'Umpiring skills need to be harnessed from grassroots', says Hockey India CEO, Elena Norman
Determining, in a matter of seconds, as to whether or not a moving ball has struck a foot in an overcrowded striking circle, amidst the vociferous chants of the galleries behind - and conveying the adjudication firmly and conclusively despite frantic appeals to the contrary, is by no means a plain-sailing exercise.
Umpires do not have the luxury of mulling over decisions in a leisurely manner and stay out of focus for the most part - except, perhaps, when they are deemed to have inadvertently made an incorrect pronouncement which comes to light through television replays.
Yet, umpires and technical officials are just as vital for the success of the game as the players themselves - and both require a unique set of skills which need to be developed and fine-tuned.
Indian hockey talent percolates across the ecosystem of the sport - Elena Norman
India has often been called the home of hockey - and true to its reputation, continues to produce athletes of unimaginable skill - but as Hockey India CEO, Elena Norman explains, the talent-base is not restricted to players alone.
"Hockey is a sport which has, possibly, one of the widest reach and participation across India. While we are blessed with some of the best playing talent in the world, we at Hockey India realized that the talent is also percolating outside the purview of athletes and across the ecosystem of the sport."
The game of hockey has undergone some momentous changes over the years, and keeping abreast of the latest rules and regulations is just as important as keeping pace with a sport that is getting faster by the day.
While a seventy-minute game played over two halves made way for a more compact sixty-minute version divided into four quarters, the rolling substitution rule ensured an unrestricted supply of fresh legs to speed up the proceedings like never before.
In case of a deadlock in regulation time, a player now advances from the 23-yard line, attempting to use a combination of dribbling, dummies, and shimmies to get past the goalkeeper - when in the past - all he would have been expected to do was to push a dead ball from seven yards out.
Extra-time has been done away with - shootouts have replaced penalty strokes in tiebreakers - and, a single long overhead to a lone striker at the other end of the pitch can now result in a goal thanks to the abolition of the offside rule.
While end-to-end hockey helps keep the spectators on their feet, two pairs of eyes on the field of play keep a check on every single tackle, pass, and push - helping to ensure, beyond doubt, that the rules of the game are complied with.
There are several avenues and opportunities for sports administration and technical officials which are not widely talked about or supported by a proper education and training system.
Hockey India thinks differently and is rolling out a centrally organized system for grooming umpires and technical officials while offering new opportunities for employment and growth within the sport.
While shedding light on the vision behind this initiative, to Sportskeeda, Elena Norman revealed the names of two young Indians who have made it to the FIH International Panel of Umpires - a notable achievement indeed - and one that may help inspire several aspirants across the country.
"Courses were of the highest international standards"
"In the past few years, several umpires and technical officials from India have been acknowledged and empanelled by the International Federation of Hockey (FIH)."
"Last year itself, young umpires Shweta Patil from Kolhapur District of Maharashtra and Tarun Yadav from Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh were promoted to the FIH International Panel."
Elena Norman also stressed on the need to explore and nurture the pool of talent at the state level with a comprehensive professional development program.
"We also recently conducted FIH Academy Courses for Umpires, Umpire Managers and Technical Officials along-side the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2019".
"These courses were of the highest international standards and we received very positive feedback from the FIH representatives for our Technical Officials."
"All these positive milestones were a clear indicator that we have a big potential talent pool here from across our member units from different states which needed to be explored and nurtured. Our talent development initiative builds up from the grassroots and feeds a standard graded pedagogy into a system which will allow us to recognize and train talent."
A total of 873 umpires and technical officials took up the Online Test
As part of the above program, Hockey India conducted its first online Test for Umpires and Technical Officials.
This test was open for Hockey umpires and technical officials across the country, and Sportskeeda has learned that a total of 873 umpires and technical officials took up the test.
FIH Development Director, Mike Joyce also commended Hockey India's efforts to promote training and education for umpires and technical officials - a process that began with the launch of the Hockey4LIFE initiative the FIH Congress in Delhi last November.
Elena Norman who had mentioned to Sportskeeda, earlier, that Individuals who successfully completed the online test would receive a certificate from Hockey India went on to elucidate the benefits of the training process.
"We feel this aspect of the sport offers new opportunities to a much wider audience with a cross-section of skills that can be relevant once harnessed."
"With an emphasis to raise the standards in Umpiring and Technical Officiating in the sport of Hockey, the Hockey India Umpiring, Technical and Competitions Committee has emerged with a comprehensive professional development program."
"This is a major step towards building a structured growth path for people wanting to pursue a career in Hockey as a technical expert."
"The testing process will be complemented with effective training. This will help them enhance their skill-based and knowledge-based expertise and at the same time, it is also expected to illustrate the officials' knowledge levels of FIH Rules of hockey and Regulations."
Hopefully, more Indian umpires and technical officials will now be able to make their mark at the highest level as a result of these efforts.