The recent Year of the Youth Huddle, which took place over a weekend in September, was a real display of how the international hockey community can work together to reach out to the next generation of hockey stars.
A number of top players, umpires, coaches and leaders from across the international community came together to support the project, which is focused on promoting hockey to the global youth hockey community.
The initiative – the first of its kind in hockey – is a result of a collaboration between the FIH Academy, the European Hockey Federation Youth Panel and online coaching company, The Hockey Site.
During the online sessions, participants were able to listen to, and speak with, some true hockey legends. Sharing their insight into what it means to be an elite athlete were Argentina’s star forward Carla Rebecchi, Hockeyroos Tom Craig, Uruguay’s Constanza Barrandeguy and Olympic gold medallist Arthur de Sloover of Belgium.
There were also some words of wisdom from some of the top coaching brains working in the game. Australian women’s Head Coach and double Olympic gold medalist Katrina Powell, Shane McLeod, who led Belgium to gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Pasha Gademan, the Head Coach of Canada men’s team and Jean Beagan of Canada U21 women’s team were all able to regale the audience with nuggets of information from the perspective of the sideline.
Every aspect of the game and every opportunity to participate came under the spotlight at this inaugural event, and it was thrilling to see the rapt attention given to the umpires as they outlined what it means to be officiating at the highest level.
Laurine Delforge, Peter Wright, Carolina de la Fuente and Marcin Grochal are all Olympic umpires and both Delforge and Grochal umpired this year’s gold medal matches in Tokyo.
Belgium's Delforge gave a typically quirky description of what it means to be an umpire: ‘The umpire is like a duck in the water, the duck seems to move without effort when in fact the duck is moving his feet. Umpires are always observing, feeling and anticipating even though most people think we are only looking and running.’
Emphasising the breadth of opportunity available to people who would like to become involved in the hockey community were four leaders from within the game.
Lwandile Simelane is an executive board member for the South African Hockey Association and the South African Olympic Committee (SASCOC); Oriol Peremiquel is the founder of online service Scorrd, Daniela Caram is the inspirational leader of Hockey Inclusivo Chile, and Peter van Straaten is the founder of online hockey community Hockeyfilmpje.
Explaining why he used his genius for technical innovation to set up Scorrd, Peremiquel said: ‘It was hard for me to accept that I was not going to be the player I dreamed and the goal of Scorrd is also helping players to have the chances that I couldn't have.’
For Caram, herself a former international with the Chile women’s team, the motivation to become involved in Hockey ID was simple: ‘I started working on Hockey Inclusivo (Hockey ID) because I think everyone should have the chance to do sport and to play Hockey, maybe we can work with companies like Pieter’s [van Straaten] so that we can raise awareness about HockeyID.’
Reflecting on the day’s presentations, EHF Youth Leader Panel (YLP) member Helen Windsor said: “One of the key messages for me was what Pasha Gademan said. He said: “It is good as a coach to sometimes feel alone as you can reflect on how you are facilitating the players environment and what you have contributed, then think about what to do going forward. Eventually you will realise you are apart of that team and if you manage that in the right way, you can never be alone!’”
And another YLP member, Sergio Ollès, added: “The YOTY FIH Huddle provided me with new perspectives from many different areas and insights of hockey. Being able to talk with leaders in different areas (coaches, umpires, players but also entrepreneurs) reassured me on the fact that there’s more in hockey than just playing or coaching.
“I remember especially the talk with Shane McLeod. The amount of experience that he has and the places he has been is overwhelming. Also, the knowledge that he has and the way he shared stories such as when he realised there was more to coaching than he first thought really shows you the great coach that he is, but also the good person that you may not see in TV.”