Receiving the email in early January with the subject title USA/Holland Series was a moment I will always remember. I have been umpiring since the spring of 2006 and, now, here was my invitation to umpire games between the USA and the number one team in the world, The Netherlands!
Prior to this appointment, I traveled with a U-16 tour to The Netherlands in the spring of 2007, umpiring some scrimmages and the H.O.D. Easter Tournament in Valkenswaard, The Netherlands. The following spring I was appointed a U-21 USA/Argentina four game test series in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Both of those trips were amazing and very valuable in developing international experience leading up to this appointment—the USA versus Holland! Once I received the appointment I knew this was a HUGE opportunity and that being prepared physically and mentally was crucial.
Between tweaking my runs to have some more short distance sprinting and watching games from the Olympics that are still posted on NBC.com, I arrived in San Diego excited and confident to umpire the Dutch against the USA.
A white van with Olympic rings on the door with a very nice driver, Michael, picked me up and delivered me to the Olympic Training Center.
Upon arriving I met my colleague/partner for the series Wendy Stewart, an FIH grade I official from Canada who was great to work with and get to know over the week.
The training center is very nice place, a little dormitory feeling but thankfully my partner/room mate did not smell or snore. The cafeteria has great food and it was fun to see the other athletes in training along with the hockey players from both the USA and Holland.
Throughout the week there were rest days which Wendy and I took advantage of, we went to Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Coronado Beach, each one a little different and, of course, beautiful. We even went in the ocean at Coronado Beach the water was so cold I think my heart skipped a beat or three. It was fun to get away for a little and not think about hockey. I find it important to turn your hockey head off, otherwise you would go CRAZY by the end of the week!
Game one I didn't blow my whistle for the first 12 minutes!! There was no real need to blow anything but those first 12 minutes I was a bit anxious and knew first impressions are vital and I was going to see these girls in four more 70 minute games. Once I got that first whistle out of the way, it was much easier to relax and get into the game. The Dutch players were wonderful to watch. From their amazing reverse shots to the small passing game that was just beautiful hockey, they made the game look so easy.
The first game went smoothly and I felt I got some jitters out and felt good regarding my fitness and ability to see the skill and fouls at this level. We did not play with the new rules because this series was preparation for the Pan Am Cup for the US and they will not be playing with the new rules at that tournament in the middle of February. Terry Walsh was in charge of giving me and Wendy feedback and we had some really great discussions over calls when watching footage after each game. Terry's insight to the game of hockey was a marvelous resource to learn from.
Thinking about each call in the big picture of the whole game and the whole series was a big lesson to learn and apply. Seeing and calling a foul in the moment it happened and then thinking about what it means in the big scheme of things is a tool I started to develop during the week. Gamesmanship was also a large part of each game and the Dutch are masters at it.... learning to recognize some of their actions like discretely kicking the ball away from US or raising their hand to try and get a call in their favor were things I always had to be aware of.
Along with their ability to overhead the ball down the field or breakaway in one pass to the opposite end where I had to get into position to see exactly what happened—whose stick it hit or what foul had occurred.
The adrenaline rush when having to sprint down the field is awesome and ending with a close call or beautiful goal is great fun.
There is no way to get every call correct and sometimes you make the right decision and still someone on the field is NOT happy with you. Someone once told me, "Think of yourself with the word Scapegoat tattooed on your forehead." Once you embrace that fact, life as an umpire is much easier!
As the week went on I felt more and more confident and capable on the field even through some BIG calls. Keeping calm and keeping it simple were key things I kept in mind each game.
The fifth game was the closest of all the matches and the US played great hockey with solid structure. Holland won the game 3-1.
I felt really 'on' during that final game and knew that we managed the teams well in the closest game of the series.
Each game presented some new challenges and situations and some awesome hockey! I am so thankful for the experience and the time and energy a variety of people put into making it a productive and challenging week.
I can't wait for what's next!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maggie Giddens' first umpiring experience was part of USA Field Hockey's JUMP IN program held at the Regional Futures Tournaments through out the country in 2006. She "blames" her friend and colleague Steve Boniface, Region 9's Umpire Coordinator, for getting a whistle in her hand. She played field hockey at Michigan State University and attended graduate school at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. She resides in Region 7. (Her brother Troy is a Systems Operator and Light Technician currently with the Jonas Brothers.)
This article was written by Maggie after she returned from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA. She represented the USA as one of the appointed umpires for the five game test series between the USA and The Netherlands. Terry Walsh, USA Field Hockey's Technical Director, served as the tournament's Umpire Manager.
After watching her officiate, Walsh said, "A very encouraging performance by Maggie Giddens in a pressure environment with Holland, the Olympic Gold medalists. It is clear that the USA has potential to develop umpires who can perform in the FIH arena."