A team host’s world

The hockey job few know about

22.06.2013
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Chapin Landvogt (right) was recently the team host of the United States’ national inline hockey team at the 2013 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship in Dresden, Germany. Photo: Martin Merk

HAMBURG – When you grow up playing sports like ice and inline hockey, with participants from either of the disciplines usually participating in both along the way, there are a number of dreams most players have and play out in their minds on numerous occasions.

One of the most common almost always involves scoring a gold medal game-winning goal for your country at a major international event like the Olympics or a World Championship.

As we all know, probably a good bit more than 99% of us hockey-crazy dreamers will never see this dream come true. Making one’s way to his or her respective national team is something hardly one of us will ever achieve and to be honest, even finding yourself playing professional hockey at any given level whatsoever is something generally few participants of the sport worldwide ever see become a reality.

Nonetheless, there are a number of hockey jobs behind the scenes that are vital and necessary for any league or event. Surely one of the most interesting of many volunteer opportunities is serving as a so-called Team Host at international tournaments – and it’s a hockey job that few people seem to know about. Fortunately for me, it’s something I’ve had the honour of doing in conjunction with the German Ice Hockey Association on several occasions in recent years during IIHF tournaments.

To be clear, any national ice hockey association generally has a pool of people it regularly considers in deciding who it will select to host a team at an international event. Each association may even have a different approach on what duties the position will actually be responsible for.

The selection process begins with an association simply approaching people it knows and trusts, for one cannot forget that a team host is more or less a diplomat for the respective host organization, and the expected décor will always play a role.

To my knowledge, it is rarely the case that a position of this nature is advertised in some form of a public job announcement. If an association cannot fill all of the respective team host positions on its own accord, i.e. by exercising a good dose of ‘vitamin c’, it will more likely than not pass the word through the grapevine amongst those contacts who it feels can most likely recommend the right person for the job.

The key requirement for being taken into consideration is undoubtedly the ability to speak not only the language of a tournament’s host, usually as a native speaker, but to also be at least fluent in English, if not optimally also in the language of the country being hosted.

For some countries, being fluent in their native language is an absolute must in order to work with them. A few others expect little more than a host with whom they can adequately communicate in English.

One way or another, communication is key. If you cannot understand pretty much everything the nation you’re hosting needs to tell you, which is going to end up being a lot in the course of a tournament, then you have no business accepting this position if it should somehow land on your doorstep.

Once an association has decided to employ you for a tournament, it’s not long before the work begins in opening dialog with your nation’s respective general manager. Many things have to be clarified in advance and these always include no less than determining arrival and departure dates and moving on to hotel accommodations, rosters, meal-related concerns, special needs, equipment, etc. and then answering a variety of preparatory questions the respective country may have.

The hosting organizing committee will always have a certain set of guidelines or some general hotel and arena-related information that the hosts are expected to clear up with their respective teams in advance.

There’s a lot of mail traffic and new info is coming in all the time, especially in the week before the tournament begins. No matter how often or heavy your contact partner chooses to keep the line of dialog open, you’re naturally expected to keep abreast of everything and take care of it as soon as possible. This is often vital in assuring that things such as flight bookings can be done in a timely manner.

Now, the job has a number demanding moments, but the cold hard truth is that many of them come right on the first two days of any given tournament. These are the days when not only the hosts themselves often arrive at the respective event grounds and need to get situated, but also find themselves at airports or elsewhere to meet with their respective team, bring it to the rink, get everyone accredited and then get the team checked into the hotel.

Even if these activities run relatively smoothly, they are time-consuming to say the least. A lot of questions need to be answered while people have to get acquainted with each other and their new surroundings. Things need to be checked up on and protocols need to be gone through. But that’s just if things go smoothly – and truth be told, you should rarely assume that things will go smoothly.

One of the most unexpected problems that can sneak up on a team is that some of the luggage, usually the hockey bags themselves, just doesn’t arrive with the team.

Equipment can take up a lot of space in the storage area of a plane and, depending on its size, it’s not uncommon that an airline will choose to send some of the luggage with a later flight.

Unfortunately, this can prove to be a tedious endeavor if that airline is dealing with a number of teams arriving on the same day, as a problem of this nature then tends to rear its ugly head repeatedly. I have experienced it and it can end up changing a team’s plan and preparation considerably.

Luggage can then sometimes take up two to three days to finally arrive. Getting shipped to somewhere else in the world entirely is unfortunately not out of the question as well. This can lead to cancelled practices, equipment being borrowed from a number of sources or even to the complete new purchase of equipment right from the tournament organizers or some local shops.

No sooner are issues like these taken care of, a team host then finds himself/herself sitting down with the team’s manager to situate how things will be running on a daily basis, which includes wake-up times, meal times, practice times, travel to and from a number of places (no less than the rink), arranging pick-ups for friends and family, arranging tickets at will-call and at times, organizing certain trips or activities that teams would like to make or participate in.

This information then needs to be shared with the hotel, organizing committee, travel service, ticket office and rink management. They tend to change on a daily basis as well, as the teams rarely play their games at the same time every day. In addition, the teams will likely always want to have one of their team meals at a restaurant or do something involved with team building, which can often include a night of bowling or playing sports like volleyball, maybe going mini-golfing, or just taking a trip to a museum, amusement park or perhaps a town worth visiting in order to do a little sightseeing. The organization of these things – and often making them possible whatsoever – usually needs to be assumed at least to some extent by the team host.

Once the daily activities pick up, you tend to get into a rhythm and find yourself accompanying the team for just about everything, including practices and meals. Whenever the team or its players need something, you need to be there to organize it or at least communicate it to those who can take of their needs.

A team host is usually provided with a phone or a telephone card for the duration of the tournament and it becomes a trusted companion that is more or less glued to his or her hip, so to speak. As you’ve probably gathered, a team host usually also lives in the same hotel during the tournaments, most often on the same floor as the respective team.

Once game time swings around, team hosts will find themselves with a number of duties, which can include ensuring that the team has enough ice, water, towels and other amenities as well as making sure that the respective paper work is completed, is certain which bench it’s going to be using, and that the team hits the ice or courts on time, often choreographed in conjunction with a television broadcast.

Sometimes this will call for some pretty strict minute-for-minute timelines, but even if the tournament is not being televised, teams at any and every tournament need to be informed about how much time it has until warm-ups or a period is about to begin.

The host will then hang out in the general vicinity of a team’s bench in case anything is needed during the game, something that can require the host to go to the locker room or elsewhere in the arena to quickly collect or take care of it.

Often, the host will need to assist the team’s doctor or equipment manager at any given time during a game. Sometimes, the teams will even need the host to work one of the doors on the bench for line changes. After a game, there can be a number of little tasks to take care of until the team has showered up and is ready to head back to the hotel.

 As one can imagine, there are a lot of real nice aspects to working as a team host. First and foremost are the people one meets, from the volunteers and various drivers to the tournament’s organizing committees to the fans, refs and journalists and right on up to the management, players and families of the teams themselves.

There are a lot of great and special people out there in the world of ice and inline hockey and there may be no better way to see and come into contact with them than through being a team host. If you grow up as a hockey fan or if you are truly someone who follows the world of hockey as a scene, then getting to know the players is nothing short of amazing.

My experience to this point is that most all of them come to know and treat you as part of the extended family in some capacity, but ultimately you simply get to know some better than others. With just about every team you work with, you’ll find a few with whom you’ll even continue to maintain contact with beyond the tournament, but you’ll always remember and follow all of them in their various career paths. This goes for pretty much the entire coaching and management staff as well.

Another great aspect is that as part of the extended team, you tend to be included in the respective wardrobe planning, meaning the team will provide you with some of its country paraphernalia, which you’ll then wear during and, trust me, even long after the tournament. Caps, pins, T-shirts, polo shirts, team warm-up clothing – it all often comes with the territory.

Depending on the time of year and location, there can be a winter or spring jacket and a scarf to keep you ready for the elements. When all is said and done, the players and equipment managers will often look to shed some weight in light of the approaching return trip. It’s not uncommon that a few sticks and/or some old equipment can be had. With any luck, the team may even present you with one of its team jerseys – a gift that truly keeps on giving.

I’ve always enjoyed all these wonderful perks and continue to proudly make use of them to this day, but no tournament has run so smoothly, that some extracurricular problem hasn’t popped up in one form or another.

You’d be surprised at what kind of issues mosey on into the fray. Naturally, almost no tournament takes place without a player or two having to go to the hospital due to injury. A team host always needs to tag along in order to interpret, if necessary, or at least talk with the nurses and doctors. That host may also need to pass along important info to the team’s doctor and management.

Then you have less conventional problems, like the international bank cards of players being eaten by ATM machines, if not just downright getting lost somewhere along the way.

Sometimes people can’t find where they parked their cars or aren’t certain about where or how to buy a ticket for the local subway or buses. Some get confused with the layout of a hotel or rink.

If things go really bad, someone gets lost. They might do so while sightseeing or shopping or during a team’s activities on a free evening, so you may have to search for them or go meet them where they are in order to get them back to where they should be.

Some even want certain products, but don’t know where to get them. You can imagine who they ask first.

All of these aspects ultimately find their conclusion at the end of a tournament and this is a point in time where the team host becomes particularly important. Arrangements have to be made with respect to checking out of the hotel, the trip home and – very important – how things will go down with respect to transporting equipment.

It can get hectic and some airlines quite frankly are not particularly adequate in dealing with teams with lots oversized equipment. They’ll sometimes ask the teams to wait in lines just like all the other passengers, which makes things more difficult for everyone – airline personnel included.

What can even top this problem off is the fact that most teams will spend their last evening at a tournament going out for a night on the town, which means they’re not exactly as fit as they could be on the day of departure. This can go to complicating what is already a hectic last day on duty. Once all is said and done, the departure usually includes a few nice words and a round of handshakes before everyone goes their separate ways.

For my part, each and every tournament I’ve participated in has been a life-enhancing experience. I have many great memories from all of them and there are the little connections and friendships that you do ultimately maintain long thereafter. Along the way, you find yourself automatically following and rooting for the people you’ve worked with.

It’s not a job for everyone and it’s not the type of job you can just go apply for, but if the opportunity comes along, it can only go towards making your life as a fan of the sport – and as a human being – all that much better.

CHAPIN LANDVOGT

Born in New York and living in Hamburg, Chapin Landvogt was most recently a team host for Team USA this month at the 2013 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship in Dresden, Germany.


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