In the final part of his series, JON ROYCE believes that the new structure undermines the relationships between local clubs and proposes a fix for the future
Who will pay for the additional pitch time and coaching fees required to be part of the system under England Hockey’s New Way Forward?
A few wiser heads than I have calculated the cost as in excess of £2,000 per player annually. The only way to reduce this number is to increase the number of participants. But ethically is it right to give potentially many hundreds of children the impression that they have a chance of representing their country?
If clubs are going to charge such fees the activity has to have intrinsic value. A club competition needs to have a public profile and be important, whether it’s the under-14 A or under-12 C.
Go into a Dutch clubhouse and you see pictures of smiling children with medals in the under-14 D level competition.
Nothing that England Hockey has done since the turn of the century demonstrates that it cares one iota what happens at club level, but they want to open up an income stream and reduce costs.
Clubs First? They are funded to a large extent by sporting bodies intent on winning medals. Make no mistake about it, England Hockey works for UK Sport (and to some extent Sport England) and not for club members. England Hockey has a track record of leaving clubs out in the cold. In the recent past, from my aged viewpoint, they initiated the “Single System” but it was anything but.
It had multiple layers, coaching at the exclusion of competition, Soviet-style coaching mantras with everyone in Britain doing “V drags” until they dropped. Then ‘The Wall’ came down and “everything had to be a game.”
Have we learned nothing from the last decade or two? What makes anyone more confident that the governing body has got this policy right? This time they consulted widely, but before or after decisions were made quietly behind closed doors. The first video meeting I attended the lady chairing actually said “ This is what they’re going to do.” I wrote to complain, that decisions had already been made: this was subsequently denied, but what of any substance has changed from the original proposal?
I was struck by the process underlying a new discipline system for cricket. The participants were a who’s who of ex-international captains, real expertise with tens, probably hundreds of years of accumulated experience.
The New Way Forward is being proposed not only by inexperienced voices, but many who haven’t even a hockey background and certainly no understanding of school and clubland.
So sold are they on their idea, an individuals with key role ‘up and leaves’ for pastures new, showing absolutely no commitment to their own idea or one they have allegedly negotiated. Either way it builds zero confidence in the process. There are much better sources of friends than the governing body.
Look no further than your local opponents, especially those just down the road. It is completely self-defeating to poach players and become a “super club.” Local fixtures are the lifeblood of our sport. If you have more than 12 good players in an age group, the rest need to go down the road and play for your opponents and vice-versa.
In that way, the best players can compete against each other, in more locally based leagues without the need to destroy the planet and take three days of supplies on the trail to play an opponent with a different regional accent.
The New Way Forward seeks through a divisive policy to “rule and divide.” There is already evidence of players jumping ship to head for a Talent Centre, this threatens the scope and extent of hockey and is a policy that should be rejected out of hand. One club is reported as splintering into Junior and Senior sections. Pathway or cliff edge?
In cities such as Den Haag and Amsterdam four or five clubs exist within a three-mile radius. They are rivals, for sure, and sometimes matters become heated, but they need each other to maintain a healthy local competition, especially at the lower junior ages and in senior club hockey outside elite senior level. I hear stories of coaches in England giving up because their team has been decimated: how very sad.
Small clubs have an absolute responsibility to pass talented 16-year-olds to a more senior club, it has always been so, but junior hockey (under-16) should remain local, the absolute level less important than the “fun” experience of playing with friends. There is enough time for talent to make its way to the top. By far the biggest problems are around introducing the game and laying a foundation of technique and decision making that becomes by 16 years of age largely autonomous.
A much better model for hockey is to ensure a flow of knowledge from national league clubs to junior clubs in return for access to rare talents. In this way, both groups benefit. Being a member of the higher echelons of league competition is a financial commitment. If you want promotion, you need to recruit experience and class and pay for it.
Dual representation, of junior players in school and club teams, the inevitable bye product of the 1970s and 1980s expansion of clubs, stands in the way of further progress.
Some clubs, to a large extent, merely pick the local public school team. How does this broaden hockey’s appeal: where have those grammar school pupils gone?
What we should be looking at is junior leagues in a given area to include schools and clubs. Any player wishing to progress to representative hockey must play in the league and indeed shine.
At one stroke, hockey has to be played across both terms in schools by both genders. Rugby, Netball and Football would also dearly like to play across the autumn and spring terms. Let it be so. Youngsters who start in Football have a 0.001 per cent chance of playing in football’s Premiership. Increasingly, parents are nervous about the long-term effects of contact in Rugby. If Hockey has a product to offer, put it out there in a free market.
The most difficult issue to overcome are, of course, weekly calendar issues. Either Saturday or Sunday needs to be a priority nationwide for juniors if it is desirable for schools and clubs to compete together, it’s all junior hockey.
On the continent, juniors tend to play Saturday and adults Sunday. This seems like a plan. Drink till you drop culture in sports clubs has changed, so what’s wrong with Sundays? It also brings Friday night into play!
- Reject out of hand a policy (New Way Forward), that undermines the relationships between local clubs
- Be willing as an elite club to share knowledge
- As a smaller club, be proud of passing on special talent and maintain good relationships
In my view, the New Way Forward is unnecessarily complex, costly, exclusive, divisive and controlling. It exacerbates clashes in availability, is discriminatory in cost, seeks to rule and divide, sets clubs against one another and demotivates coaches who have given heart and soul to the sport and sees last year’s team disintegrating.
The costs of attending Performance Centres is considerable before we even consider the travel logistics and various add-ons. If England Hockey wants to improve the quality of hockey at junior club level with a view to creaming off the top one per cent, it then follows logically that the gap in the system is competition.
So why don’t we:
- Promote inclusion and fair competition through local leagues
- End dual representation (within a given time frame)
- Develop talent regionally at times when clubs and schools do not operate (school holidays)
- Ensure selection regionally is in the hands of experienced and high achieving former players
- Seek to include talented coaches with different ideas
- Love our local rivals
- Focus juniors on “fun” through competition, that way they’ll stay in the game