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England Hockey governance: Time to end the committee culture

David Lloyd-Williams, chairman of the London League, voices his opinion ahead of England Hockey’s AGM in March

My light bulb moment was in the middle of a club committee, years ago, when I realised that one of my colleagues never volunteered to do any work, yet kept coming up with suggestions that “the club” should adopt. I got annoyed. How could anyone do that? Answer: she had been elected to the club’s committee, so that made it OK to talk, but do nothing.

Ever since, I’ve had no time for anyone who’s not hands-on. If you are a volunteer running the juniors, collecting subs, umpiring etc, you are a superstar to be cherished. You have earned the right to give your views. If any club member suggests the club does A or B, I ask them to do it. My mantra: never ask your club to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself it’s that simple.

There are over 100 hockey organisations in England (county, regional, league, umpiring) – a ridiculous number. What do these committees actually do? Leagues and umpiring – OK; but the rest? How many hours are spent with people in committees discussing hockey that other people – mainly clubs – actually deliver? Those committee members are, without doubt, well-meaning, and some policy issues do need careful attention, but if you give someone a role, they tend to think it must be important. This is not always true.

The London League’s constitution used to provide for the usual range of committee positions. When I was elected as chair, I asked myself “what’s the minimum number of people to actually run this?”. The answer, for 14 divisions (with our famously simple rules), is two and a bit, a few hours a week. Once the season is under way, have a weekly call of about 20 minutes, and email in between. All documents are in a shared online system. We only meet in person when we meet with clubs, who decide on policy.

We are much more ‘managers’ than ‘committee members’. It’s a simple cultural shift, and does not waste precious volunteer time.

I keep hearing “where will the volunteers come from?” for EH’s proposed new organisations. To me this sounds like “we’re going to need big committees”. Well, there are better ways of doing things. If the new organisations are run well, we will need fewer volunteers, for less time, in turn making it easier to recruit future volunteers.

County and regional associations were set up to represent clubs – decades ago that made sense. But it has always been the case that some leaders speak and act beyond any real mandate from clubs. This is partly understandable: “I’ve been elected to speak on behalf of clubs; here are my views”. However, this is dangerous, and I keep seeing emails and statements from organisations where they have no mandate from clubs. This is wrong, especially from organisations whose officers aren’t even elected by the people they purport to represent.

The London League got this right 50 years ago: clubs decide policy; officers do the admin. Officers therefore have to be careful not to do or say anything which is not supported by clubs. It works.

Let’s get the EH changes through – without delay, and change the culture.

Or do we want 100 committees debating this indefinitely?

David Lloyd-Williams is also a serial volunteer at Southgate HC, and creator of FixturesLive.

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