As we approach the start of the Hockey World Cup in July this year, I am getting very excited. The World Cup is the pinnacle of athletic achievement. The best players from the best nations that play hockey get together to stake a claim on achievement, memories and pride. I will be covering the event for The Hockey Family, but I will also be attending a handful games as a ticketed fan. I cannot wait to see the best players that our sport has to offer and to observe and analyse modern tactical systems.
The essence of the World Cup, as a spectacle, is just that… The opportunity to watch and enjoy
all that is that humankind has to offer in terms of the fulfilment of it’s sporting potential. Having spent a large part of my hockey playing and coaching careers in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, I wonder two things; how broad the pool of British players is and how inclusive our sport is? Has the game included as many people as is is possible?
In Edinburgh all the clubs are based in two or three areas of the city. I played for Waverly Inveresk Trinity Hockey Club (WIT HC), based in the north east of the city. Within a two mile, middle class, radius there were four other clubs in addition to us. This made travelling for games quite easy, as I lived in the Trinity area, but for people who lived in other boroughs and areas of the city, they were less able to gain access to organised clubs, or even hockey at a grassroots level. We have also seen a change in men’s hockey at the lower levels, with some of the bigger clubs, such as Grange, fielding more teams than they did a few years ago and smaller clubs having a reduction in players.
My previous club WIT HC had four men’s teams when I started out with them and have recently
decided not to field any men’s teams at all, suggesting that there are too many teams in too small an area, and arguably not enough in the wider context of the region.
I don’t think that hockey is doing enough to include as many people as it can. If we were to look at the sport of football for example there would be teams and clubs in every corner of every city, town and village in the UK. Professional and semi-professional clubs, with their community outreach programmes, amateur clubs, with their grassroots teams, 5-a-side and 7-a-side leagues providing easy access to the small sided variations of the game that are easier to organise than the 11-aside equivalents. Due to a lack of facilities, a lack of professionalism, knowledge and ambition as well as a lack of foresight, hockey is missing out on a great amount of talent that comes with including a broad spectrum of people… This has a knock on effect on how many players are able to reach the top of the game.
There are three requirements that are necessary for a new player to take up the game and to then
find success within it:
1. To gain access to resources and facilities
2. To have the opportunity to progress within a club setting in the local area
3. To receive quality coaching
Without these three conditions players will find it difficult to take up hockey. In Edinburgh, for example, many clubs are clustered near each other in middle class areas, precluding many people from poorer areas of the city. Families for whom a financial budget is tight, playing hockey may be out of reach. The need to buy a hockey stick, mouth guard, shin pads, trainers, club kit and membership is most likely to be off putting for those from a low income situation. To then ask these people to spend additional costs on travelling not only across the city to training and home games, but further afield to away games and tournaments will be all to much from a financial point of view, especially if it is already easier to play football, for example, in a player’s local area. Access to the sport is paramount in gaining an increased interest in hockey in the first place. There is a responsibility for local councils to provide access to multi-sports facilities, but also a gap in the market for private businesses to make some money from a sport that is underdeveloped in certain areas. Whenever I have coached taster sessions for hockey, they have seemed popular with young participants. The interest is definitely there to be tapped into, if people are given access to local facilities and hockey equipment on a loan basis.
National Governing Bodies should also be looking to help set teams and clubs up within the wider
communities, even if it’s starting off with indoor teams initially. There is potential for small sided indoor teams to be created at venues that perhaps don’t have an appropriate astroturf for the time being, but do have a sports hall that can be used for the 6-a-side version of hockey. Much like 5-aside football, this is easier to organise than the full 11-a-side game, due to the lower number of participants involved and can be used to generate new interest in the sport and to increase membership within an untapped region, or borough. If these clubs can access equipment, such as sticks and so forth, either through funding, or donations to begin with then those from low income situations and/or wanting to try the sport before making a financial investment then they will be able to get involved with greater ease.
In the UK, I think that we have a peculiar relationship with grassroots sports coaching. The sports education of our youth players is arguably the most important stage of their development, but it is one of the most undervalued in terms of financial investment. Many clubs are unable to pay their youth team coaches, meaning the they are forced to ask for volunteers and parent helpers to guide the beginning of our children’s journey into hockey. As beneficial as this can be and there is a lot of knowledge out there, I fancy that there is a more productive alternative. By moving towards professionalism, or even securing funding for community projects, hockey will be able to hire full and part time youth coaches who are able to better develop the players out here, as well as further develop relations within the local area, such as we have seen in football. This will increase the participation rates within the sport itself, improve standards of play, as well as have a greater impact on wider society.
Hockey is a great game that can be played by men and women, boys and girls of all ages. If given
the opportunity people will participate. It comes down to how well we are able to make the sport
accessible. If we can get more people playing this can only have a positive effect on the national