I have watched and listened with interest in recent months as England Hockey look to revise the Player Pathway and make it a more of a level playing field for those players at state schools, writes Ruth Sealey.
Our three boys aged 14 (U16), 13 (U14) and 10 (U12) all attend either our local state primary school or local state comprehensives and have no hockey or very limited playground hockey as part of their PE. Between them they currently play at Academy Centres for Berkshire, Performance Centre and had NAGS trials this year.
When playing at Yateley HC it became apparent, from a fairly young age, that they were able hockey players with a passion for the game. It also became clear that the opportunities that they had at a small club and at state school would limit their hockey progression despite the best efforts of the club and us. They moved four seasons ago to Reading HC where they were able to access more coaching and a bigger talent pool. Both clubs have nurtured our boys and we are grateful for their continued support.
However, as they progress, the opportunity gap widens. The demands on us as a family (financial, physical and logistical), alongside both our full-time jobs, to try and keep them up with their peers are increasing. Having been part of the NAGS trials for the first time this year, it was refreshing to see children from state schools taking part.
However, you only need to browse social media to see that some children from the private system were having coaching sessions with elite players in preparation and have been able to continue playing during lockdown, alongside the regular coaching that their schools provide. In no way am I saying that these players do not deserve the opportunities they have – my boys are privileged to play alongside a huge number of incredibly talented privately educated children in club teams and other squads.
I have always been passionate about hockey being played at state schools and found myself in a lucky position between leaving a career as a police officer and retraining as a primary school teacher, to have two years where I delivered free hockey coaching in local primary schools to approximately 1500 children on bumpy playgrounds with a second-hand Quick Sticks set. I was awarded the EH Club Champion award in 2014/15 in recognition of this and it reinforced my belief that a lack of exposure to hockey and opportunity to play restricts the uptake of hockey at state schools.
We are in a lucky position that both myself and my husband are players and coaches so we are able to fill some gaps with coaching and hiring a pitch when we are able to. However, this will never replicate the access that private schools can offer their hockey-playing children with specialist facilities and coaches. We always have been, and still are, incredibly proud of our boys when they play hockey, be that in the adult section at Yateley HC, the Colts section at Reading HC or playing for the Performance Centre, but I can’t help but wonder where their journey would take them if they were able to have the opportunities that many of their peers continue to have.
How hockey can grow
- Support for smaller clubs to keep players who are on the Player Pathway
- Outreach to state schools in terms of coaching support and equipment and elite players to inspire them
- More focus on grassroots, state school hockey provision
- Increased opportunities to play for state school children – access to pitches and coaching
- Means tested financial support for state school players
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