Roger St Rose (TTO), Walter Kramer (CHI)

When it comes to hockey development in the Pan American region there are people who have been involved in the sport for so many years and at so many levels that they have developed a formidable mountain of knowledge and experience about what works and what doesn’t.

We interviewed two of hockey’s most knowledgeable officials to get their take on how hockey is developing across our region – from both a playing perspective and an umpiring/officiating perspective.

Walter Kramer sits on the PAHF Board of Directors and is Board Leader for the PAHF Development Panel. He is also President of the Chile Hockey Federation.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Roger St Rose is Chair of the PAHF Umpiring Committee and also sits on the PAHF Education Panel. During a lifetime dedicated to hockey he has been an international player, an international hockey umpire and, just last month, he was named as a nominee for the prestigious 2019 World Fair Play Awards.

Both Walter and Roger are actively involved in promoting hockey and its development at national, continental and global level.

Taking a continental-wide view

While he says that most of his practical experience hockey development is with the Chile Hockey Federation, Walter Kramer’s position on the PAHF Board gives him unique insight into the continental-wide situation.

“Hockey enjoys various degrees of development across PAHF. There are countries like Argentina, who have been a continuous top five country in both genders. Over time this has brought them huge dividends in terms of government support, media, sponsors and fans. Even more importantly, there are loads of boys and girls in Argentina wanting to play the sport.

“In some of our countries, the lack of suitable infrastructure, such as adequate playing surfaces, is something of a barrier when it comes to opportunities for young kids to play more. There is the lack of financial resources needed to really lure more kids into the sport and offer development at its purest nature – coaching, training, playing.

“When it comes to examples of best practice, I don’t think we necessarily know everything that is going on in each country, but I can speak for Chile, where I've been Vice President and President to the Board for the past eight years. Really, we've grown significantly, not only in terms of new players, but also in terms of geographic scope across the country. We focused on getting funding and sponsorship to support a school system comprising 15 schools that were mainly for low income families.

“These kids quickly discovered and loved the sport: they didn’t want to leave, ever. They have discovered the values we all know about hockey, and found a way to jointly fight for growth and fun, standing side by side with their teammates. That is a powerful feeling.”

Looking across the continent as a whole, Walter sums up: “The barriers to development are a lack of financial support and the lack of an infrastructure in the shape of official turfs to play the sport on.

“If we could have artificial turfs built all over the continent in order to equip young or beginning players with the same base conditions as "Olympic Champions" and support them with the best coaching teams. Also, it would be terrific if there could be some budget to bring kids who are at an early learning stage to international tournaments so they could feel and live the experience, that would be a total eye opener and inspiration for them.”

The importance of high umpiring standards to overall development

Developing umpires and officials to mirror the advance of player and team development is something in which Roger St Rose has been heavily involved for a number of years. A top level umpire himself – Roger has umpired at Champions League, World Cup and Olympic Games – he knows how important training and experience of top level competition is for umpires.

“It is important to offer development, training and gradual exposure to games and tournaments, so that their knowledge and understanding in what it takes to become an umpire at the top level is enhanced.”

There is a fine balance to be had between giving umpires experience and ensuring matches are umpired to the highest standard possible. This is where Roger and the PAHF Umpiring Committee comes in.

“Our first mandate is to populate the PAHF tournaments with experienced, solid umpires who can deliver a quality product. What is quite noteworthy is that PAHF has developed a Education Panel to work in conjunction with the FIH Academy to further assist in raising the standard of its officials within the continent. This Panel is to be the umbrella body to deal with all educational things be it practical or theoretical in development of our officials.”

Developing umpiring talent across the entire continental federation is a big ask. There are 26 national associations, operating at different levels. Roger cites the hockey powerhouse of Argentina, with its global influence on the game, comparing it to Haiti, a country in the embryonic stage of development. 

“As a result [of this range of development stages],” he says, “the levels of support for umpires in the various countries follows the degree of success that country is achieving at a competitive level. Also, some national associations lack a strong competitive domestic structure and there are few opportunities for umpires to follow a development pathway to become a good national umpire.”

There is also the question of funding. Most national associations funnel their limited finances towards players and player support. Umpire development may then have a fight on its hands to access any remaining funding. With barriers in place to development, many young, aspiring umpires are turned off the idea of progressing towards international level – it is simply too hard.

These are all issues that Roger is setting out to address. He says that it is important that his fellow Board members at PAHF understand the challenges and landscape within which national associations operate when it comes to umpire development. His call is being answered.

“The PAHF Executive Board has mandated its subcommittees to develop processes to deal with identifying, developing and exposing the most promising umpires within the continent,” says Roger. “As such, a number of initiatives have been put in place to support, develop and expose the continent’s promising umpires.”

Among the initiatives are measures such as: ensuring competitive appointments offer an appropriate level of challenge to umpires; channelling financial support to national associations targeted at helping promising umpires to advance; and providing umpire managers to coach and mentor up and coming umpires.  

A major hurdle to the PAHF initiative is the lack of experienced mentors in some countries. This means aspiring umpires often do not, locally, have a guide and support to turn to. This is something that PAHF is addressing by widening the search for mentors. While distance and national borders may present a challenge, there is still the potential for umpire mentors from across the entire continent to talk to and support their lower-level peers – largely through the use of technology such as WhatsApp, Facebook and video technology.

For Roger, raising the level of umpiring is essential for the sport’s development as a whole. “It is said that the level of officiating at games can determine the level in which your sport can reach,” he says. “Therefore, bad officiating produces less skilled players.”

But PAHF, he says, are working hard to address this. “We have identified the areas that PAHF needs to address to bring the level of the game to a particular standard. We, as a continental federation have a very clear mandate – to develop officials who can deliver an international product for the good of the game within our continent.”