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Rebecca Woodcock Represents English Umpires At FIH Hockey Women's Junior World Cup In South Africa

England under 21 women’s team is set to compete at the FIH Junior World Cup in Potchefstroom, South Africa, from Friday, but, they aren’t the only English representation at one of the most prestigious events in the hockey calendar. 

Rebecca Woodcock, one of the country’s best female umpires, is also in action which sees the world’s top fifteen under 21 teams compete for the title of world champions.

For Woodcock, 26, it’s a first appearance at a Junior World Cup but she is no stranger to world-level events having recently umpired Japan v Korea in the final of the Asia Cup in Oman. 

We caught Woodcock to learn more about her umpiring journey, as well as her preparation for the tournament.

“I started umpiring at secondary school and took part in some junior tournaments despite being inexperienced I got some great support and coaching which helped me develop and invited me to attend the In2Hockey finals.

"I became a member of the National Young Umpiring Promising List, which gave me the chance to umpire at several national youth tournaments including Futures Cup, from there, I passed my national league assessment and now umpire most weekends in the Premier League.”

“Alongside my domestic umpiring I was appointed to junior international matches where I first got exposure to different playing styles. In 2017 I was appointed to the European u21 Nations Championship in Valencia, where I umpired the final and achieved my FIH badge.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places and work with umpires from all around the world. Those experiences are the best thing about being an umpire at this level; it’s amazing to be able to travel the world and participate in sport at an elite level.

"It’s amazing to be able to travel the world and participate in sport at an elite level. It can be really challenging coping with the pressure that comes with it, but finding a way to deliver my best performances when under that pressure is one of the most satisfying parts of the job.”

“My preparation for the FIH Hockey Women's Junior World Cup has been a little different as I was only appointed to the tournament about six weeks ago. It’s quite common to get a fairly late call up to a tournament so it's crucial to always be ready in terms of fitness, diet and physical condition. I’ve mostly been umpiring senior hockey this season, so I’ve tried to get some age group hockey in as specific preparation, including the u21 series between England and Ireland at Loughborough.”

The National Programme Umpiring Association (NPUA), in collaboration with England Hockey, is responsible for performance elements of the umpire development pathway in England. It provides coaching and support all the way from the National Young Umpire Programme through national league level and up to umpires performing at world level events. 

We spoke to NPUA’s Women’s International Coordinator Louise Knipe to hear more about the support that they provide for an umpire travelling to a tournament such as the Junior World Cup:

“A lot of the preparation for a world-level tournament is ensuring our umpires are in the best shape both physically and mentally. Bex and I met up recently to discuss her preparation for the event. 

"This is quite a long tournament and there will be some COVID restrictions, so we talked about time management and how to ensure that she’s always ready to perform at the highest possible level."

Although she’s one of the youngest members of the umpiring team in South Africa, she’ll bring a wealth of knowledge, talent and maturity to the group, and most importantly she’s got the skills and ability to umpire any game at the tournament.

We’ve also talked about the importance of being relaxed and enjoying the experience. Ultimately that’s why we do it.”

On the support she has received throughout her umpiring career, Woodcock says:

“I’m really grateful for the support I’ve had from NPUA, both in terms of formal coaching and mentoring to prepare me for domestic and international matches, but also the informal support from colleagues. As a team of umpires, we are supportive, but also push each other to achieve our individual goals.

"We really strive to improve our standards domestically, which hopefully will result in high-level performances internationally.”

If you are interested in learning more about the pathway to reaching the top level as an umpire in England, you can find more here.

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