As players are introduced to alternative avenues of the sport such as umpiring or coaching, little is known about what’s described as the ‘best seat in the house.’ Whether it’s timekeeping, judging or scoring, officials have made a name for themselves, going on to represent Canada at the international level while also giving back to local communities.
As the Domestic Director on the Field Hockey BC (FHBC) Board of Directors, Brenda Rushton has had a lively career in field hockey up to this point. She’s organized the technical table for the Vancouver Island Ladies Field Hockey Association (VILFHA); she’s been the technical lead for the UVic Vikes’ varsity team; she’s represented Canada as a judge at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India, 2011 Pan Am Games in Mexico, and most recently the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia. One would never have guessed that Rushton grew up as a competitive swimmer, picking up a field hockey stick only briefly in high school.
Rushton was assisting at the Bridgman Cup one year, selling t-shirts, when her sister Carrie Trumpy asked if she could support the technical table. She didn’t think twice before agreeing to timekeep, and her passion for the sport only grew from that moment forward. She was taught the basics from Anne Batey which led to further mentoring from leaders like Jenny John (2019 Hall of Fame inductee), Madge Johnson, Sue Jameson and Paula Parks, to name a few. Her first out-of-province assignment was in Waterloo, ON, for the Indoor Pan American Cup in 2005 — a tournament made particularly special with her eldest daughter Andrea on the playing roster.
“The Canadian Women’s team won that event and qualified for the  World Cup in Austria, which was a real coup for them,” Rushton said. “I felt like I played the game. I’ll always remember the technical table as such a dynamic spot; it’s like the best seat in the house.”
Back then, Rushton recalls when being behind the table meant using multiple paper match forms. Mistakes would have to be whited out in different colours, and there was always the unspoken pressure from the possibility of human error, prior to the introduction of new systems.
“We’ve gone from pen and paper — where you would have your white [paper] and a yellow one, pink one, and blue one and keep the official one at the end — to a hyper-Excel format and now an online, dynamic Altius program,” Rushton described. “It makes the games a bit more accessible for people who can’t be there to watch in person.”
Field Hockey Alberta (FHA) also acknowledges the shifts in the sport as positive. According to FHA Executive Director Burgundy Biletski, who oversees provincial development, the ability for more accurate calls and increased access to resources have made it more appealing for those interested in officiating to try it out and then to step into those crucial roles, especially from the very beginning.
“It’s important to introduce [technical roles] as part of the high-performance program, either through umpiring or coaching, just to expose them to it and see if it’s something they’re interested in,” Biletski said.
“Technical officiating has always been strong in the province…due to the strong people in our community. They’re actively recruiting new people; they’re taken care of; they’re educated. With the work being done by people who’ve been internationally recognized in our mix, like Keely [Dunn], John [Hrytsak] and Wendy and Tony Stewart, it’s great because they’re super passionate and working with everyone on the digital side of things.”
With COVID-19 restrictions preventing in-person competition, technical officials and umpires have shifted their attention online. For FHA, engagement can be seen through FHumpires, a platform complete with umpiring resources, and conversations on the Clubhouse app, both spirited by Dunn.
Through social media, live streams and virtual courses, there remains the need to invest in people, and in programs that focus on the principles of true sport.
When looking at the official recruitment and management, the majority of it stems from the grassroots: leagues, tournaments and festivals are common places where individuals can begin to gain experience in officiating. In FHA’s junior league, players are exposed from the get-go at friendlies where they’re able to learn by trial and error.
“There’s a lot of potential [in Alberta] to build and increase our membership, as well as our scope across the province,” Biletski added. “We want to come back from the pandemic strong and grow the sport in new zones — and it all starts from the bottom up.”
Part of Rushton’s role at FHBC is to provide high-level experiences for players coming up in the system and developing the next cohort of technical officials.
“We’re looking for young people in technical officiating,” Rushton said. “I’ve always looked at the domestic events, and what we can do to provide for emerging athletes so that they go from, say, a club championship to a national event but they have that experience of what it’s like to be behind the table. That this is what we do and these are the rules and regulations that govern field hockey.
“It’s like being part of a symphony. All these pieces are contributing to the overall experience that our spectators are going to have, and I think going forward, we want to showcase our sport, and have more people go, ‘That’s a game I want to play I want to participate in. There’s a place for me.’ And it’s not just at the elite level, but all levels.”
With a goal to create a centralized database of officials, Rushton believes that it’s crucial to have conversations with people about their aspirations, to then connect them with opportunities whether it involves officiating or not. Collecting many passport stamps along the way, she’s grateful for the experiences the role has given her.
“I’ve been to places I’ve never had initially on my bucket list and the [host countries] have bent over backwards to make you feel welcome,” Rushton described. “My advice to everyone out there is to be open to the opportunities that are presented to you, and embrace them.”
Becoming an official typically starts at the club level, the grassroots — and the odd time that one is asked to assist at the technical table. Regardless of where and when one chooses to officiate, the most important piece is to start somewhere, understanding the symbiotic relationship between the table and the entirety of the field hockey community.
If you want to get involved as an umpire or official, please visit our Resources tab on our Team of Teams hub. If you would like to become a general volunteer, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page. Stay tuned for more ways to join our team!
Happy Officials and Umpires Week!