Playing or umpiring?
That is the question I often get asked. As if there was a choice to be made. There is none. You just don’t give up on your passions, no matter how many there may be.
I have always been exceedingly passionate about sports since a very young age. Growing up I tried my hand at many different sports, including swimming, tennis, soccer, basketball and more. But none of them could rival the unique feeling I got from hockey. Ever since I picked up my first stick at the age of 6, I was hooked. And my passion and love for the game has only grown stronger to this day.
I started hockey at Royal Parc Hockey Club, a small family club located in Brussels, my home town. There were not enough female players to make a team, so I played with boys a grade ahead of me. Until this wasn’t legal anymore.
These early years have certainly shaped my style of play and made me the competitive player I am today, currently playing for one of the best clubs in Belgium. Looking to raise my game to the next level, I chose to move to Royal Antwerp Hockey Club about a decade ago. Everybody thought I was crazy to “exile” myself “that far” to play hockey, barely knowing a word of Flemish and mostly warming the bench at my then-current club. Now speaking Flemish and with several titles and trophies on my palmares, I am very happy to have proved them wrong. And for those who still “worry” about the kilometers I am travelling every week, well, passion (which is what brought and keeps me at Antwerp) doesn’t count the cost!
I was 11 years old when I attended my first training camp with the U14 national team. I then represented Belgium at all junior levels, from the U16’s to the U21’s. At that time, the national team was nowhere near as professional as it is now, but like any young athlete in any sport discipline, I had Olympic aspirations. However, my childhood dream of competing at the Olympics quickly fell short as I never made the jump to the senior squad. Of all my disappointments, to never win a cap with the Red Panthers may be at the top of the list. Anyway, your dream is a vehicle, and you’re the driver.
You can always take a different route to make your dream a reality, and if there’s none, just create one.
Falling short of the list has enabled me to discover a new path that I would probably not have explored otherwise. In the meantime, I indeed found myself introduced into the wonderful world of umpiring.
To be honest, becoming an umpire was never part of the plan. I started umpiring pretty much on a dare. As a player, I was often very upset by the umpires’ decisions. Until the day my dad suggested that, since I seemed so confident about calling games, I should give umpiring a try. The thing is: I never say no when it comes to a challenge. So I took it on, aged 17, and (surprisingly enough… or maybe not!) I really enjoyed it.
But again, I would be lying if I say that I ever thought about making it to the Olympics as an umpire. I did not take to umpiring with a view to going anywhere of doing anything, but it’s in my nature that if I take up a project, I try and do it to the best of my ability. So when, following my first international tournament (in 2012, shortly after falling short of the list), I was told that I had “something” and that I could realize my Olympic dream as an umpire, that is probably when I started taking umpiring more seriously from the career point of view. And I guess I made the right choice as very quickly, I found myself working up through the echelons of international umpiring, to eventually see my name on the list of officials appointed for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Now that my dream will soon be here, I love to remember what brought me on this journey. Guess what: passion, again. I love what I do and I do what I love. And believe it or not, there are many things that make umpiring enjoyable. Travelling to new countries, meeting new friends and getting the chance to be a part of some top quality hockey events are just a handful of many.
Being an umpire is challenging, but also extremely rewarding. Our task is to live up to the expectations of the customers, i.e. the players, the media, the spectators and the other stakeholders in the game. All while remaining as invisible as possible. As umpires, we always strive for a match where no one can remember our name afterwards. That would mean we have performed well, and the sense of achievement and satisfaction you get from that far exceeds the negative sides of the job.
So, playing or umpiring?
There is no choice to be made. I enjoy both greatly, and as long as I enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it. It’s that simple!