• Spirit of Hockey

Dawn Bonner’s Umpiring Journey - Proving Failure Leads To Success

Dawn Bonner and other hockey umpires

For Dawn Bonner, hockey has quite literally encompassed her entire life.

From first picking up a stick aged just three to being an umpire manager at international competitions, the sport has taken Dawn on a journey she could never have expected.

One of the first non-white women to become a Level 3 Umpire Coach in England, she is proud of everything she has achieved in her career so far and is grateful to hockey for everything it has allowed her to accomplish.

“It’s fair to say that I have always been treated fairly in my hockey career as a person of colour and I have created some life-long friendships,” Dawn said.

“I have been inspired by a number of my colleagues over the years but Liz Pelling is the one person I admire most because she and I were never National League umpires like a lot of umpire managers but we worked hard and I followed her lead to be the best I could be and I made it.”

It’s not been entirely plain sailing for Dawn though and she has had to overcome some setbacks along the way. But her passion and spirit for the game has remained unwavering and led to her becoming a hugely respected individual within the game.

A keen school player, Dawn joined Ealing HC aged 15 as a forward and went on to captain the women’s 3rd XI while also representing Bedfordshire too.

A few years later, Dawn was encouraged to try umpiring for the first time and has not looked back since. While she didn’t enjoy the smoothest of starts to her umpiring career, she loved the opportunity and continued to officiate alongside playing until told she was good enough to take it to a higher level if she wanted to.

Dawn said: “I first picked up a whistle when I was 26 and took my Level 1 assessment three times! I was determined to succeed. And I did so under the gloomy lights at a pitch in Feltham. 

“I continued to play as well as umpire until someone in the umpiring community said ‘you could make a really good umpire if you wanted to.’ I thought they could be right because I definitely wasn’t going to get any better as a player!”

In 1991, Dawn achieved her Level 2 badge before spending 15 years umpiring across the south of England ‘until I decided that I wanted to give back to my sport and started to coach’.

Having worked her way through the ranks, by 2008 she was set to take her assessment to try and qualify as a Level 3 Coach Umpire. And despite a difficult start to the weekend, she did just that and became one of the first non-white people to achieve the qualification.

Recalling it, she said: “My assessment was at an U18 tournament at Beeston HC. It was a weekend tournament and it’s fair to say my first day was not my best - the Umpire Coach Assessor James O’Hara [an ex-FIH Umpire) told me so and gave me the kick I needed to do better. After all, if I was not better on day two, I was not going to pass. 

“I am pleased to say that I performed better than I imagined and I passed my award. To say I was proud is an understatement.”

There has been no stopping Dawn since then either. She joined the NPUA shortly after and has been an umpire manager across the England Hockey National League for 12 years now, being named the Umpire Support Of The Year last season. In addition, she also hold several roles across a number of committees.

And the list doesn’t end there for Dawn either. In 2014, she was accepted as a Trainee FIH Umpire Manager and undertook her first tournament in Austria later that year. Since then she has umpired at European Hockey Federation (EHF) events every year and was appointed as an assistant umpire manager at the World Masters Championships this year, only for the tournament to be postponed and eventually cancelled due to Covid-19.

In spite of the setbacks, Dawn has certainly experienced plenty of success in her career so far and looks set to achieve much more in the coming years.

She is a shining light for so many and wants to encourage as many people as possible to let nothing hold them back and follow in her footsteps.

“What would I say to a youngster? Follow your dreams, work hard and the rewards are there. Failure is part of your learning and I have had some hiccups along the way but overcome them. You can succeed if you believe!”

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