The volunteers at this summer's FIH Vitality Womens Hockey World Cup in London were vital. As the mens event starts we spoke to Cara di Leo from the Ball Patrol
All international events and domestic finals in hockey rely on volunteers to make them happen. These are the people who make hockey happen at club, county, regional and national level. Here we spoke with Cara di Leo, having her first Hockey Maker (volunteer) experience at the FIH Vitality World Cup in London this summer. The Ball Patrol are deployed pitchside to ensure there is non-stop action. It's an intense, highly demanding role and many in the game say that England and Great Britain are consistently delivering the best ball patrol in world hockey!
How did you end up ball patrolling?
This wonderful journey started with me scrolling through my Facebook. England Hockey said they were looking for U18s to ball patrol for the Women’s World Cup coming to London that summer. It intrigued me, so I read the post further, realising I fitted the description of what they were looking for. I sent in my application not believing anything would come of it but took my chances. I’m glad I checked my Facebook on that day!
What sort of training did you have to do?
Once through the application process was a trial match. This was the first training and it was actually the league play offs! You were briefed on how to ball patrol then had 2 games to prove you had what it takes. These games were a steep learning curve as the players under pressure and impatient with you. Next I had to ball patrol a friendly between England and Germany. This involved another great learning curve, as it taught me I could not be starstruck when players such as Maddie Hinch (World Number 1 Goalkeeper) or Alex Danson (England & Great Britain Captain) walked past me as I had a job to do. It also meant you could practice ball patrolling without a full stand of spectators behind you. Other than this, we were sent a handbook we had to study and were frequently given pointers throughout the event itself, so we could be the best we could possibly be.
What was the hardest part of being in Ball Patrol?
Honestly? Not joining in the chants. Me and the ball patrol who weren’t on shift often watched the games from the stands and when the ‘boom boom boom, let me hear you say wayo’ came on you can trust we were the loudest chanters! On the pitch, we had to stay very neutral, not joining in the we will rock you or YMCA and at times this could be very hard.
What was the best memory you took away?
I have so many great memories to take away with me, I could fill this whole page. One of the best must be waiting in the tunnel to carry out the gold medal flag. Being the gold medal flag holder, I got to see all 3 teams waiting in the tunnel to walk out. I have never heard a hockey team make so much noise in my life! Spain were the first team to line up. I don’t know what I was expecting, possibly for them to wait calmly to walk out? Boy, did I get a fright when they started chanting and singing at the top of their voices, banging their hands and feet against the wall leading out. They were utterly thrilled to win the bronze medal and their utter joy was very infectious. I’m surprised you couldn’t hear them from the pitch! Next came Ireland, who had just battled through a tough gold medal match, but you couldn’t tell with the energy they filled that corridor. They definitely tried to match Spain with as much noise as they could muster. Finally came Holland, though I couldn’t share their joy as much as I had to make sure I didn’t miss my cue!
Did you learn anything from what you saw on the pitch?
The biggest lesson I learnt from my experience, I learnt from the Irish hockey team. They hadn’t played in a World Cup since 2002 where they finished 15th. When people spoke about who they thought would place in the world cup, Ireland’s name was rarely mentioned and yet for every match they faced on the pitch, they brought grit and determination. They didn’t give up and I really admired that and have learnt a lot from it. They won silver in the end which was just outstanding.
Can you hear the crowds on the pitch or is it just white noise?
So, at Lee Valley the west stand was extended to fit more people during the World Cup. I remember I ball patrolled in front of this stand for my first England game (where the stand was full) and the noise that hits you is immense. When England got the ball, the noise became deafening; it was quite amazing.
What was the team around you like?
I was surrounded by the best team. My fellow ball patrol were some of the most fun people. You would spend a lot time with these people, between games or watching games and we would always have a great laugh. I was staying in London for the 2-week duration of the event and met many of the ‘Hockey makers’ as well. They all had such interesting jobs within the event they were all great to chat to. We were all experiencing such amazing things, that is was fantastic to share this with such great people
Did you do anything else at the event?
What makes this kind of event possible is a big group of amazing volunteers called ‘the hockey makers’. They do so many different things from managing the teams, checking tickets, managing the field of play, running the fan central, to giving directions to anyone who needs them. This is just a few of the many jobs they do. I was lucky enough on my days off from ball patrolling to get a taste of being a hockey maker in the other roles. It gave me an insight in to all the different things that happen to make the event possible.
Did you ever get a bit over awed by meeting anyone at the event?
Simon Mason, Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh all came down from the BT Sport studio to say hello and pose for photographs with us which was amazing. To meet three of the most important people in British hockey was very cool! (Simon is arguably one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the game, as well as a former president of England Hockey. Kate and Helen are Olympic gold medalists as well as captain & vice captain of Great Britain and England for many years).
(Kate Richardson-Walsh, Simon Mason and Helen Richardson-Walsh meet the Ball Patrol)
Would you do it again?
In a heartbeat. It was one of the best experiences of my life. There are few opportunities in your life you get front row access to watch your favourite sport and speak pure hockey to anyone you encounter. I honestly loved it.
If you are interested in volunteering there are always opportunities at your local clubs, county and regional associations. Alternatively sign up for opportunities via the national governing body websites: England Hockey, Scottish Hockey and Welsh Hockey.