Having coached young people in club and school hockey for the last 20 years, I have always believed that involving teenagers in developing younger players has real benefits for everyone involved.
Four years ago, we decided to incorporate this into a structured programme that was of value to both Marlow’s young members and the club. We are fortunate that the club is financially well run, and we can therefore budget to pay young leaders, meaning they can develop personally whilst earning money from hockey, rather than taking on a Saturday job elsewhere.
They start in Year 9 by volunteering for a year with the minis on Saturday mornings. If they enjoy it and they are good at it then they are offered a paid position in Year 10. We say that they can coach groups two years younger than their age and we also offer a similar programme for umpiring, with mentors provided. The young leaders additionally have the opportunity to help on holiday camps, and some progress to assistant coaching roles with Bucks Hockey. Many go on to university, where the experience they have gained as young leaders means they can continue to develop their skills and earn money by umpiring and coaching there.
From modest beginnings, Marlow’s young leader scheme currently has 45 young leaders and 40 young umpires who help us run our junior section – and given we have around 400 junior members in the club, there is plenty of work for them to do!
Incorporated into our programme is a requirement that all young leaders participate in organising and running a tournament, and we require them to submit time sheets logging their coaching and umpiring sessions in order to get paid. It’s all part of making the programme help in their personal development in as many ways as possible.
Initially, we faced some reservations from adult coaches, who assumed that the young leaders would not be particularly useful, and would need constant supervision. But now, if you ask them, they’ll say they can’t do without them. They add an element of fun to the sessions that the adults can’t, and the little ones absolutely love them. As we grow and develop our coaching structure the leaders are becoming an integral part of our long-term plans.
We are particularly proud of Helen Windsor, who has become a role model for other young leaders. She started as a young leader at the minis sessions, before progressing to assisting with the under-12s.
She started running and coaching the girls under-14 B team and is has made a huge success of that – whilst at the same developing herself as a player (she was a member of our under-16 side which won the EH indoor championships in 2017) and an umpire.
Last year we nominated her for the EH Young Leader of the Year award, and were delighted when she won that jointly with another great candidate, Jeevan Chagger, from Yardley HC. The two of them represented England alongside award winners from other countries at the Euro Hockey Federation Youth Conference in Antwerp, and we were thrilled when Helen’s presentation, based on her experiences of Marlow’s programme, led to her winning the title of Euro Hockey Young Leader 2019.
Helen is incredibly motivated and organised, and such a good example for our other young leaders to aspire to. She is calm and encouraging with her team, and gives them confidence to try things and have fun playing hockey. When we do coach education events for our young leaders, it is always Helen who makes notes and circulates them after to all the attendees. She does all this while also doing her A levels, being head girl at Great Marlow School, and playing for our ladies 2s. Helen is an extremely capable umpire, too – perfectly able to umpire Marlow men’s matches, and with the confidence to get her cards out if necessary!
We could not be prouder of her, nor of our young leader programme – and would say to any club wondering whether such a programme will work for them: just go for it.