Sunday, July 21, 2024

Don’t let juniors wallow: key steps to enhancing players’ strengths

I’m mindful that too many cold winters, unforgivable yellow cards and woeful excuses about not making training or fixtures have moved me away from the sorts of coaches on social media who are ‘honoured’ and ‘privileged’ to do what we coaches do.

I much prefer to just go about my business hoping that I, and the players I coach, just enjoy the experience and get something out of it.

And yet, there I was a few weeks ago being genuinely humbled by a letter from England Hockey thanking me for the contribution I’d made to the development of a player – I won’t name the poor devil – who had recently progressed into the England and GB senior set-up.

Of course, it was an honour and privilege (those words again) to coach this player but if truth be told, for all I may have done, only an injury or alien abduction was going to stop this player from getting to the top.

Apart from the moments of self-congratulation though, the letter prompted me to think about some simple and important principles for coaches to bear in mind when it comes to bringing young players through, whether they’ve got any chance of making it to the international level or not.

Sooner rather than later

Whether it’s anything to do with hereditary titles I’m not sure, but it’s been my experience in my 20 years in the UK that the road from junior hockey into the top teams at a club can be long and arduous.

Too often, clubs will pat themselves on the back about their 7th team and all the young players they are “bringing through”. If you think about it though, a 15-year-old who starts in the 7’s will be 21 by the time they make the 1’s, if they go up one team at a time.

Just imagine for a second that you are coaching the best 14-year-old in the country. Given that’s it’s not uncommon for players to debut internationally at 18 or 19, that only gives you a small window to get them into, and then established, in your club’s top team.

And with players so often leaving home to go to university, you need to have them involved at 16, if you want two years out of them before they head off.

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