“Children like team sport, because it is fun, you get a chance to learn new things and you can play with friends as well as making new friends.” So says the Olympian behind Guildford’s state school outreach programme.
The Hockey Paper has already delved deep into what the club is trying to achieve through its ‘Project 2024’, which aims to deliver hockey in 24 local schools by the year 2024. They are very likely to surpass their aims at the current rate.
Despite the success of the programme, director of hockey and Olympian Dan Fox wants to take the next step to help give primary school children a ‘lifelong passion for the sport’.
He says: “We now want to focus on the next step, because it is one thing playing hockey in Year four for example, but what do you do with it? We wanted to start the process of giving kids a lifelong passion for the game, and we decided that playing competitive fixtures would be the bridge.
“The real barrier is that there is no culture at primary or secondary schools of playing competitive hockey fixtures. There is not really a culture of playing any competitive sport at primary schools.”
The club took action into their own hands and Guildford HC lead James Bennett organised the first festival with the help of Charterhouse School, who hosted the event.
Fox was keen to praise the role that the school played in the event taking place. He says: “We could not have held the event without Charterhouse, they were a great help providing three free pitches and the staff helped umpire the matches for us.”
The Guildford and Waverly Primary School Hockey tournament took place on Nov 28, with 11 local primary schools taking part. However, not all of these schools are part of ‘Project 2024’, with some running their own independent programmes, and others playing little to no hockey in PE.
The tournament was formatted to be 5-a-side with 20 teams across three pitches, and with the huge variety of abilities it was important to create a tier system.
“We had three different tournaments within the tournament,” adds Fox, “one for experienced teams where we kept scores and we had a winner at the end. The other two pitches were for less experienced teams, where we coached them as they played.
“The good thing is in the hour and 20 minutes of hockey the quality improved enormously, and you could tell the kids were getting so much from playing against each other, beyond what they would get from playing on the playground or in the sports hall.”
Although there was a competitive element to the day, the players were rewarded for upholding the four values of Guildford HC.
“There was just under 150 people, and we had a medal for everybody. We based it around our club values which are passion, creativity, teamwork and respect. We said at the start that everybody who demonstrates these values gets a medal at the end, which turned out to be all 150 of them.”
Although this festival seemed to go down a treat with the children that attended, Fox admitted that it would be naïve to think that the work could just stop here.
Tracking the future
“We know that one hockey tournament will not solve the issue, it needs to be an ongoing thing for everybody. We gave everyone details of what to do next, either joining Guildford Hockey Club, as well as other clubs if they live closer to somewhere like Woking or Fleet.
“We created a separate email so that we could track how many people were contacting us from the tournament, and we have had six entirely new people sign up so far. Beyond that we cannot track if someone just turns up, or if someone signs up online.”
The main barrier that Guildford is trying to tackle with these events is the lack of hockey taught in local schools, but there are many other obstacles that come with this.
“Proximity is a huge barrier. We are going to work with Tormead School, who are building a new pitch in the middle of Guildford next year and have just had the planning process approved. This gives another site, so that more people can walk to a local hockey club.”
In the midst of a cost of living crisis lots of people cannot afford to be paying for expensive sports club subscriptions, so Guildford have tried to keep the price down as much as possible. They have also offered to use their coaching budget to help support those who need it most.
Fox says: “The other thing we did, and we made it really clear, was that when you come to the club for the first three weeks there is no obligation and no payment you just get to try it. After that the subscription costs for the year work out at about £3 an hour, so we try to keep it as low as possible.
“But also, if that is an issue then we will make sure that it is not a barrier. Anyone who wants to play but cannot afford it, we will use some of the overall budget we get from coaching to support that. It is tricky, because you never know who you might miss, but ideally we would make it as open to as many people as possible.”
Not only can sport cost be financially draining it can also be very time consuming with training and competitive fixtures potentially taking up whole weekends.
Fox spoke about the commitment needed at the festival but made it clear that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. “For lots of people this is something that they have never done, so for their children to do it is a completely new thing. That’s something for us to show in the festivals and tournaments that this is worth committing regularly to and you will have to structure your weekend to come on a Friday evening or Sunday morning, but it will be worth it because it is really good fun.”
One of the main goals is to connect with the local community and make everyone from the local areas feel that they are welcome to attend.
He says: “The big thing for us about our school projects is that we want to be connected to the local community, and that is everyone.
Connecting with the community
“For us to connect to most people in the local area, Guildford, Godalming, where we are based, Waverley, that is going to be massively important to give more people a chance to play hockey.
“We know that most people who come to us have had a chance to play it at school, so it is really important that we expand the number of people that have had a taste of hockey beyond those who have already.
“We want to go into Primary Schools and say look this is what’s on offer, it is fun, engaging and inclusive. We are open to all ages, we start at reception up to the age of 18 for schoolchildren, our oldest member is 72, and she is still playing! We also have a disability programme; we want the club to be closely tied with the local community.”
They wanted this message to be reflected at the festival, so intentionally made all the teams mixed, Guildford is an almost 50/50 gender split. Teamwork is one of the club’s values and Fox said this is something that some schools’ PE curriculum is missing, with the focus more on impressing governing bodies.
“Primary school PE is assessed by Ofsted on movement skills, physical literacy and health – which actively encourages you away from team sport. They might have a football club, and a tennis session after school, but there is not loads of time in the curriculum to practice team sports.
Not only does playing in a team create that enjoyment for children, it also helps prepare them for adult life providing them with the skills needed to function in a group environment.
Fox says: “The transferrable skills for life are definitely something that are values work on, especially teamwork and respect they help make you a really good person.”
“Coaching in youth sport is coaching the whole person, to make them into well-rounded people, that is more important than making them incredible hockey players.”
“Improving their hockey is still important, as it is all part of the process, but our priority is not to produce international hockey players. It is about developing a group of children who love the game and learning.”
The festival tournament seems to have gone down a storm with the children of Guildford and Waverley, and to keep the movement going Fox and co have organised the next event already with a continuation plan in place.
“We have another festival booked for February, and we are going to do another one at Easter. The idea is that we will do one every five or six weeks a year, so that if people like it they will come back.”
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