It’s the new normal! In the wake of the Covid-19 situation, we are starting to reinvent many of the ways in which things get done, and that includes hockey.

Of course, the very essence of the sport will always involve physical competition between two teams but, when it comes to education, development and learning, some aspects are likely to be carried out in a very different way as we move towards into the next stages of this Covid-19 era.

When the virus first struck, there was a sensation of reeling from a blow. How could we continue to interact and engage with people when social contact was potentially life-threatening? Very quickly, however, technology stepped in to provide the answer and hockey was quick to jump on-board.

That the hockey community has been able to respond so quickly to the necessary restrictions imposed by governments around the world has been testimony to the innovation and creativity within our sport. But increased employment of technology has also been something that was perhaps waiting to happen and just needed a cataclysmic event to move things forward. Covid-19 seems to have pushed the digital world further forwards in three months than we would normally have moved in three years.

PAHF has embraced this approach wholeheartedly with a strong line-up of experts to host and run webinars and online workshops keeping the hockey community connected. The various online activities are all designed to inform, entertain and enhance learning among the hockey workforce – in the modern lexicon, this is to ‘edu-tain’.

Of course, online courses are nothing new; before Covid-19 struck, PAHF was delivering online courses. In the past two years more than 500 people have taken part in an online educational course organized or supported by the continental federation. It is just that now, with restrictions in place, such courses are a necessity, not a nice-to-have extra.

However, driven by a number of passionate hockey experts, the PAHF online program has accelerated. Since March 31, there have been 29 webinars delivering education and information to umpires, coaches, technical officials and goalkeepers. These have been delivered in both Spanish and English and have attracted more than 1,600 participants.

Among those delivering the webinars are some of the most exceptional practitioners in their respective fields.

With Chiche Mendoza, a FIH Master Coach, as the Coaching Advisor, the panel of international coaching experts include: Javier Telechea, Pablo Mendoza,Juan Manuel Casas, Ernesto Lucero, Anthony Marcano, Vicky Casabo, William Gaudette, Nico Tixe and Veronica Planella.

Goalkeeping advice is being doled out by Argentina legend Laura del Colle, along with Ines Delgado and Tomas Santiago; while Soledad Iparraguirre, Diego Barbas and Roger St Rose are the highly experienced umpiring gurus.

Laura Pigretti is offering all her wisdom and advice as the Technical Officials Advisor. Among her team of mentors and trainers are Willard Harris, Maureen Craig-Rousseau, Lorena Rinaldini and Rene Zelkin. Laura Macchiotti oversees all the webinars in her role as PAHF Moderator.

The amount of experience offered by this team is phenomenal and includes multiple Olympic Games, World Cups, Champions Trophies and Pan Am Games. The fact that up to 27 different nationalities are joining the webinars at any one time is testimony to the success and appeal of the series of online events.

In addition to the webinars, PAHF has also hosted its first Open Space Session. Attracting 14 participants from six national associations, Open Spaces is an open environment where the PAHF Education Panel gathers together a group of coaches, officials and umpires to discuss, openly, a whole range of issues around hockey.

PAHF’s Laura Macchiotti describes Open Space as: “An opportunity to engage in a new and more meaningful way; to discuss, share experiences and work together to develop further their careers.

PAHF invited participants to share knowledge and experiences, bring queries and advice, ask, confirm clarify and recommend.”

While the webinars are free for anyone to tap into, the online courses have fees attached. These courses all lead to further qualifications and run throughout the year – irregardless of the Covid-19 situation.

Among the online courses – which take place in Spanish and English – are Development Coach Levels 1, 2 and 3; Video Analysis; Fitness for Hockey Players; and Neuroscience applied to motor learning and training.

Argentina’s Laura (Lau) del Colle has been running coaching courses for nearly 15 years but she explains that she has had to radically re-think her delivery. “This is a new situation for all coaches around the world,” she says. In a bid to help educators, coaches and tutors deliver their courses online, Laura has launched an online course called Santander IE Best Practices in Digital Education, which helps support the transition to a digital educational environment.

Her own goalkeeping academy, Arqueros Okey, has also gone online and Laura is now using video conferences to train potential goalkeepers in their own homes. For the Olympic silver medalist, online courses will never replace the physical training sessions but they are a great complementary teaching aid. And they allow people from across the world to learn about the sport.

“In my opinion you can connect coaches, players and goalkeepers from all over the world by video conference. It is a really useful way of sharing knowledge and experience with the hockey family.”

As a nurse, Rene Zelkin, from the USA, has been on the frontline of the battle against Covid-19. But she has still managed to find time to get involved with the delivery of online courses for aspiring technical officials. She says there are definite benefits that have emerged as a result of taking the courses online.

“I have found the courses particularly engaging. As a member of the PAHF Competitions Committee, we have always worked to create courses for different regions within PAHF. The challenge has always been distance – due to the expansive area covered by the PAHF region. The knock-on effect has been high demands on travel and time – all of which is ultimately very costly.

“With the online courses, the ability for participation has been increased due to ability to participate from all over the PAHF region, while remaining in your own home. Costs and travel have been eliminated. The most important thing is the ability to have a stable internet connection.”

Rene says there are obvious limitations to delivering training via a digital medium, not least the missing engagement and interaction that happens when people are physically on a course together. Group work suffers in particular.

However, she adds: “Through the use of interactive technology like, participants can give feedback anonymously.  This increases participation and fosters learning. Additionally, use of questions throughout the presentation and pre-work to prepare the participants helps to increase active learning.”

While it is a situation that has been thrust upon us, the emergence of online education courses and webinars has achieved something that the PAHF hockey community has been seeking to do for years – it has opened up elements of the sport, connected people from different nations and broken down national borders in a way that had previously only been dreamt of.