Siôn Kitson is Talent Partnership Manager at England Hockey overseeing the delivery of Talent Academies across the country, whilst supporting the wider implementation of England Hockey’s new Talent System. This is the fourth part of the series.
Talent Academies are one of several environments within the new Talent System, aiming to deliver regular high-quality training to develop the highest potential young players between 15 and18 years old.
They are designed to cater for around 500 players per gender. This is a small number in comparison to the 1000’s of children who play hockey and like every talent system they won’t suit everyone.
But the players with the potential and drive to progress to the top of the game need more regular high-quality training and competition time where they are stretched physically and mentally in a supportive environment, and Talent Academies can provide this. They will create best vs best opportunities in both training and competition, and work in collaboration with coaches from other environments such as clubs, schools and Junior County Hockey to put the player’s wellbeing at the centre of everything we do, so that they have the best chance to realise their potential.
There are currently 21 Talent Academies, 17 hosted by clubs and four overseen by England Hockey in areas where there were gaps in the geographical spread. We’re hoping to see clubs step forward and apply to host in these areas over the next 12-24 months. We are also looking to extend the network to around 25, again to ensure we have good coverage across the whole country while not diluting the standard of players.
As we’ve developed the Talent System strategy, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at what makes clubs great, and we really want to play to these strengths.
All clubs that have been awarded a license to host a Talent Academy and have been challenged to raise standards in line with key criteria that focus on creating exceptional talent development environments through strong leadership and governance, quality coaching, a significant training and competition offer, strong local partnerships and individual player development interventions that better consider the whole athlete. We’re really challenging Talent Academies to think about what they do to offer something special to players that stretches their potential.
I’m asked by players and parents ‘But I might have to choose between Talent Academy and another environment?’
I remind them that a priority for Talent Academies is considering what is right for each young player – this might be a difficult conversation at times given the various personal, academic and sporting decisions young people face, but we must focus on what’s right for each player, putting their development needs first. To ensure an open and dynamic talent system, players will still be able to access England Age Group assessment opportunities irrespective of whether they attend a Talent Academy.
Fundamentally, we believe that talented players can be nurtured in multiple environments, and that it’s all about getting the right athlete in the right environment more often. Recognising that different environments at different times will support a young player’s journey is a core principle of the cultural shift the Talent System strives to realise. By nurturing talent in a collaborative fashion, schools, clubs, Junior County Hockey and Talent Academies will foster a more open and inclusive system. This will generate multiple routes for an increasing number of players to progress in the game, including improving access to those from more diverse backgrounds.
So, what was the old pathway missing that couldn’t help us to deliver these goals? Clearly contact time was one but for me, another big factor was the need for more collaboration. Working in partnership is at the heart of the new Talent System and that will take time to become the norm.
However, what is pleasing is that much of the hockey community supports this aspiration and are now keen to see it in practice and we need to help show them the way.
We’ve seen clubs, counties, Talent Academies and schools start to come together where they previously haven’t, putting the player first and considering which environments are the most appropriate for their development. It’s something that we need to harness given there will not be one environment solely responsible for the development of a player, and only through regular conversations will we continually ensure the player remains at the centre.
England Hockey’s role in this is to nurture those partnerships, embed the talent development principles on which the Talent System is based, and work with different stakeholders to help them understand what it means to their role. Communicating and retaining open dialogue with those experiencing the Talent System is important, so their voices are heard.
We’re not immediately going to be where we want to be or see instant results. Nevertheless, if over time, the environments within the Talent System are working together to develop an increasing number of talented players, we are all going to reap the rewards and will have played a hand in producing an inspirational generation of talent.
Another topic I’m often asked about is the finance of Talent Academies. Yes, it’s an increase on Performance Centre, largely due to increased contact time, pitch use and coaching. It is important to highlight that any surplus a Talent Academy makes goes back to support the programme or indeed back to players and parents.
All Talent Academies have had to demonstrate to England Hockey a viable financial model and within that there is financial support available to those individuals who may need it.
Each TA must ensure they have the equivalent of two full places per gender free of charge, with those funds available to support either full fees or multiple players with partial fee support. We are looking at how we create additional hardship funds as it is imperative to England Hockey that the cost of the programme is not a barrier for players progressing through the game.
We’ve come a long way with lots of input and support from across the hockey community and we still have further to go. At the heart of the change is having better conversations more often.
For futher information on the Talent System click here, or you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org