago), Lelia Sacre (Canada) and Tyler Klerk (Canada). Paula Parks featured in an earlier article, so in this article we hear from other officials ahead of their trip to the Australian Gold Coast.
For Reyah Richardson, this will not be her first Commonwealth Games but in previous editions she has been a player, representing Trinidad and Tobago. This April she says she will be enjoying her first outing as a Technical Official at the event and, as she explains, despite no longer playing at the event, there are still important preparations for everyone involved: “This is my second Commonwealth Games. My first was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1998. At that tournament I was a player, representing Trinidad & Tobago.
“Though I am not an umpire, I believe physical preparation is just as important for the Technical Official. We are required to concentrate, be alert and on the move for the entire day whether we are on a match or not. At times, there is so much going on in the background that as a Technical Official we have to support the Tournament Director, our colleagues, the umpires. So being physically ready is important, it helps the body to keep going and the mind focused for the very long tournament days. I am still active as a hockey player, so I play the sport, run and do other activities to keep me fit and active.”
Willard Harris is an old hand at the event. The Gold Coast will be the Trinidad and Tobago man’s third Games. At both the 2006 event in Melbourne and the 2010 event in Delhi, Harris was a Technical Officer. He has fond memories of both Australia and India: “The atmosphere in the Melbourne Cricket Ground at the opening ceremony watching some of the then cricket greats perform a “show” match was fantastic, and the incredible city that Delhi is with its culture and mix made for a astonishing atmosphere.”
Harris is the current Chair of the PAHF Competitions Committee and has recently completed a stint as Chair of the FIH Appointments Committee, so this is a rapid return to “active duty”. Not that he minds at all: “I am glad to be back in doing something I love and assisting/mentoring younger officials to develop their career.”
He has spent the past few months regularly catching up with Paula Parks to discuss the approach they will take to the event and doing some pre-work on their briefing presentations for the officials and the all-important draft appointments.
Tyler Klenk of Canada and Trinidad and Tobago’s Ayanna McClean will be pitch side, blowing the whistle in the men’s and women’s events. For both umpires this is their first time umpiring at the Commonwealth Games.
For McClean, this year is a very special anniversary and one that will make her time at the Gold Coast even more special. “My mother umpired at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998, and that was one of her top tournaments,” explains the umpire. “It fills me with a sense of pride that I can follow in her footsteps exactly 20 years later and feel and exude the same level of excitement and love for the game as she did.” The Commonwealth Games also gives McClean a chance to catch up with her mentor, the well-known Australian umpire and umpire manager Minka Woolley.
McClean is not a newcomer to the competition. Glasgow 2014 was her first experience of the Commonwealth Games and one of her first major events as an umpire. Since then she has been involved in major international events around the globe but she still has clear memories of her first Commonwealth Games match: “Glasgow was one of my first big tournaments and my first game was England vs Wales. I remember waiting to enter the field and being given notice that we needed to hold tight as security was clearing for the entrance of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate. It was a reminder of how important the games were, and how close the monarchy still is to it.
“It was also my first time seeing Australia men's team live, and it was truly amazing seeing the top men's team play.”
Being a multi-sport Games, the officials will also get the chance to watch some other sports in action, something McClean is looking forwards to: “It is always very special to attend tournaments that are full Games. Seeing all the athletes (male and female) from varying sports reminds me of my first senior tournament as a player at the Pan American Games. Specifically, at the CWG you get to see different sports, for example rugby and netball. I currently reside in New York and those sports take me back to my time living in Trinidad & Tobago.”
Like Richardson, both McClean and Klenk take huge pride in their physical and mental readiness for the event. Umpires in the modern game are expected to be at peak fitness in order to preside over top class, and often professional, sports people. This means a tough training schedule and plenty of homework.
“Physical preparation includes working with a trainer and doing gym work four to five times a week,” says McClean. “It also means ensuring I am eating properly and getting the right nutrition.
“I work with a sports psychologist on mental work, and do brain training games. I spend a lot of time looking at game film from my past tournaments, of the teams at tournament, as well as specific situations that are prevalent in the game. Finally getting in some match practice at our local league, specifically men’s games for the speed and skill level.”
Klenk has been going through similar training in preparation for the event. Of our four interviewees he is the newest member of the officials ‘hockey family’ but he has slotted into the international scene with ease, winning praise for his ability to handle high pressure games and has a clear strategy for settling into a tournament on the other side of the world.
“In my opinion, the first few days are crucial for the officials. It is important to take the first few days to get the body and mind in the right place. Given the distance we travel, it is important to make sure you shake off as much jet-leg as you can. Often this means going for some exercise sessions.
“It is also important to begin to mesh as a group, so the officials spend the first few days building relationships and trust.
“I’m also looking forward to the level of hockey. This is a great event to really push my level of umpiring. With some of the best teams in the world participating, it will create for some very tense matches. Those matches are where umpires really get to see what they are made of. I am also looking forward crowd and atmosphere. With the popularity of hockey in Australia, I am excited to see how the atmosphere will be.”
There is no doubt that the competition will be tough and the officials will face a number of challenges during the two week period but these people are professionals through and through. And in Willard Harris and Paula Parks they have leaders who are respected and liked across the hockey world for their patience, positivity and ability to deal with pressure. While the players from the PAHF nations will be doing their best to bring home the medals, the third team will also be representing PAHF to the very best of their undoubted ability.