When the Talent Academy system was set up there were understandable concerns as to how this might affect smaller clubs with junior players.
According to Fleet and Ewshot HC, any fears have been unfounded and the benefits to the club of the partnership working have been “huge, particularly on the ladies side.”
Fleet is a small club with four mens and four women’s teams with its 1s both playing at Sub-Area Division 1 level.
Here, junior chair Chris Butler assesses how the club has tuned in with the new talent system…
The club’s junior recruitment is mostly out of local state schools thanks to the outreach work of two of our coaches (EH Coach of the Year Angie Cottee and Clive Harder), who run their own coaching programmes in schools and signpost players to us.
For many years the best juniors at our club have had to leave at age 15 or 16 or so, to be able to take their game to a higher level, and we currently have former juniors in the full Welsh International Ladies Squad (and Loughborough Students), the England u18 Boys squad and the Welsh u18 boys squad (all with a state school background).
Our local Talent Academy is Guildford, which is run by Dan Fox and Beckie Middleton. None of our girls were selected for the academy, but initially seven, including my daughter, were selected for the underpinning Future Stars programme – which runs alongside the TA sessions using the same coaches and drills, and is effectively a Talent Academy reserve squad.
Last summer Dan ran a number of Zoom sessions with clubs in Guildford’s cluster to explain the setup and reassure clubs as to their intentions. As a club we discussed the programme and decided to embrace it. We supported and encouraged parents to apply for the trials if they wished, and sold it to parents as a way of accessing high quality training without changing club.
We deliberately did not select players to nominate for Future Stars, but encouraged and supported parents in making their own choices.
Of the seven juniors selected for the Future Stars programme, six have been playing in our Ladies 1s. The team progressed from second bottom of Oaks 1 to finishing a very credible 6th thanks to a large extent to the influence of the improvement in our Future Stars players.
Of these seven, we would in previous seasons have probably lost two of them to other clubs, but this year we were able to keep them and develop both the team and the players thanks to the coaching they are receiving. As the season has gone on, other parents have recognised the value of the Future Stars sessions and put their daughters forward, and we now have another three in the programme.
Guildford, to their credit, have been as good as their word in not making any attempt to poach our players. The partnership has been massively beneficial to us as a club as it has enabled us to challenge for the best players in a way not possible two years ago.
It has been a revelation to my daughter in her own development as she has developed beyond my wildest expectations. At a wider level, the introduction of the Talent Academies has broadened access to top level coaching and development.
Read More: England Hockey and its new talent structure
Previously the only access to PC in the South was via the County AC system. Now any club (or school) can nominate players for trials. This is a vast improvement on the previous situation and allows everybody the opportunity to progress. I would encourage every club to embrace the process.
Parents (and players) will remember what you do and are far more likely to stay with you if you encourage and support them in their progression than if you stand in their way.