Saturday, December 4, 2021

England Hockey pathway: ‘Biggest issue is that we are losing parents’

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Rod Gilmour
The Hockey Paper's Editor. First covered international hockey at the 2010 Commonwealth Games - no better than a full house watching India play England - and has reported for the Daily Telegraph and other major newspapers ever since. Co-founded THP in 2016.

There is a “dark cloud” hanging over Tiverton White Eagles Juniors. The Devon-based side claim to be already losing junior players – and with it, much-needed volunteers – to a club earmarked as an accredited Talent Centre under England Hockey’s new talent development framework.

Playing in the heart of Tiverton – population around 20,000 – at the Exe Valley Leisure Centre, the club was unable to get out an under-14 side in recent weeks after losing three players to Exeter-based Isca.

“The biggest issue is that we are losing parents,” says Grant Horan, co-junior coordinator for Tiverton White Eagles Juniors.

“One of them was an under-14 coach and another fundraiser and co-ordinator for the age groups.

“The issue isn’t just about the drain of talent, it’s actually the drain of resources and manpower which is probably more serious to be honest.”

Horan says he understands the pathway and aspiration route set out by England Hockey but already realises there is a “bigger picture” facing smaller clubs before the framework has even been rolled out. 

“That’s when it really hit home and it’s a faulty model basically,” he admits. “It’s already started to happen and we have physically lost players to Isca.”

Horan was recently asked by one parent whether this will be the death of White Eagles, a club founded in 1950. “My reply was that it will come close,” he adds.

“I can see England Hockey’s perspective but it’s a false economy. It seems like they are doing what other sports are doing. If they take the cream off the top, theoretically there is room to fill gaps underneath who might not have the opportunity.”

Pre-Covid, the club was full to the rafters with over 100 kids. That has seemingly all changed, with the club now needing to advertise and keep serving the sport in the community.

“Already, there are rumours across the region that White Eagles is shutting because of the Talent Centre emergence,” says Horan.

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“There is undoubtedly an air of depression and inevitably. No aspiring player will come to Tiverton now and Isca will scoop up everybody but they won’t be able to cope with the amount of players.”

Grant, an events organiser who runs the Great British Sports Show, says that senior and junior teams are shutting down due to a lack of getting sides out. The talent framework, adds Grant, is an accelerator to the death of junior domestic hockey in North Devon.

“Clubs are scooping up players and kids will be spat out at the other end and there will be nowhere for them to go,” he added. “It’s all happening too quickly and too disorganised for it to work in any shape or form.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Many clubs are in that same scenario of losing Players.

    If within a reasonable travelling distance and facilities on offer for playing and coaching then you do lose these folk to the Bigger club in the area.

    Also up to the Big Clubs to monitor and support the smaller clubs unless they want to dominate that Area which will hinder the hockey development of certain players.

  2. This is nothing new and any club with a larger counterpart / counterparts in their locality have always suffered from losing players to them this way.

    The accredited Talent Centres and Talent Academies will now simply have more marketing power and more resource to attract those players, in an environment where “the next (natural) step” will be to leave their current club. It takes away any conflict on the part of the player or their parents as it’s simply what happens next – there isn’t any thought to loyalty or enjoying who they already play for.

    The argument will be that it’s up to the smaller clubs to nurture more talent but if the headlines about participation falling are true, and hockey not being introduced at schools, then that will be a mightily large task.

  3. It is pretty obvious that the talent strategy is counter productive. It is not thought through fully and the ramifications are clear to anyone who works in the game.

  4. There is this fallacy in the assumption that bigger is better.

    I took my daughter to a free trial at the big localish club which is now the talent centre and it was the most shambolic, disorganised session I have ever seen. The resources were clearly focussed on the elite group, and the vast numbers of girls not in the top group were left with a session where the warm up lasted 45 minutes while the coaches had a meeting to decide what to do. And then they did a small number of tedious, poorly explained drills where they spent most of the time standing around watching. I doubt you could pay my daughter to join that club if she outgrows us, as first impressions count.

    Smaller clubs can focus on every child, can nurture and focus and bring them on at a much more personal and effective level. We have consistently punched above our weight (and had 3 of our ex-juniors in the latest Futures Cup). Given that the majority of our intake is state school (including all 3 of the above) we are clearly doing something very, very right.
    But we are not big enough to be allowed to be a talent centre.
    The thinking is upside down and massively counter-productive. It is no secret hat the strongest structures are built from the bottom up, not the top down. EH should be focussing on making sure every junior in the country, whether at big clubs or small clubs, has access to the best possible coaching, rather than focussing on ‘talent’ at the expense of the bigger picture.

    Success is built form the bottom up, not the top down. EH should be focussing on the original intention of broadening the intake for talent pathway.

    • Chris ..

      Not all are like that and yes do see your point as they may be driven by EH on this.

      If anything it shows the inept quality of Head Coaches and coaches if they have nothing planned or arranged.

      Yes there may be an issue to reorganize but not dither around.

      Hope all well now and the Hockey is good plus all enjoying which is the main thing.

  5. EH’s strategy seems to be based on the premise, if one of our national teams wins a gold medal all our problems will be over. Meanwhile smaller, local clubs are struggling or have already gone to the wall, narrowing participation. I don’t believe that is a sustainable model. Hockey’s fundamental problem is not enough people play. EH should focus every sinew in its corporate body on getting the game into state schools. In a few years that will create a halo effect with a new influx of players wanting to join local clubs and that will benefit ALL clubs, small, big and in due course the national teams.

  6. The pathway should be there but not affiliated to a specific club. You shouldn’t have to be a member of a specific club to be recognised as a talent. How many players will end up playing at a lower level than they should because they are actually at a big club. We lost a 1st team player from our club to a pathway club only for them to come back in that clubs 6th team to play are 3rds. How is this progressing their talent it is in fact a backward step what do you learn from beating a side of youngsters & veterans by 10+ goals nothing. I umpired the game & actually the winning team lost its cohesion & discipline as they all wanted to score. It was a horrible match to umpire as you saw young players humiliated by a team that should be playing 2 or 3 leagues higher. How is that encouraging participation as nobody really enjoyed the 70 minutes.

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