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January 29, 2011

Financial Incentive: The Real Reason FIH Says No to WSH League

screen-capture-11This past Thursday (Jan. 27), The Federation of International Hockey (FIH) refused sanction of a new multi-million-dollar World Series Hockey (WSH) League in India. Field hockey’s international governing body stated that “Any player and any association that participates in the World Series may render both ineligible to participate in any FIH tournament, including Olympic qualifying tournaments and the Olympic Games” (see article). This marks the latest turn of high drama that has been the state of field hockey in India the last several years. However, to perceive the FIH’s current position with regards to the WHS as a matter of field hockey in India alone is to miss the larger issue at stake.

Professional field hockey leagues have existed around the world since the evolution of the club hockey system. The most popular and well recognized of those today is the European Hockey League (EHL). Member club rosters boast the best players from countries around the world. Like other professional, international sports (e.g. soccer, cricket), the EHL has found a way to coexist with its sport’s international governing body, the FIH.

Generally speaking, the athlete, their National Governing Body (NGB) and professional club function together like this: An athlete’s first priority is to play and train for their respective country’s national team or NGB. In any given year, the athlete is committed to a number of ‘amateur’, international events such as the Olympics, World Cup, Regional Championships (e.g. Pan Am’s) and so on… When not engaged with their national teams, many athletes play professionally in leagues like the EHL, which give them the opportunity to remain competitive throughout the year and to financially support a lifestyle in a sport for which their country’s NGB alone cannot do.

This turns out to be a pretty sweet deal for the FIH and any given country’s NGB. Why? Since the market wage for a professional field hockey player isn’t exorbitant, the lure of winning medals in international amateur competition commands an adequate enough incentive to retain player loyalty to their NGB, and by extension, FIH events. Subsequently, the FIH and NGB’s can invest less in players while at the same time reap the benefits of player development that is acquired through professional play. Scheduling aspects of the FIH’s governing strategy have evolved as a result this equilibrium.

Enter the Black Swan that is the present state field hockey in India. If you’re not up to speed on field hockey affairs in India, here’s the scoop: India’s NGB used to be the India Hockey Federation (IHF). They didn’t properly follow FIH statutes a couple of years ago and were de-recognized. The FIH currently recognizes Hockey India (HI) as the NGB of India. If you’re still following along, last August, India’s Sport Ministry (an extension of their federal government) granted recognition to the former NGB, India Hockey Federation, as the sole hockey federation in India (article). Naturally, the FIH remains on the opposite end of the spectrum:

The IHF was a member of the Indian Hockey Confederation (IHC). The IHC’s membership of the FIH was withdrawn some 2 years ago for failure to comply with the FIH Statutes. Subsequently, Hockey India (HI) was formed and was formally admitted as a member of the FIH at the 2008 Congress. HI is now the only body governing hockey in India recognised by the FIH and the Indian Olympic Association.

So, we’ve got dueling NGB’s in India. One is recognized by the Indian Sport Ministry; the other by the FIH. While this is going on in the background, the IHF and Nimbus Sports, one of India’s leading sports production companies, have gone ahead and launched the previously mentioned World Series Hockey League with initial prize money in excess $1 million. The result? Nearly the entire Indian hockey team that recently took part in the Commonwealth Games has signed up to participate in the league against the advice of FIH recognized HI.

So what’s the real crux of the matter?  Financial incentive. The IHF and Nimbus are offering the potential to play field hockey professionally in a context that could disrupt the current equilibrium between athletes, clubs & NGB’s. That’s not to imply this could happen overnight. But what if the league is ultimately successful? A lucrative financial incentive made available to professional field hockey athletes has the ability to create a shift in loyalty. Suddenly an employment contract takes precedence over the Asian Games, for example. This would ultimately result in a decline in the relevance of the FIH. Think FIFA, the International Baseball Federation, or the International Ice Hockey Federation to name a few.

In it’s rejection of the WSH, it appears on the surface that the FIH is merely maintaining its allegiance with HI. While perhaps that makes political sense, by citing the potential of scheduling conflicts with FIH events as the basis for its non-sanction of the WSH, the FIH has constructed a loosely assembled straw-man that provides little cover for its true intentions- self preservation. If the WSH achieves measurable financial success, the effect is sure to impact international field hockey on some structural level. As evidenced by the state of international governing bodies in sports that have traveled this path before, the end result doesn’t point to a favorable outcome for the FIH.

Matt Winn

CE Business Director

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

January 21, 2011

US Field Hockey’s Locke: “Time for Fed. Funding?”

In his Weekly Report for January 17, 2011, USA Field Hockey Executive Director Steve Locke addresses concerns relating to the ‘global’ landscape of funding for Olympic/Pan Am sports in the United States.  Put into context, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has cut funding to a number of National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) due in part to underperformance in business aspects and principally, a lack  of ‘podium’ appearances in international competition.  Locke does not indicate that USA Field Hockey falls into this category.

USOCIn essence, the USOC functions as any other type of business. Success/survival is determined by the ability to maximize return on investment, whether it’s technology, infrastructure, human capital- or in the case of the USOC, Olympic/Pan Am Sports. The USOC’s revenue is acquired solely through private sponsorship, which implies that it is charged with allocating those funds to NGB’s whose sports have the greatest chance at earning medals in international competition. Positive marketing associated with successful Olympic/Pan Am teams provides exposure and terms necessary to sustain long term sponsor relationships.

Locke generally seems satisfied with the USOC’s approach to funding NGB’s, and he even goes as far as to say that “The USOC’s CEO and CMO are both top shelf and are operating in a highly professional manner in a very challenging financial environment in the face of ever growing competition for sport marketing dollars.” Yet, in order to take the financial pressure off the USOC and Olympic/Pan Am sports alike, Locke goes on to suggest Federal funding as a serious remedy.

Many countries throughout the world have sport ministries and/or Olympic Committees that conduit governmental funding to Olympic/Pan Am sport development and general support. Having governmental funds to support sport gives other countries a distinct advantage.

Locke doesn’t mention any specific examples of a ‘distinct advantage’ gained by other countries via government support.  At first glance, perhaps they’re too obvious to mention. Yet, I wonder if one were to speak with the heads of various foreign field hockey NGB’s, they would all agree?  Would they all feel that their sport is being adequately funded by their ‘Sport Ministry’? Or perhaps, would they feel the exact same type of pressure competing for ‘Sport Ministry’ funds as the US Olympic/Pan Am sports do with the USOC? Furthermore, to what extent do the executives of a given NGB enjoy being dictated the terms in which to operate their organization by a government official or committee that possesses no expertise relating that respective sport? Locke acknowledges the last point, but brushes past such a concern as mere ‘perception’ – as if easily overcome by evidence to the contrary.

While combining USOC funding with Federal funding is sure to satisfy any given NGB’s short term accounting fix, the long term effect is much harder to predict. It’s possible that Federal influence in the process could result in an actual decline of USOC sponsors. Gaining sponsors is largely achieved by selling a story about the sport, the athletes, the lifestyle, etc… The USOC will have a much tougher case to make to private donors when specifying it’s funding needs against the backdrop of a Federal cushion. Furthermore, it’s not a stretch to imagine the extent to which a given sponsor may be subject bureaucratic policy preferences. In the long run, it’s conceivable the net result could amount to the USOC having less to allocate than before.

Underlying the entire conversation about whether Federal funding would be a good idea, is the notion that Olympic/Pan Am sports simply cannot succeed without proportionally increased funding on an annual basis.

While the argument can be made that the USA has been generally successful in medal acquisition over many of the previous Olympic and Pan American Games, the competition for support dollars likely will cause Olympic/Pan Am sports’ portions to diminish, and along with a lack of investment there will be diminished performance on the field of play.

The premise that there exists a causal link between money and performance is taken simply as a matter of fact.  For example, the same premise underlies the logic that drives debate for education funding and ultimately, the allocation of billions of dollars worth of legislation.  Yet, a statistical snapshot of American public schools in the last 50 years depicts an inverse proportion of funding relative to performance.  That is, as education budgets continue to increase, performance has measurably declined. The relationship is obviously not perfectly interdependent, but the example effectively undermines the notion that money is a performance prerequisite.

I’m sympathetic to the financial realities faced by NGB’s, notably USA Field Hockey. However, in the face of economic pressure, it’s dissatisfying to witness an executive mindset that instinctively eyes Federal funding on behalf of a non-profit organization or otherwise. Not only has the concept become somewhat of a cliche, but the notion that sport has a place among any given taxpayer’s hierarchy of needs seems highly misplaced.

The field hockey landscape in the US is like no other country in the world. We boast high participation in real numbers compared to other countries; however, despite US Field Hockey’s genuinely strong effort, the sport remains relatively fractured among each region, state, country and township. Wherever the game is played, a unique set of idiosyncrasies dictate the experience. Some athletes don’t start playing until middle school; others start in first grade. Some kids play on turf, while others play on grass their entire careers. Field hockey clubs range in varying levels of sophistication; some operate year round (indoor & outdoor), while others train seasonally. The list goes on and overall paints a picture of chaos.

In an effort to reign in the apparent chaos, US Field Hockey spends a great deal of its resources (time, personnel & money) on sport development, i.e. more organization, more continuity, more uniformity. Taken at face value, this seems a perfectly reasonable strategy, congruent with international benchmarks set by other countries. The problem is that field hockey is not tightly institutionalized in our country like it may be in others. Therefore, the same business practices do not apply. As US Field Hockey seeks to expand its reach in spite of limited resources, it unwittingly positions itself as ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Rather than seeking control of the chaos, the association would be better served by promoting it.

Parker.1Businesses spend millions a year annually on consultants in an effort to break the mold of institutionalized uniformity within their organizations. After all, if you’re chasing yesterday’s product or business model, so is everyone else. In the case of US Field Hockey, the association is uniquely positioned to preside at the helm of a business (field hockey) that possesses unlimited resources and creativity. These resources manifest themselves most effectively in the hands of the individuals on the ground in each state, county and township- those people with the expertise and relationships to handle the idiosyncrasies inherent in their respective locality. None of this is meant to imply that US Field Hockey isn’t capable of bringing people into the fold.  On the contrary; association membership is up, Futures enrollment is up, and attendance at the major events is up. But does the association exist for the sake of generating revenue, or rather winning medals? Might its own expertise be better allocated among it’s core competencies, allowing it to actually perform better with less? A stagnant world ranking begs the question.

So how does US Field Hockey solve it’s potential future funding dilemma while developing the sport and staying focused on its mission (productive national teams)?  One strategy is to get lean. Stop extending itself in any number of seemingly relevant directions and allow its vast network of resources to do the heavy lifting. Focus strictly on a back-end, business to business approach through private club development. Construct business plans for starting private field hockey clubs and assist individuals in the process of implementation, expansion and sustainability. Serve clubs on a consultancy basis (charge a fee!). Overall, allow the unlimited power of personal financial incentive and market competition among clubs dictate their inevitable long term success or failure. The ensuing product will consist of a steady expansion of realized, multi-dimensional talent and an organically evolving sport.

By allowing the engine of sport development to happen on a behind the scenes basis (think puppet master), US Field Hockey could extricate itself from a heavy administrative and financial burden, reallocate it’s resources and focus more centrally on its reason for existing: the development of Jr. and Sr. national teams for the purposes of winning medals. Locke’s recent Weekly Report concerning NGB’s, shrinking USOC allocations and the prospect of Federal funding lends itself to more than simply a few curious questions. The association’s long term sustainability is contingent on it’s financial well being, so it only seems wise to revisit aspects of its business strategy that may prevent that realization from happening.

Matt Winn

CE Business Director

Quick note… None of the commentary in this post is intended as criticism of effort put forth by US Field Hockey, Steve Locke or anyone else affiliated with the USFHA. Opinions expressed are done so with admittedly, limited information. I hope they are perceived in as constructive a manor as possible.

January 18, 2011

Circle.play.promo

January 14, 2011

Harrington resigns as Brown Head Field Hockey Coach

Tara Harrington.  Courtesy of Brown U. Sports Information.

Tara Harrington. Courtesy of Brown U. Sports Information.

(Jan. 11).  Tara Harrington has resigned from her position as head field hockey coach at Brown University after going 17-51 in four seasons.  Having spent the past 12 seasons as a member of the Brown field hockey staff, Harrington is now shifting into a career in University Advancement at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI.  Her resignation comes a couple of months after first assistant Christy Utter’s departure following the 2010 fall season.

There is no evidence to indicate that Harrington’s resignation has anything to do with the fact that the Brown University field hockey team has to play their home games on Warner Roof.

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

January 12, 2011

CE Director Kristen Winn Featured as an Ultimate Performance Clinician

Kristen Winn, Head Field Hockey Coach at Princeton University and one of CE’s camp summer camp directors, will be speaking Jan. 13 & 14 at the Ultimate Performance Coaching Seminar in Atlantic City, NJ.  Her topics include “All About Midfield” and “Goal Scoring”.

We’ve dropped a short clip below offering a preview of Kristen’s topic on “Goal Scoring”.  All aspects of the video production are the work of Princeton based producer and director extraordinaire, Doug Myers.

January 10, 2011

Tagliente Named UMass Head Field Hockey Coach

Carla Tagliente.  Courtesy of Northwestern University Sports Information

Carla Tagliente

Last Friday, the University of Massachusetts named Carla Tagliente head field hockey coach.  Tagliente replaces Justine Sowry who was named head coach at Louisville last month.  Tagliente arrives at UMass after spending the last eight seasons in the Big Ten with stints at Iowa (’03-’05), Michigan (’06-’08) and Northwestern (’09-’10).  Tagliente currently serves as head coach for the U19 U.S. National Team.  Her distinguished resume also includes 78 caps as U.S. National Team member.

Tagliente is a veteran Champion’s Edge camp coach dating back to 2003.

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

January 4, 2011

Division I Liberty University Adds Field Hockey

Jodi Murphy.  Image courtesy of Richmond University Sports Information.

Jodi Murphy. Image courtesy of Richmond University Sports Information.

Not sure how we missed this, since the press release was issued November 18, 2010…

Liberty University of Lynchburg, VA has added women’s field hockey to their roster of NCAA Division I sports.  Former Richmond assistant coach Jodi Murphy has been named the program’s first head coach.  The inaugural season will begin this coming fall, 2011.  Liberty will maintain independent status for the 2011 season and join the NorPac conference starting the fall of 2012.  An informational meeting regarding the program is open to Liberty students on Jan. 25.

Given then timing of the announcement, one would expect a heavy 2011 roster of walk-ons, as most 2011 high school scholarship athletes are likely committed by now.  Judging from the facilities photos, it appears the field hockey games will be played on field turf.  This could prove to be difficult to overcome when scheduling, especially as a new program, as most teams desire to play  on a water-based playing surface (the international standard).  Look for the majority of Liberty’s games for now and the foreseeable future to be played on the road.

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

December 27, 2010

Cathro Joins Field Hockey Staff at UNC

Guy Cathro.  Image courtesy of Syracuse University Sports Information.

Guy Cathro. Image courtesy of Syracuse University Sports Information.

Guy Cathro has been appointed an assistant field hockey coach and Director of Player Development at The University of North Carolina.  He has spent the past four seasons as an assistant at Syracuse University.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the record snow fall in Syracuse this year”, said Cathro.  Unfortunately, I won’t be taking my shovel and snow chains to Chapel Hill, but I have an amazing ice scraper that I’m looking forward to sharing with my new colleagues.”

Okay – the quotes are completely fabricated.  You can access the official press release from http://tarheelblue.cstv.com/.

Cathro has served as an assistant coach at the New Jersey High Performance Training Center with head coach and CE Director Kristen Holmes-Winn. New Jersey has won the US Field Hockey Women’s National Championship three out of the last four years.

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

December 24, 2010

Helen Knull named Michigan St. Field Hockey Head Coach

Helen Knull.  Courtesy of Michigan St. Sports Information

Helen Knull. Courtesy of Michigan St. Sports Information

[We were holding this back in anticipation of the official press release from MSU, but judging by the fact that everyone already knows via Facebook, we're comfortable posting it now.]

Helen Knull has been hired as head field hockey coach at Michigan State University.  She replaces Rolf van de Kerkhof who recently departed to become the head coach at The University of Delaware.  Helen just completed her fifth season at Michigan State, the last of which she held the title of associate head coach.  She has previous coaching experience at Kent St. University where she was also an undergrad and achieved All-American status twice as a player.

Helen recently served as a Champion’s Edge camp coach in our 2010 session at Monmouth University.

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

December 21, 2010

Britt Broady joins Duke University Field Hockey Coaching Staff

Britt Broady.  Courtesy of U. of Louisville Sports Information

Britt Broady. Courtesy of U. of Louisville Sports Information

Newly appointed Duke University Head Field Hockey coach Pam Bustin has announced today that Britt Broady will join the Blue Devil coaching staff.  Broady previously worked under Bustin for the past eight seasons at The University of Louisville.  Duke University press release.

Britt Broady is a current Champion’s Edge Field Hockey camp coach, appearing at several events dating back to 2005.

[Matt Winn, CE Business Director, is solely responsible for any intended or perceived editorial content in this post. Questions or concerns? Email Matt directly at mwinn@ce-fieldhockey.com.]

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