The female officials Pressing for Progress
Throughout this week, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is celebrating International Women's Day (8 March) by highlighting the progress being made across all levels of the sport thanks to inspiring females. Today we look at the role of officials and how hockey is helping this group develop both on and off the field.
They are the amateurs who match the professionals step for step. They are the people who hold down top jobs while finding time to travel the world to play their part in sporting success. They are mothers, wives, partners and daughters. As one of their number, Claire Druijtsfrom the Netherlands, said: “We are the only 12 women umpires to have experienced the 2018 Indoor Hockey World Cup and we should be proud of that.”
Druijts was one of five umpires who joined together for a round-table discussion about what being a top female umpire means. The others around the table were: Ana Faias from Portugal; Michelle Meister of Germany; Vilma Bagdanskiene from Lithuania and Australia’s Emily Carroll.
“Wherever we come from, we have the same emotions, the same reactions to certain situations...I realise there is no difference between men and women. Sport makes us stronger, we have to make many steps to achieve confidence and sport is a means of getting there.”
Vilma Bagdanskiene, FIH Umpire
Five women from five very different backgrounds but sharing the common cause of ensuring that the Fifth Women’s Indoor World Cup went smoothly.
Their reasons for going into umpiring varied: slipped discs, injured knees, family commitments that meant a choice between umpiring and playing, but their desire to get to the top of the sport was a common thread.
Meister is a case in point. For several years a top player, when she hurt her back she wanted to remain in the game she loved, but it wasn’t enough to just umpire, Meister has worked hard to be at the very top of the game – there is a barely suppressed pride when she says: “And it is something I am not too bad at.”
Among the points under discussion was the crossover between working life and umpiring. Being able to remain calm under pressure is an obvious point that both Faias – a personal trainer from Portugal – and Meister – a geographer in her day job – agree upon. “It has helped me get the right balance between my emotional side and my analytical side,” says Faias. “That is something I have definitely taken into both my personal and professional life.”
For Bagdanskiene, it is the ability to see both sides of a story and make a fair decision based on the facts. She says this is true of umpiring and, since she has become a mum to two boys, life away from the pitch. She says she has needed to work on being tough when necessary and admits: “I still hate handing out cards.”
Druijts started umpiring at 14 when her coach told her playing group that they needed to learn the rules. A knee injury put paid to a promising hockey career but her knowledge and application of the rules has developed to elite standards. For the chirpy Dutch woman, umpiring has helped her to deal with the unexpected, whether that is on the pitch in the middle of a tournament or when she is at work.
The group spoke about how becoming umpires and progressing to elite standard had given them all self confidence in many areas of their lives. Australian Carroll, who is a Policy Officer and mother to a small child, admits that she is quite a shy person. Travelling the world, getting to know new people, rooming for two weeks with near strangers and taking to a stage where thousands of people are watching have combined to cure her shyness to an extent.
As Bagdanskeine says: “We have been through the ups and downs of being unsure of ourselves. We are umpiring at a level now that shows we are competent. That certainly helps confidence.”
She adds that being among the umpiring community for an intense period of time can reinforce that self-belief. “Having someone who understands what you are talking about is a great help. I find people back home in Lithuania might ask how things went [at a tournament] but they don’t understand the things you want to talk about. It’s a different reference point. Only the hockey family can do that for you.”
Much talk is given over to the players learning from mistakes, but as Druijts points out, this is true of umpires too. It is all too easy to slink away and dwell on a bad decision.
As with the players, the best umpires learn from the mistake and move on. “It is not just about getting to the top of the game,” says Druijts. “It is also about getting through the bad times. Just as you do in your job. Any decision you make – good or bad – will help you become the person you are. You might get to a situation and think ‘Ah, I did it that way last time, this time I will try another way’. That is all part of the learning process.”
Probably one of the most poignant statements from the five participating umpires came from Bagdanskeine. She spoke of the way mixing with umpires and players from other cultures had helped her ‘break down the walls' that existed in her head. “I know that no matter where we come from, we are the same. When we are umpiring we are all the same and we should all treat each other with respect.
“Wherever we come from, we have the same emotions, the same reactions to certain situations. Especially as a woman, this makes me more confident. I realise there is no difference between men and women. Sport makes us stronger, we have to make many steps to achieve confidence and sport is a means of getting there.”
And Druijts reminded everyone around the table why they do what they do: “In one week we will not be together anymore, so we must live in the moment. We are sometimes so busy getting to the top that we forget what we have achieved. That is not only with sport but with all life. Around this table are mums at the top level, professionals at the top level and umpires at the top level.”
Ensuring a clear and professional career path for aspiring female umpires is one of the cornerstone commitments of the FIH's Hockey Revolution which aims to make hockey a global game that inspires future generations.
Their development and performances are inspiration to other women across the world aiming to make it to the top of their careers. As such they are playing an incredibly important role in empowering women through the sport of hockey, a sport which prides itself on being Equally Amazing.
With this year's International Women's Day movement calling on action to press forward and progress gender parity, FIH is encouraging everyone involved in our sport to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. Join the movement: #PressForProgress