Finally, the finals.
I was up very early in order to reserve the first match of the day, so I made sure to get back to the hotel as soon as I could to rest before lunch and then have a nap to get ready for the bronze medal game between Wales and France.
At this point in the tournament, everybody's pretty tired. Players, coaches, umpires, officials... we're all there, and this afternoon it showed a bit. It was a wee bit hot (surprise!) but we all fought through it and put on a good match. I still think I had my strongest match of the tournament in game 3, but today I felt solid and confident.
My tournament report was very positive and other than my first game, I executed my game plan fairly well. The main points that came out of my briefing were the following:
Most of all, I'm very fortunate to have had this opportunity to umpire some excellent hockey in a very new environment right before the biggest tournament of my career coming up in Boston. These are great coaching points that I'll review before my first match at the Junior World Cup and I look forward to continuing to improve throughout that tournament as well.
I was delighted to have been appointed to one of the semi-finals for the tournament, knowing that these were two of the most important matches going since they would determine the two teams being promoted to the European Championship next year (formerly known as the A Division).
The game was really enjoyable again, even if I had to work hard to keep myself from matching the emotional levels of the two teams. I felt myself slipping a couple of times - an extra signal here, running a bit more than necessary there - but all in all, it much closer to “Joe Cool” than “Crazy Canuck” so mission accomplished.
The game itself was really exciting, going into extra time where Italy scored on a PC in my end. Unfortunately, the having to go into extra time and having the matches going a bit later than usual because of the additional time needed in between the matches, we didn’t sit down for dinner until almost midnight. Finals Day is going to come very, very quickly!
So this is more a quick note to explain where the last several days have gone from a blogging perspective. My goal was to try to write most every day and stay on top of the happenings, which would provide a less refined (if that's the right word) perspective on my daily experiences at an international tournament. Clearly, we can label this as EPIC FAIL since I've yet to cover Day 6, and today (the final day) is Day 11.
What I've found out is that, not all that surprisingly, writing takes a good deal of concentration from me. When I'm blogging about the tournament, I'm then concentrating on my umpiring in a very meta- way. Once we got started, the games came fast and furious as today will be my 5th game in 7 days, and I've also reserved 4 matches in there also. Combine that with late nights and oppressive heat and I've simply needed to switch my brain off.
So during the time I've had off in the days, I've either been trying to catch up on sleep or reading semi-smutty vampire fiction on my iPhone. (And yeah, my selection of literature is somewhat less than highbrow. But that's why it's called escapism.) I've always been the type to get very immersed in my books but this is probably the first time I've used it to help me cope with the mental exhaustion and pressures of a tournament, and I'm very glad for the rest reading provides. It's hard to get me to stop thinking about umpiring, but it's been very necessary.
The good news is that tomorrow, I have a free day in Rome. I'm going to tour around a bit, do a little shopping, do a little reading at some cute little café, and spend the later evening getting caught up on the writing before I head off to Boston and another adventure.
Tonight I have the bronze medal game, but for now I've got about an hour to find out if the vampires and werewolves go to war or love conquers all monsters. Onwards!
Ah, the rest day. Having a physical day off like I did on day 7 is good, but having a mental day off where you don’t have to umpire, analyze or watch hockey is even better. Today we broke off into smaller groups of people who were interested in doing similar things. I headed into town with Dino and Claire on the 360 bus, and we took a gentle walk from Termini station to the Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi and Piazza Navona. We had a little pizza, a little coffee (well, not me because I don’t drink the stuff but the other girls did), did a little bit of shopping and tried not to walk too much in the stifling heat. Unfortunately, once we got back to the Termini our bus took well more than 30 minutes to arrive so after waiting that long, we just gave up and got into a cab.
That night was the gala event hosted by the Italian federation. As tired as I was from the long day sightseeing, I love a good tournament dinner. Seeing all the girls done up in glad rags, the inevitable explosion of picture-taking and just getting out of our usual “official” mode is a real treat. We took a long but scenic bus ride down to the sea side to a restaurant on the beach called Blu. We were encouraged to watch for a fantastic sunset but unfortunately the clouds obscured much of what would have been a spectacular sight. We were treated to an amazing meal, complete with 3 appetizers, 2 first course dishes, and second course and a dessert (which we couldn’t stay for as our chariot turned into a pumpkin at midnight and we needed our ball gowns to umpire in early the next morning). Most of the dishes involved seafood and it was served in true Italian style - slowly. Three hours without even getting to dessert is unheard of in my part of the world, but I will give them that it allows you to enjoy a nice variety of different tastes in small quantities. It was tremendous and we had a lovely time - even if Tatyana had a little nap while sitting at the table!
Today, my good friend Dino and I had the Ukraine v Belgium match. Even starting at 11:15 in the morning doesn’t help to alleviate the oppressive heat. I had a good laugh before the starting whistle as Dino was standing in what was definitely the only shade available on the pitch - a shadow offered by one of the lighting stanchions.
I was really happy about this game, which was a critical one for the standings. Much to my relief, I was actually able to relax in my new relaxed presence, rather than moving stiffly about the pitch. It’s always fun to work to someone you know well and know what to expect from them, and that seemed to be the little push I needed to really get into the groove. I felt like my accuracy level was solid, and the management steps Dino and I made kept the game right where we wanted it - a good and fair (if a bit sluggish) contest.
Now, that's the stuff! I want to keep this standard for any of the remaining games I get.
Morning came quickly on the second day of matches, as I didn’t sleep well the night before. I was trying to get my head around what had happened, why, and what techniques I was going to use in my second match to stop it from happening again. I was appointed to Ukraine v Lithuania with my roommate from Belgium, Céline.
Techniques for breaking habits tend to be in short supply and you can stumble for a long time before you find something that works for you. I drew on my experience from a few years ago when I having trouble looking for assistance from my supporting colleague when action was in or around my circle but I may have been unsighted from a foul. In fact, I was umpiring the U21 European Championships in Dublin and I had missed a couple of opportunities to get help in my first couple of matches and wanted to get the problem fixed. I don’t remember what my inspiration was at the time, but I decided to write the word “LOOK” in big letters on the back of my left hand beside my watch. That way, whenever I checked the time of the match the concept would be more fresh in my mind.
In hindsight, it makes sense: I’m a “written” person. I have always learned and synthesized information through the process of writing. In school, copying pertinent parts of a text was all I needed to memorize them. In law school, writing those case briefs helped my mind sort, digest and understand difficult concepts. Now, I write about umpiring in this blog and on sites like FHF as much to help myself “get it” as to share that information with others.
So, literally writing down a word that I want to hold as a key concept in my mind during a match is a great solution for me. It’s not so much that I’ll see the word during the match, but for some reason, the tactile experience of writing on my hand immediately before we get started (sometimes I’ll trace the letters again as the teams do their 17th huddle prior to the centre pass to make it really fresh) is all I need to break the old habit and push the new one to the forefront.
So today, I wrote the word “SLOW” on my palm and the back of my hand. I chose it because I needed to slow everything down: my running, my signals, my whistle and my speech.
What do you know? It worked.
Now, I’m not going to lie. That game felt a lot like pulling out my own fingernails, I was so tense and focused on relaxing (what an oxymoron there!) that I couldn’t enjoy the game. It had nothing to do with the teams, and in fact it was an interesting game for me from the point of view that it was the first time I’d done two Eastern European teams and when their styles match up on both sides of the ball, it makes for a fascinating type of hockey. However, I was putting everything I had into not putting everything I had into the match and trying to break a difficult habit - that being my style or personality on the pitch - I didn’t have much cognitive energy for anything else.
Goal achieved. Louise reported that I looked like “Joe Cool” out there (I hope he’s at least good looking with a silly name like that) and that I’d managed pretty much a 180° switch in my presentation. As always, there were a few things I needed to consider for my next game - being a bit braver in my advantage and getting into the circle a bit more quickly (maybe “SLOW” wasn’t the best choice?) - but I got it done.
Onwards and upwards!