David Sweetman began life, like most of us, as a hockey player. After being inspired to take up the game by his grandfather, he got up to a good standard at university level. A long and glamorous playing career, however, wasn’t on the cards. Somewhere along the line, he put his hand on an umpiring whistle. There was some positive feedback, one thing led to another and he later became an international standard umpire who has officiated at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Today, he is talking to me wearing a different hat; Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Hockey Union (SHU). His office of which is based at the Glasgow National Hockey Centre, a legacy facility from the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Over the course of a week, at the start of August 2019 SHU hosted the EuroHockey Championship II for women. I met up with David on the morning of Day 6, just before Scotland defeated a decent Poland team in the Semi-Finals. We started chatting about his role within the organisation and, as the CEO, a large part of his job is to manage and to drive the business side of the national governing body. This includes overseeing the strategies laid out by the board of directors and their partners and members, with the aim of helping the Scottish hockey teams be the best that they can be. During our conversation we talk about a variety of things from developing club hockey to achieving international success, from Alan Forsyth to playing with a kicking back. This is what he had to say…
David puts a large emphasis on the development of clubs. He cites that there are four Regional Development Managers (RDM), who’s roles have been supported by SportScotland. These RDMs go out within their assigned areas and look to help the local clubs grow, whether that be around facilities, or other such issues. The term ‘pathways’, does up a couple of times in our conversation. He talks about it in relation to club level and about providing routes for players to play and to be given the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential. Not only providing the linear route for players to move from junior hockey into adult hockey, but also for already existing senior players to be retained by their clubs and not to be excluded by the emerging youth players. David wants the four hockey Districts to be the strongest that they can be, because the pathways that he spoke of begins with the lower leagues that are organised by theses organisations and can help to grow the level of participation within the sport.
The membership for clubs and Scottish Hockey has grown 80% in four years, up from 2% growth previously. There are approximately 12,500 players actively involved in hockey and the success of any sport comes with having a vast and varied talent pool. He sees the RDM’s in having a strong role within this growth and can be a good link between local clubs and the national governing body.
In terms of international competition, he wants all the sides, male and female, juniors to seniors, to be in A-Grade tournaments. The men will be starting their top tier European campaign later on in August this year, whilst the women won the gold medal at the EuroHockey Championship II right here in Glasgow, winning promotion to the top competition in two years time. He has said that another target is for both genders to have top six finishes in future Commonwealth Games, as well as one of the teams to qualify for a World Cup. David tells me that it has been 20 years since the last time a Scottish international team has qualified for a World Cup, so he sees that this would be a significant achievement.
In terms of pervious competitions, the Scottish Hockey Union were ‘exceptionally disappointed that we didn’t have a Scot in Team GB, in 2016’. This can be exemplified by that Alan Forsyth, the Scottish and GB forward, was voted Players’ Player of the Year in the English first Division for 2016, but wasn’t selected to go to the Rio Olympic Games. He has since gone on to have a good Pro-League campaign this year for Great Britain and be described as ‘world class’, by David. Since 2016, the GB Elite Development Programme (EDP) has been moving forward and Scotland has ‘worked really hard to give our athletes the opportunity to show what they can do’. There are now 14 Scottish players across both genders, who are either in the EDP, or the GB senior sides, which is a record for this particular home nation. Scotland juniors teams have started playing in the Future’s Cup at Under 18 and Under 16 level in order to give the players greater exposure to good quality hockey. Looking at the players this year, the Scots have an exciting few years ahead. Emily Dark won the Young Player of the Tournament at the EuroHockey Championship II and Amy Gibson even got the Goalkeeper of the Tournament, adding some added niceties to the gold medal podium finish.
David agrees with the rule change regarding kicking backs. As an umpire it makes things easier for him as he no longer has to work hard to see which outfield player is allowed to kick the ball when they are all wearing the same coloured socks. Primarily, though, he seems to think that it is the logical step considering how the players with goalkeeping privileges were being deployed. The incidents of certain individuals throwing themselves towards the ball, without protection can be of a concern. However, he does wonder how it will affect the practicalities for players within game situations. He talks about the potential of having five (non goalkeeping) players defending a short corner, with very little protective equipment available. Therefore, for him there seems to be a dilemma here over player safety. A note of interest that he added, was that indoor hockey has kept the kicking back rule, something which he sees as an important tactical element of the short hand version of the game and wondered aloud if this would stay the same for much longer.
In terms of having quarters, the Scottish Hockey top divisions will be going to four periods of 17.5 minutes. This is because the elite club sides are wanting to mirror what is happening at A-Grade levels elsewhere in the world. However, the SHU theorise that the sort of game that stops and starts all of the time, like we saw at the Pro League, could potentially lead to matches lasting over an hour and a half. This would mean that pitch bookings could go beyond one hour and 45 minutes, towards two hours, all of which causes additional costs for amateur clubs. The idea of running straight through with 17.5 minutes per period is that this should mimic the approximate time of a game of hockey, without incurring the extra surcharges from pitch hire. It does, also, allow for the original 70 minute game of hockey.
The change to the world rankings system could potentially be troublesome for smaller national teams, in David’s eyes. He uses the example of coaches wanting to experiment with younger players, or new systems, but without the risk of ranking points on the line, especially in the lead up to a major international tournament. He reckons that teams towards the bottom of the ladder for World Cup qualification, for example, will be less willing to give lower ranked teams a chance for a test match, in case they lose and drop out of a favourable position. Therefore, the question that he poses is, ‘how do we get competitive match?’
This is made all the harder with the advent of the Pro League. The top sides are so busy, that, even if they were willing to take the risk, they simply don’t have a lot of time to play additional test matches. Fundamentally, though, David talks about the necessity of developing relationships with other national governing bodies. He describes friendly links with the Spanish and Canadians, who have gone on to win plaudits recently. Hopefully Scotland can do so as well, especially in the lead up to Tokyo 2020. We shall wait and see…
Chief Executive Officer
Scottish Hockey Union