Normally these reports are written the week before they are distributed so I can only provide a cursory view of the National Indoor Tournament and its Town Hall meetings this past weekend. This section of the report is being written on Monday, March 8, 2010. Last evening I returned from a weekend-long visit to the National Indoor Tournament in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I have been around many sporting events, but this one really captures the purity of sport. Girls/women, and some boys/men, were playing from early morning to late at night. The contests were a varied mix. Some were blowouts, but most were intensely competed matches. Oh my gosh, these young athletes are intent on winning the proper way and exhibited tremendous athletic prowess. Not only did I see athletic prowess and focus in the eyes of the athletes, but the passion was also found throughout the umpire corps, the volunteers, and the staff of USA Field Hockey. One hundred and seventy-two teams competed during the term of the tournament. Nineteen vendors were on hand selling goods, and their retail business was brisk. The medical crews had little to do because risk management and a sense of proper umpire control of the games was manifest. This was truly a great event.
While the tournament was ongoing, USA Field Hockey staged four Town Hall meetings at the Virginia Beach Convention Center (next to the competitions). These meetings were the first of the year, as many more will continue throughout the season. The purpose is to develop a grasp of what the majority of the membership would like to see USA Field Hockey become over the long-term. Within the four meetingsheld, were a total of forty people attending. While this may sound like just a few, the composition of the attendees provided a good comprehensive view of the various constituencies within the organization. The constituencies represented at the meetings were umpires, coaches, athletes, and parents.
While we are interested in hearing concepts on how to shape the organization for the future, we also heard concerns of the present. We want to work toward resolving the concerns of the present into resolutions for the future so the organization can become a more complete organization to develop field hockey for a wider audience of participants and observers. Here is a flavor of what we heard from each group:
Umpires: We need to engage in a concerted effort to recruit more umpires into the game. Many umpires are getting "long in the tooth" **(this was not my expression, but came from the umpires themselves), and we need to replenish the ranks with a new generation. Part of the issue we have is finding events to rate new umpires. That issue falls into another issue of finding and/or developing more places to play (so umpires can be rated at those play sites). Many umpires are hopeful that retiring athletes will give back to the sport and a great avenue is officiating. A big issue brought to the forefront was respect. Umpires provide creditability to the game through consistent enforcement of the rules. To be constantly trampled upon by yelling parents/coaches/athletes is just not cool. Respect comes in many forms such as the proper feeding, watering, housing of umpires at tournaments, and the amount of honoraria payments for officiating games. These items have a budget association, and we can only operate to the size of business that we are. However, the respect of umpires is paramount as they are a major pillar to ethics in sport. In the coming months, we will highlight umpires and their importance to the sport in our various media presentations.
Coaches: The events we are currently conducting are meant to provide an opportunity for coaches to view athletes as they perform. Many coaches want the events to be coaching-centric. In other words, they would like blocks of athletes scheduled in such a manner that it is easier to watch a greater number of athletes that they may have an interest in recruiting. To be honest, this is almost impossible in the current format because there are so many athletes. To help remedy their issue, next year's NIT is being broken up into two separate events and two separate locations. The new schedule will provide relief for coaches (but, some of the parents did not like it as they have children in two separate age brackets and the new schedule will require their travel to both locales in 2011).
Athletes: Simply put, athletes want more places to play. Elite athletes would like more support (our support is limited when compared to other countries principally due to lack of governmental subsidy). Our long-term remedy for elite athletes (no matter the sport) is to seek Federal underwriting, as we currently have no governmental subsidy whatsoever. For those athletes wanting to play post-collegiately, we need to create tools for event organizers to develop new events, and we need to demonstrate to those organizers a reasonable expectation of generating a profit through their events. This is a long-term goal.
Parents: The first words out of their months oriented around safety issues. There were representations of a wide range of injuries that were commonplace. Injuries such as facial orbit injury, dental injury, and lacerations were highlighted. While in our insurance history log of claims, we are not seeing much in the way of catastrophic injury, we do not/cannot ignore injury potential. There was quite a discussion revolving around mandating certain types of protective equipment. Some were favorable toward the notion of equipment. Many other Town Hall participants used examples of other sports requiring helmets, masks, eyewear, et cetera, and then watching claims elevate as athletes felt less vulnerable to injury and became more aggressive. There was no outcome on this discussion. But, we do have on an ongoing process. It is a process of analysis of loss claims (although, if truth is known, most of our parents have health insurance and the USA Field Hockey policies are not "hit" as much to give us a legitimate understanding of injuries and real grasp of our true risk). Our intent is to manage claims and create less risk, and to watch this carefully. However, there is no sport that does not have its inherent risks. And, everyone agreed with that notion Did we accomplish what we were seeking? We certainly had a lot of input. As we move forward with more Town Halls we will get more and more direction as to what you want this organization to be. Thanks to everyone who participated.
Last week I spoke about the AtaHolding FIH Women's World Cup Qualifier to be held at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center near San Diego March 26 through April 3, 2010. This could be monster big for the Southern California area and hockey generally. Laura Darling is organizing it and we hope you can attend. So, please come!
From The Late Show with David Letterman: "The Academy Awards show was so long this year that they had to keep adding to the montage of dead actors."
** Do you know where the comment 'long in the tooth' comes from? It has to do with horses and determining their ages. Apparently horses teeth grow throughout life. Back in the day when horses were sold the prospective owner would check their teeth to make sure the seller was not lying about their youthful age. If they were 'long in the tooth' the buyer could tell he was purchasing an old horse.