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A New Era For Guatemala

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For a developing hockey nation like Guatemala, where there are no artificial turfs for hockey, not just in the country, but in the region, an award that gives you a new pitch with lighting must seem like all your red letter days have come at once.

The Asociacion Deportiva Nacional de Hockey de Guatemala won the 2015 Pablo Negre Trophy, an annual award given by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to a national association which has either worked hard to develop hockey in the country or has shown outstanding dedication to embracing the spirit of the sport.

In the case of Guatemala, it seems both criteria have been met and the result is a brand new pitch from FIH partners Polytan STI, while Musco Lighting will provide and install a free lighting system at a designated location within Guatemala within the next few months.

President of the Guatemala Hockey Association is Pablo Reyes. He says: ‘The award is fundamental for us because it means we can take our hockey to the next level. Currently there is no hockey pitch in the whole of Central America. There are synthetic football pitches but our problem is the access to these pitches, because the football is too popular and it takes all time slots. And the owners of the pitches will not let us to play hockey on the turf because they think we will damage the surface.

“The dedicated pitch will help to develop hockey in all Central America. Guatemala will be the principal beneficiary, of course, but we want to share this award with our neighbours.”

Hockey has been developing at pace in Guatemala, driven on by Reyes and his enthusiastic team, but, as the President says, it has sometimes been a slog. “We had the full support of theGuatemalan Olympic Committee and the PAHFwhen we started our journey 10 years ago but you have to bear in mind that, in the first five years, thereweren't many balls and sticks–in fact no-one sells them in Guatemala– few places to play, few teams to play. To keep the interest of the people was not easy.”

Nonetheless, the national association founders persisted and followed a simple but effective strategy. First they got the 15-25 year old men involved because, says Reyes, “they are the ones that play the most sport.”Many of these players were physical education teachers so they introduced the sport into schools and clubs and began to target the 10-14 year olds. Eventually, sisters, friends and relatives also began to take an interest in playing the game.

“Speaking about it now, I make it sound easy,”says Reyes, “but believe me, it was a very hard work. We heard the word ‘no’more times than ‘yes’. Also, it was not only getting players, the most difficult partis toretain them.”

There are now more than 250 registered hockey players in Guatemala, and Reyes says, there are many more players who participate in schools but do not yet play regularly. “The club structure is not developed in Guatemala as it is in Europe, but we have a couple of clubs playing hockey,”he says. “The best way to get involved in hockey is through the schools, specially private schools. We have teaching and development programmes in a dozen schools in Guatemala City and Sacatepéquez –in the central region of the country.”

Reyes also adds that hockey adheres to a strict equity policy. There is a gender balance and the sport is played by people across the economic spectrum. “We try to give opportunity and access to all, becauseone of the main social problems is the lack of opportunities for the lower start of society.We strongly believe that sport is a tool for development and equality and the investment has already benefited many of the players in the national team.”

The development of hockey in Guatemala was given a boost in 2012 when the Association was recognised by the Sports Confederation of Guatemala. This meant the sport could access funds, which in turn meant entry into international events, the implementation of development programmes and wider promotion of the sport.

In addition, since 2006, the Guatemalan Olympic Committee, with the technical support of the PAHF, has supported coach, umpire and judging courses and provided funding to pay for travel and coaching expenses for the national teams. Currently five Guatemalan coaches have been funded to go on training courses run by FIH and they are now all working as head coaches within the national team structure. Pablo explains that a lack of a pitch or even a hockey base for the national team has caused problems: “It is not easy to have high level coaches because you have to send them to other countries, which costs time and money. To do the necessary training for top level coaching in Guatemala, without an official pitch limits the progress.”

But the advent of a new pitch heralds a new era and Reyes explains the Association’s growth strategy: “As President, I understand that hockey can’t grow in the way we want if wecontinue just playing locally. We have to have an "international agenda" to show the Sports Confederation of Guatemalaand Guatemalan Olympic Committee that we were a serious team sport.”

Even before the promise of a pitch, things were heading in the right direction. Since 2012, both the men’s and women’s team have a world ranking (59 and 67 respectively); they both competed for the first time in the Caribbean Games and the Central American Games –where the men took first place and the women second.

The next step in the development plan is to build a Hockey Academy where the elite and promising players can train and play. This, Reyes believes, will help the sport filter down and become more sustainable.

For the future, there are short and long-term objectives. Both the men and women will play in Hockey World League Round One and later in the year they will compete in the third Central American Indoor Hockey Championship–an event where Reyes expects both teams to shine.

The big target is the 2017 Central American Games in Managua. hockey is included in the programme for the first time and Reyes has high hopes that Guatemala will be the first name on the honours board.

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