View from the Sideline

April 10, 2019, 5 p.m. (ET)

Courtesy of the FIH

Image courtesy: Candela Diaz Bustos

In this week’s FIH Pro League Interview of the Week, we talk to one of the people who are off-stage but, nonetheless, vitally important to the smooth operation of the match.

Lurah Hess from the USA is one of the newly-created Match Managers – a challenging position that comes with a heap of responsibility, as Hess explains: “The FIH Pro League takes officials outside their comfort zone and challenges them with new experiences. Most technical officials are familiar with the format of the Technical Delegate working in the background to manage the overall technical aspect of an event, while the Technical Officer focuses solely on the match in front of them. Pro League sort of merges the two roles into one “Match Manager”.”

For Hess, the FIH Pro League has really allowed a light to shine on her own National Association’s ability to host top flight hockey. “Its exciting to be a part of a top-flight world event that brings hockey home to its fans,” she says. “I am proud of USA Field Hockey for the well-run production in Winston-Salem [USA’s opening home FIH Pro League venue]. And it was electric to be part of a sold-out stadium full of cheering Argentinian supporters in Buenos Aires.”

It was in Buenos Aires that Hess faced the challenges posed by temperamental weather systems as the women’s match against Germany was disrupted and the men’s game had to be cancelled because of stormy weather. Looking back, she is able to chuckle as she recalls being on a phone call to FIH headquarter to get advice on the weather situation while at the same time managing a card suspension on the pitch. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she adds wryly.

While that situation was certainly stressful, Hess says one of the best things about the new competition is the opportunity it provides for umpires and officials to develop their skills and learn from each other. “It is great to land at a location and work with top umpires and officials from around the world. Having an experienced team that has a high level of trust makes it a lot easier to focus on your own responsibilities.”

One of the questions prior to the League’s launch was how officials would be able to balance their careers and family life with the travelling demands of the match schedule. It is something that concerns Hess as she says: “I’m looking forward to talking to others and hearing how everyone else does it because some days I feel it becomes all hockey.

“I’m fortunate to have a supportive family and some flexibility in my job. The rest comes down to getting ahead on as much work as possible in advance of travelling, because when you are at a Pro League weekend there is no time for distractions outside of the hockey.”

But, even as she acknowledges the teething problems of the new competition format, Hess pinpoints some of the factors that have made the FIH Pro League such a success in its early days.

“For me, it is what the fans bring to each match. The passion of Argentina’s spectators as they were cheering “Ole, Ole, Ole” when María José Granatto was recognised for her 100 caps. They were bouncing in the stands as their national anthem played before the match.

“And when USA played Netherlands on that chilly night, I was wondering how many future national team players were watching, inspired, from the stands.”