When 15,000 people chant your name, when your face appears on billboards around your home city and when your team coach is mobbed by adoring fans, you truly know that you are an icon or a role model. This happens regularly to some of the male soccer, basketball and American football players – think Messi, LeBron James and Jameis Winston, but increasingly our female hockey stars are also proving to be crowd-stoppers in their own right.

In The Hague for the 2014 Hockey World Cup, the stadium was as packed for the women’s matches as it was for the men’s games and when the home nation took to the turf, it was the likes of Maartje Paumen, Ellen Hoog and Naomi van As who were clearly stars of the show. And six months later at the 2014 Champions Trophy in Mendoza, Argentina, it was hockey that was hitting the headlines and one player’s name in particular was on everyone’s lips.

Luciana Aymar has recently been revealed as one of the top five most marketable female athletes, ahead of tennis legend Steffi Graf and snapping on the heels of Venus Williams. To see one of our hockey stars leading the way on the global stage is welcome news in a world where women’s sport so often gets over-shadowed by men’s. And one of the most wonderful things about hockey is that it is a gender-neutral sport. Across the globe it is equally accessible to men and women, boys and girls; television and press coverage is of equal time and standard; and the athletes receive equal coverage regardless of gender. In the game of hockey, it is all about merit.

However, there are occasions when focus shifts one way or the other, and this article unashamedly celebrates the female athletes in our game. International Women’s Day is all about celebrating female achievements, so here, we look at some of the icons of our game and hear from some of the players about the influence such role models have had upon them.

Australian Jodie Kenny is fast becoming a Hockeyroo legend in her own right, and it is not difficult to see why the defender and drag-flick specialist counts Angie Lambert (Skirving) as her role model. A member of the so-called golden generation that won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Angie Lambert played for the Hockeyroos 229 times and is feted as one of the best defenders to have pulled on the gold and green kit. Jodie says: “She was a tall, strong defender who was a great player and drag flicker. Basically I wanted to emulate the way she played and I also respected how wonderful she was off the field.”

Meanwhile, Belgium international indoor hockey player and FIH international umpire Laurine Delforge seeks inspiration from a number of sources. Five times player of the year in Belgium, Sofie Gierts, is a constant source of inspiration and pillar of support to the up and coming umpire. Laurine says: “Sofie is so determined. She knows what she wants and she goes and gets it. But as an attacking player myself, I also really like watching Great Britain and England striker Alex Danson. I would love to have her skills.”

When it comes to umpiring, Laurine’s admiration turns to South African Marelize De Klerk. Of the veteran international umpire – who was the first female umpire to reach 200 senior internationals – she says: “You can only have respect for someone who had such a long and successful umpiring career; besides which, she has given me much precious advice on my career path.”

Team USA hot-shot Kat Sharkey paid her own tribute to the players who had gone before her. “My inspiration and role models are the members of the United States women’s national field hockey team who have come before me. Their tenacity, dedication, and hard work paved the way for the modern era of field hockey in the US. They worked hard to create a name for women’s field hockey in the US where the sport is not as popular as it is in other countries. I think that without their selfless commitment to this sport, our program would not be where it is today.”

There is no doubt that inspirational role models are essential to the future and development of our sport. The young people in the stands at international hockey matches marvel at these elite athletes and want to emulate their speed, skill and power. It is only by showcasing these great talents that hockey will continue to attract the best young sports players.

Nagai Hazuki, one of the stars of the Japanese Cherry Blossoms, sums up her source of inspiration. Her twitter home page reads: “I want to be a Luciana Aymar.” Many thousands of young aspiring hockey players agree with you Nagai!

Source material: FIH.CH

Photograph: Laurine Delforge at the EuroHockey Championships 2013 (Frank Uijlenbroek (c))