The Pan American Youth Championships for both men and women is currently taking place between 11-17 March and are a continental qualifier for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October.
The Youth Olympic Games are so often the launch pad for a young hockey player’s international career, and so the continental qualifier, which takes place in Guadalajara, Mexico, is eagerly awaited by the players who are in the final stages of preparation.
While some of the players at the Pan American Youth Championships – from Argentina, USA and Canada for example – may already have tasted plenty of international action either with their youth sides or with the senior teams, for others this will be their first taste of international competition.
One such nation is Guatemala, who will be entering their men and women into the competition for the first time.
We caught up with Pablo Reyes, President of the Guatemala Hockey Association and he explained how and why hockey had grown in recent years and how the Guatemala men’s and women’s youth teams have been preparing for this event.
Reyes explained that hockey in Guatemala has really taken off since 2012. Prior to that, the sport had been slowly growing in the country but in 2012 the government body, the Sports Confederation of Guatemala, recognised hockey as a viable sport and funding was released to help develop hockey. As Reyes says: “This was such an important moment as it let us to play in international events, allowed us to run sustainable development programmes and helped to promote hockey outside Guatemala City.”
And following a week that celebrated International Women’s Week, it is great to hear that the plans for Guatemala hockey development are in line with the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) own Gender Equality strategy. “We pay equal attention to men’s and women’s hockey,” said Reyes, “We want to give women a new opportunity to be involved in sport and the Olympic Movement of our country.”
Reyes and his team are also keen to promote hockey as a development tool across Guatemala: “We have an equality policy, we have a right gender balance and also hockey is played by people of differing economic status,” says Reyes. “We're very proud of it, because Guatemala is a country with resources in the Metropolitan Area, but not necessarily in the towns. We try to give opportunity and access to all, because one of the main social problems is the lack of opportunities for personal development. We strongly believe that sport is a tool for development and equality and the investment in hockey has given benefits to many players of the national team.”
The investment is paying off at international level. Guatemala has entered the Central American and Caribbean Games for the first time and also competed in the 2016 Hockey World League Round One in Salamanca, Mexico. The men’s team also won the 2015 Central American Indoor Hockey Championship, with the women’s team finishing in second place.
The strategy of the Guatemala Hockey Association has been to build from its youth section, so the Pan American Youth Championships will be a great test of how far this ambitious hockey nation has come.
Guatemala Hockey Association is a shining example of a nation that is developing in-line with the FIH's own 10-year strategy, the , which places an emphasis on equality and professionalism within the sport with a long term aim of making hockey a global game that inspires the next generation.
For more information on hockey in Guatemala, contact the Asociacion Deportiva Nacional de Hockey de Guatemala - contact details .