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June 23, 2015 — Locke’s departure could portend a term of uncertainty for field hockey

It was announced late last evening that Steven Locke, who was hired as the executive director of USA Field Hockey in January 2010, has departed the post. A statement on USA Field Hockey’s website intimated that the departure was not voluntary.

“We feel a change in leadership is necessary at this time to achieve the high level goals and new challenges that we have for USA Field Hockey,” said Shawn Hindy, the former U.S. international and head coach of Lehighton (Pa.) who is now the chairman of the Board of Directors.

Rumors of a non-renewal of Locke’s contract have been spreading for months, and now that he has departed, it could be the start of an uncomfortable period of uncertainty for the sport just as the U.S. women’s team is on the cusp of qualifying for the Rio Olympics.

Locke, who built a professional resume working with other national governing bodies such as USA Water Ski and USA Triathlon, was able to make some noticeable gains as the executive director of USA Field Hockey. The budget of the organization rose from $6 million to $9 million, even as allotments from the U.S. Olympic Committee have been on a downward trend over the years.

He also helped to spearhead the development of the Home of Hockey, a concept borrowed from other countries to have a national stadium for international matches and high-performance events. That facility, Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, Pa., is a repurposed aluminum distribution center and is an impressive achievement.

In addition, under Locke, the club field hockey system was put under a regulatory system for the first time. Players must declare affiliation to only one field hockey club for a calendar year, and clubs cannot shift rosters within a competition in case a certain player is on a non-qualifying team.

Locke was a genial personality who, in contrast with his predecessors, was very open about the workings of USA Field Hockey. He wrote a weekly Executive Director’s blog. He solicited input from open forums held during national events. He even took your Founder’s phone call the day that the National Federation voted to mandate eyewear on high-school players.

It must be said that Locke had his detractors. The minutes of many USA Field Hockey executive committee meetings in recent months have shown large swaths of meetings being conducted in “executive session,” which means that the matters discussed are not disclosed in the minutes. This went against his attempts at making the workings of the organization more transparent.

Too, Locke was also blamed for the strategic move to reallocate monetary and coaching resources from the men’s national team to the women’s national team in the months leading to the 2012 Olympics. In essence, that shut down the men’s national team before it was even able to participate in the last-chance qualifier in India in February of that year.

And as much as the U.S. men’s national team was featured in a Web and social-media campaign called “No Days Off,” detailing the dedication of the players on the roster, the team’s results did not improve, failing to qualify for the World League semifinals the last two cycles. The women, on the other hand, have improved, finishing fourth at the 2014 FIH World Cup after finishing 12th and last at the 2012 Olympics.

But I think Locke’s most discouraging shortcoming was his inability to shift the Sisyphian boulder that is the issue of diversity in field hockey. Indeed, the problem may have become even worse in his five-plus years at the helm.

The You Go Girl and Turf Tykes programs were supposed to try to expose the sport to non-traditional areas of the country, to minorities, and to males. But it’s unknown exactly how many boys and minorities have kept with the sport after exposure. Without these metrics, it is not possible to gauge their success or failure, or even to figure out ways to improve the curriculum.

At the same time, because of the institution of a myriad of tournaments during the summer, the sport, under Locke’s watch, has become too expensive for the average family to afford. Parents looking to get their kids seen by the right selectors for either national teams or colleges have been known to spend more than they would have received even with a full athletic scholarship for four years to a Division I university.

The myriad of events has led to a competition between USA Field Hockey and the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association for not only coaching eyeballs, but field hockey clubs. The NFHCA held its first event in Bel Air, Md. in April, and will be holding another one in Florida in early January.

It is this atmosphere in which a new Executive Director is expected to try to grow and expand the sport. How the new director handles the structure and exposure of the sport, I think, is a lot more important than financials or even whether the U.S. is able to medal at the Olympics.

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