Field Hockey Canada > Turning a hobby-career into a passion; umpiring at the international level

Margaux Brand represents Canada on the ‘third team’ at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games

It isn’t entirely uncommon for international athletes to have familial lineage in the sport of their excellence. It is rare, however, to see a third-generation umpire excel in officiating just as her mother did and her mother’s mother before that. Margaux Brand never met her grandmother, but they share a special on-field connection that not many can replicate.

Brand is currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina as the only Canadian representation on the umpire and official staff at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. The North Vancouver, BC, resident feels a great source of pride in representing the red and white on the “Third Team.”

“I didn’t quite realize that I was the only Canadian official until a little while ago. It’s actually really special to be the only one from Canada, representing the flag.”

A native to South Africa, Brand moved to British Columbia when she was 11 years old. Two years later, at her mother’s behest, she started umpiring in West Vancouver. What started as a part-time gig to make a bit of extra money in high school became a passion. In those early years, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see Brand and her mother, Margaret, umpiring the same game in the West Vancouver women’s league.

“My mom really mentored me and encouraged me when I was younger. She always said that her mom [Elise Slabbert] would be so proud to see that I have come this far in umpiring,” Brand said and noted with a laugh, “she always takes credit for my umpiring success…as she should, being a mom.”

As Brand progressed through the umpiring pathway, obtaining her provincial, regional and Canadian ratings, she turned to other umpires in the community for guidance and support. Gavin Caldecott, a veteran West Vancouver umpire lent his support as a mentor. Caldecott, originally from Zimbabwe, moved to Canada in 2002 and quickly took up umpiring. He has represented Canada at the Commonwealth Games 2014 and Pan Am Games in 2015. Caldecott took immediate notice to Brand’s attitude and demeaner on the field.

“For such a young umpire, she showed a lot of promise and growth in a short amount of time,” he said. “I could see her actively trying to improve, trying to get better.”

Caldecott has been working with Brand for several years in West Vancouver and recalls offering advice and support along the way. He said he’s been very impressed and proud watching her develop and progress. According to Caldecott, Brand brings her own unique style of umpiring to every game. He said she has a terrific on-field demeanour and her background as a player has allowed her to understand the game from a player’s perspective.

“She’s a player’s umpire, she has great sense of the game,” he said. “She doesn’t get flustered very easily at all. She stays cool, calm and collected. On top of that, it’s clear she’s enjoying herself, she does it all with a smile on her face.”

Patience and dedication pays off

From umpiring U13 kids’ games at Ambleside Park to stepping out on the Youth Olympic Games hockey pitch, it’s not hard to see a tremendous progression in the last 12 years. Brand prides herself on her ability to stay focused and composed on the field. No matter what the venue, umpires don’t have the luxury of home-field advantage or fan-support. In fact, in many cases, it’s the opposite. Despite the circumstances, Brand enjoys the challenge and doesn’t let the game get to her.

“Over the years, I have built up a thick skin. I’ve taught myself to tune out anything from outside of the field and I’ve also learned to not take anything personally,” she said. “If I’m calm, if I’m collected and confident, the players will feed off that. When umpires get frustrated and riled up, the players feed off that too.”

When Brand isn’t umpiring, playing or coaching field hockey, she works part-time with people with developmental disabilities as a support worker and is preparing to go into nursing in January at Kwantlen Polytechnic in BC. Despite a busy schedule, she stays dedicated and motivated to what she calls her “hobby career” of umpiring.

Brand received her international umpiring badge last November in Jamaica at the Central America & Caribbean Games qualifiers. On the final day of competition, Brand was assigned to the gold medal match. Having her assessment and receiving her badge afterwards was a special moment for Brand and validated a lot of hard work and dedication.

“When I was appointed the gold medal, game, I kind of knew I would probably going to receive my badge, but it was still really nice to sit down with the tournament director and umpire manager and get the piece of paper and see that I achieved the grade that I wanted.”

“At this point, I just want to get as much experience as possible and get involved in as many high-level tournaments as possible,” she said. “I want to build up my experience and hopefully one day be going to World Cups and Olympics. It could be very far away. But if I am committed and love what I’m doing, it’s achievable.”

With her international rating complete, Brand was shortly thereafter appointed to the Youth Olympic Games officials roster. This marks her first major international multisport games appointment and she couldn’t be more thrilled.

2018 Youth Olympic Games and Future International Appointments

“Going to the Youth Olympics is a huge milestone for me in my career,” she said. “I am really looking forward to meeting all the other umpires. There will be so many faces from all over the world and I think it’s really cool to learn people’s backstories.”

“I’m especially looking forward to the Youth Olympic atmosphere. There will be big crowds and lots of hype built around the competition. Walking out onto the pitch and seeing the crowd will be pretty special,” Brand said.

According to Brand, it is her dream to one-day be going to the top competitions in the world. But with the same level-head and composure that she shows on the field, she knows she will have to work hard and improve in order to get there.

“At this point, I just want to get as much experience as possible and get involved in as many high-level tournaments as possible,” she said. “I want to build up my experience and hopefully one day be going to World Cups and Olympics. It could be very far away. But if I am committed and love what I’m doing, it’s achievable.”

Margaux Brand is Canada’s lone official at the Youth Olympic Games. She said she hopes to see more Canadian officials get their ratings and progress through the pathway. In parting, she offers some advice to young aspiring officials:

“Don’t be afraid questions and ask for feedback. Without getting support and feedback from higher up officials, you aren’t going to improve. If you have a good relationship with older officials, it’s easier to get feedback and help.”