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Video Umpire & Team Referral changed the way of playing hockey- Carolina De La Fuente

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Carolina De La Fuente officiating in a match at Club Ciudad de Buenos Aires. (Image Credit: Gaby Mabromata)

Carolina De La Fuente is an Argentine FIH Umpire who’ll soon be seen appearing at her fourth successive Olympic Games, during the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games. She’s one out of just three women Umpires with experiences of appearing at three editions of Summer Olympics, prior to the 2016 version. Carolina spoke with us on her career, changes in international field hockey of late and more.

Fourth Olympics as an FIH Umpire- changes you have seen in International Hockey over these years…

In my opinion, the rules and their interpretations are one of the most important changes in the international hockey. Although I don’t like some of the new rules (eg: playing above the shoulder), most of them improved the way of playing.
On the other hand, I think the Video Umpire and Team Referral also changed the way of playing hockey.
Another big change is the way the teams and the umpires get physically prepared. Nowadays the game is very dynamic and they have to train harder to keep going during the whole game.

Umpiring- when, how, why? Your inspirations into Umpiring…

My passion with hockey started when I was a hockey player in Banco Nación (a club from Argentina). With 18 years old we started umpiring the youngest ones. There were no official umpires and the elder players had the responsibility go forward with the task. The truth is, nobody liked it.., and because I used to enjoyed that moment a little bit, and because I was a good friend, I used to umpire almost every weekend. Without realizing, every time I watch a game, I was actually watching the umpires…  every detail of their movements (remember there was no internet by that time!). The rules were not online and the only way of learning them was by asking and watching the games.
Some people from the club wanted me to study English. They used to say to me that if I did study that language, I could become an international umpire. I must confess, at first I didn’t believe that. For me it was just a dream that with time became true. I’m happy with every moment of my life I had with hockey.

Field vs TV umpire: Which one is tougher and critical?

That’s a difficult question. I prefer the field because I feel freer. In the field you can build a bond with the game and the players, and you can adapt the way of umpiring every second of the game. Every decision I take, and every interpretation, changes the game. In the field I am part of the game, and it makes me happy if my way of umpiring helps the teams to play the best game possible.
Personally, I don’t like to be designed as Video Umpire. The decisions that are taken in the box don’t give you the chance to use all the managing skills. Everything is black or white.. the mistakes from the field are part of the game, but the mistakes from the video umpiring are another think.
The positive side of the video umpiring is that after so much work, preparation, tests, mistakes, and feedback, we are very advanced in the use of the tool, and I think this benefits the players and the umpires. Also.., the audience love it.

Technology in bettering the quality of Umpiring…

Video Umpire helps to making accurate decisions. Being able to go back with a decision is the fairest action, and it brings us close to the excellence of playing.

Your career so far- in your words…

These are not my words, but I feel very identified by them. Each one represents different moments of my career:

“Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.”

And these two, obviously when thing didn’t turn out the way I was hoping:

“It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.” Jackie Joyner-Kersee- U.S. Olympic athlete, track and field

“Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want”- Dan Standford

How do you prepare yourself before a game?

I try not to think much. During the day I try to stay busy till one hour before the game. While I put on the uniform and get ready, I tend to visualize the game. I think of the main things to work with both teams. I remember positive things and other games. We talk with my partner of how we are going to manage the game, what we expect from it, and how we are going to help each other. Once I am ready to go out to field, I look myself in the mirror, and feel the positive energy. I really think i can do it! Everything is in my hands!

How do you see the development of Umpiring, both as a career options and the advancements over past couple of decades, you’re in the role?

Although hockey has become more professional, and there is a “Hockey Revolution”, the international carrier of umpire is still amateur in the FIH. 90% of our preparation depends of ourselves. We are being pushed as if we were professionals.. but I think all of us have a formal job and we don’t live from umpiring. The time and money we spend is much more than when I started my international carrier as umpire. There are many responsibilities and the love for what we do is what keeps us being the best of what we are.
Nowadays, with the new technology we can receive more information (videos, FB discussions..) but I think its very hard to find the balance between your personal life, your job, and the dedication of an umpiring career.

Infrastructure and facilities…

I think you can see the biggest changes in the stadiums, the fields and the TV transmission of the game. Wherever you go, you can enjoy fascinating scenarios.

How difficult is to maintain a career which requires you to be ready to travel all the time?

It’s very hard to stay active in the career of international umpire. Many times it requires choosing between your actual job, our family, our friends and holidays. At the beginning of my career I had to quit three jobs because they didn’t want to give me the days to travel. Its very important the support of your family and your love ones. Finally, I had the fortune to work in a bank that allowed me to take part in the international tournaments. I’m conscious and responsible of the decisions I’ve made.., and I know I have sill many decisions to make. I’m a lucky one.

Olympics as a major events platform compared to other major sporting events- what makes it more attractive to people involved?

You can breathe the life of sports. We are all Olympic athletes! Even the audience.

About the various development programs FIH has designed to support the Umpires.

I hope, someday, to take part in developing programs with focus in the expectations of the umpire, their objectives and needs. It would be great being able to help other umpires to reach the best of them as a professional and as a person.

What are various skills that Umpires need to have to be the best at their job?

They need to know the rules very well. They need to be fit and have a good lecture of the game. On the other hand, they also have to have a positive attitude, they have believed we can and have everything to be great. They have to believe we deserve that!