Sunday, May 19, 2024

County fall-out: ‘England Hockey’s ill-conceived Talent Academy only caters for elite’

Koo Janzen, Hampshire Hockey Association Player Pathway Committee chairman, says England Hockey’s governance restructuring is having a detrimental impact on junior hockey

Now that England Hockey have abandoned the player pathway completely and replaced it with the travesty that is the Talent System, we are experiencing the fall-out of this.

Where before we would run the DC and AC as the county level elements of the EH Player Pathway, we would nominate players to the PC. This now no longer exists and in Hampshire we became worried about the many players who would have been of PC standard and who now have nowhere to go.

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  1. I absolutely agree about the talent system being for the rich. Five of the places on the girls’ team at the talent academy in whose catchment area we fall are taken by pupils from the same elite private school.

  2. In Bedfordshire we have created the Beds Development Centre which is a collaboration across clubs. Happy to talk and collaborate on ideas. We had to fight EH all the way to create it and felt we had to abandon getting the ‘Talent Centre’ accreditation for our club in order to have the freedom to create it.

      • Well done Koo and Hampshire for putting the players in your area at the forefront of your plans and delivery.

        It is so important to offer a pathway which is inclusive and open and also offers stretch and challenge.

        We in Staffordshire are pushing ahead with similar plans and working hard to engage and enthuse everyone involved locally.

        Perhaps – there could be a way of similar minded counties getting together and having a festival to celebrate the growth of grass roots county hockey? One for the future? Perhaps we could call it futures cup or something catchy like that.

    • Hi Cheryl, I’m very interested to hear more about what you have done in Bedfordshire and how it works. I’m in an area that isn’t served by a TA and we are looking at ways to fill the gap left for our players. As a county we are trying, but would like to hear more from others about how they are tackling this. Can we share experiences- my email is,

      Well done

    • Considering the fallout England And Wales Cricket has just gone through I’d of thought the hockey world would want to get one step ahead of a similar scandal.

      How can selectors honestly pick a side without prejudice when some of the potential players pay their wages through private school coaching and elite camps.

      Sadly cricket and hockey are no different and I don’t know if they tryely want to change

  3. To further agree with the above the talent Academy in Notts seems very poor and again heavily waited between the host club and its tight links with a local private school. The PC program was a far supierior program of developing players for the next step with indipendant coaches that focused on developing players with no club agendas.

    The amount of people who have said that the current TA program is simply a money making program for England hockey is outstanding and at the same time scary, it shouldn’t be about economics, in fact if the player shows a talent the governing body should support and help fund his progress.

    It’s really sad but we will pay the price very soon for the limited numbers that will be available to the international stage.

    • Whilst I can’t comment on how the TA’s are performing now, it is nice to hear comments about how PCs performed in the past in Nottingham and the midlands. As someone involved with the previous system it’s good to hear that it’s not all been brushed under the carpet.

  4. This article encapsulates the issue with the new system very well but misses out the effect it has had on children prioritising other sports as a result of them not having access to PCs which they would almost certainly have been accepted into (only the ultra elite TA). We have lost the interest of several girls who have received a much more comprehensive training pathway through netball because they feel disillusioned at not having made the top developmental level in what was previously their favourite sport. Creating alternative development centres hasn’t got the kudos of the previous system as whichever way it is presented, they are not considered as good as they may have been previously. It’s such a shame for hockey, though I’d guess that one sport’s loss is another’s gain.

    • Agreed, this is a challenge, other sports are offering engaging and open pathways,
      Hockey is going to have to work very hard to present a choice which excites and gives opportunity to progress.

  5. I totally agree. My daughter is at a private school and is also at TA. We budget and plan to send her to this school through choice, we are certainly not ‘Rich’ . My girl has not got into TA because of her school, she has achieved through sheer hard work, effort and determination. She first picked up a hockey stick at the age of 11 and was selected for TA just after her 16th birthday having gone through DC, AC and PC. I agree her school gives her the opportunity to play hockey but this school also shared its facilities with State schools. There are lots of Hockey Clubs in every County, anyone can join. Let’s give this sport the respect it deserves and stop labelling it with being for the ‘Rich’ or Elite. Hockey is for all.

  6. I Understand England Hockey want a strong international squad as this is where they get the Sport England etc funding from. However without strong youth development at grassroots level the clubs will lose players and the pyramid of clubs below NL level which are the vast majority will suffer.
    At a time when we are suffering from the never ending encroachment of Soccer and the FA subsidising the replacement of hockey Turf with Football turf, we need to do ALL we can to keep and inspire younger players.

  7. Clubs need to do more within the local community (there is government funding available to do this) and within their club, they need to stop pricing the sport at such a low price so it only covers expenses, price it to create a surplus to invest back into the sport. This will ensure better coaching, making better players which means stronger junior competitions. Competition drives performance and clubs (especially those that have assets) need to do way more.

    County sport is tradition unique to the UK. Clubs are the way forward but they need to do more.

  8. I was going to berate Noname, but actually I think they have a point about clubs doing more and the top clubs doing more to support the smaller clubs, they cant just keep hoovering up the talent for their own benefit lime football academies do.

    I moved from Kent to Avon several years ago and I have been shocked at the varying standard of junior hockey in the area. The usual picture of a small number of clubs hoovering up the talent, one or two we’ll organised clubs trying to develop a whole club mentality to pick up those who struggle to get into these larger clubs and then other clubs struggling to even get an 11 a side junior squad out. My club finds itself being thrashed one week or thrashing another team the following week at junior level, not particularly inspiring for the kids in my view. More definitely needs to be done at grass routes to prevent the game being too focused on the elite level and to encourage a more competitive level of friendly competition at junior level and not just at the top clubs.

    The new structure seems to push talent to the already rich and established clubs in local areas while the smaller outlying clubs struggle to attract and retain talent. In Avon I think they are trying to address this through a similar approach to Hampshire, the problem is at the PC level players are inevitably being pulled from a small group of elite schools and clubs and with the dwindling breadth and quality at the very base, it’s difficult to see how the new structure solves that problem without creating more opportunities for kids to play quality hockey at school (particularly state school) and club level at an affordable and easily accessible price.

    My son’s local state secondary school recently up graded their astro pitch, yet they hardly offer any hockey in school and where they do it tends to be directed towards girls, boys are pushed towards rugby and football. Really it’s a cash cow for the school to hire out or use to play other sports on when it’s too wet in the winter.

    • The Talent Academy isn’t the issue here as it’s the 15-18 age bracket. The work is done before that. Clubs need to be more proactive at the foundation age groups, there is school sports funding to do this. We can’t keep berating private schools for having hockey in their curriculums. Without it the sport would be on its knees. It is clubs responsibility as the first receivers to connect with their local communities, broaden the base of the pyramid. The next step is to have an extensive club competition with lots of games, only with extensive regular competition (not focussed on winning) will we see a conveyor belt of good players. Clubs should be moving juniors on if there is better opportunity elsewhere (around year 9/10/11) and this should be a cooperative effort so the child can see that both have best interests at heart. County hockey was a reward for too many players and the base of hockey should be filled with great clubs playing in weekly competitions! Previously there were too many stake holders in individuals.

      On the Talent Academy, transparency is key and the players (and not the clubs) best interests should be paramount. The best coaches work in the best interests of the individual.

  9. I agree with so much that has gone before. Yes Koo is right with so much he says, but I would like to add in other things to consider. The National League structure & cost to Clubs has meant a number have had huge to back breaking finance issues hence TA is a way from EH to support NL clubs with an opportunity to make as much money as they can from this elite, non inclusive- only if you can afford to send your child to the main up the pyramid programme. It panders to parents ego’s rather than being a controlled quality assured programme. But funding for elite sport is on the rack in a country that can’t afford to pay Drs, Nurses, paramedics and educators can we continue to pay sports people to train or NGBs to continue to do things poorly? County hockey for me is part of widening participation but we need more good coaches that can get a decent coaching qualification that actually indicates that they have some of the right skill sets to be able to coach on their own, develop young coaches & players. Then we have the strong bottom of the pyramid from which I would suggest there is a TA per County – but is Talent the right word for this as Talent is only part of what contributes to play at a higher level. How many of us have coaches, played with, watched “ talented players” plateau, stagnate, not reach their potential as they didn’t have the other attributes that are needed to improve, continue to develop etc Vince Lombardi said it right “ the only place where success comes before work is on the dictionary”. Young people develop at different rates so a system that keeps them in the system regardless is flawed. When can they consolidate & really apply what they have learnt & then have to work to get back in. Hence the old JRPC had some strengths but again these all need external QA to keep them “ honest & on track”. I call for an open & honest discussion with those who don’t agree with EH to be listened to!

    • Hi there. Hope u can help me. I’m looking for Sue Perry contact details. My son Sam CAPDEVILA used to coach with her at the ”sussex hockey academy ” as a young boy. He’s now trying to get a job at the airport and in order to get his pass, his company is trying to get in touch with Sue so she can give them a reference for Sam.
      I understand you wouldn’t give me her phone number or email, I totally respect that…but is there any chance you could pass this email on to her and ask her to give us a call ASAP or send us an email so we can quicken Sam’s entry to his new venture.
      My details are :
      (0r she could call Sam directly on 07411492390).

      Thank you kindly.
      Best regards.
      Daniel Capdevila

  10. I think that the truly key element to the system that is lacking here is the way feedback is delivered. The young people involved in the system need individualized feedback if the (highly laudable) aim is to improve the quality of hockey across the board. If it is just about identifying the “ones who can afford the extra training” then you will reap what sow and get a positive feedback loop of “paying to improve”.

    How does the way that it is delivered now ensure that the feedback is available so players can work on their skills/playstyle deficits effectively?

  11. Great article by Koo and so true – maybe one reason why other counties haven’t followed Hampshires example of a PC is disillusionment with they whole system and many like me giving up volunteering- life is too short to put up with England hockey’s constant chopping and changing and elite (so called) talent. And don’t get me started in the GMS!

    • Understand your feelings Mike, it is so important that people feel valued and supported within any pathway. Please keep giving your energy in other ways, there is so much to do. Persistence and determination is a strength which needs to be passed on.

  12. TA totally bias to the rich and privileged. Utter rubbish. But having said that the whole system is broken with the wrong people in the positions calling the shots. England Hockey literally give nothing back to local clubs by way of support, no responsibility for DC, AC or TA running, and when asked about it, no interest either. All we get it obstacles to playing our sport from them. GMS is a prime example. No benefit to your average clubs but a massive pain in the neck to try and work/understand when people just want to play hockey. Kids with parents who can afford to send kids to these academy’s will be paying huge sums of cash for coaching that is more than likely very sub standard (if we can even call it coaching as opposed to organising). Basically if you can afford it you can buy your child a place in the ‘elite’ set up. And then they’ll arrive in adult hockey and meet the real elite who couldn’t afford to go through a TA…

  13. One thing I would say as a parent of a boy in south west London. PC coaches, setup and coaching was absolute dross. Complete waste of time. As elite as Ryan Air. TA by comparison is worth every penny, better players, better selected players and elite end coaches (including current internationals). What a contrast to a minor clubs 2nd team coach! And your issue is ??

  14. The other thing to mention…..the player pathway is to develop elite end players. So by its very nature it will only take elite athletes (how selected is another matter) so inevitably with that comes selection disgruntlement. That is high end sport and parents of players in Hampshire and Hampshire county need to remember that the TA is probably looking for the top 3-4 in each year group, not 20

  15. The TA system age range has a bearing on the quality of experience. Our TA has 14 year olds shooting at an 18 year old goalie. No one learns anything from that. The Nags kids aren’t interested and those participating are rapidly losing interest. PC wasn’t perfect but this radical change needs a radical change.

  16. What are they doing in Holland, Belgium and Germany? They seem to be pretty successful both at the top and the bottom of the pyramid..

    Successful international teams. Successful club teams in the EHL and thriving family-oriented clubs with great facilities.

  17. some familiar names above with some great observations, as a level three coach I was never a fan of changing from County to the new player pathways, I saw first hand some good coaches Richard Organ to name one but many who I wouldn’t give time of day, ” cash cows” would be a good name for it. At one such pathway held in Berkshire they had 100 children on the pitch, and yet each child who was there got a report showing the strengths or weaknesses, are you serious, it was the lead coaches figment of his imagination, one of my then talented 10 year old player, who was very shy and timid would not stand out in a crowd two, was very talented and did not get passed stage 1. I was asked by the parents to question for the reasons why, the answer was unconvincing and suffice to say they had missed one… the believe I had in my opinion that she was an International in waiting was justified as she represented Eng at U16/18 and has played Premier hockey.
    The County system produced Alex Damson my own daughter Sammie and a whole host of talented youngsters across the UK and the Divisional tournament was the place for the England selectors to be able to pick from the best 70 players in the country, I am sure Sue Perry will agree we got it right with our selection process at the time.
    Is anyone aware that we do have a Hockey Academy in the UK that provides Hockey and Education to provide both subjects to mature at a residential college, because the HA conveniently do not seem to recognise, this fantastic College which is based at Oaklands College in St Albans. They have state of the art facilities, two Pitches home of St Alband HC and the academy hosts similar academies for Football ( Arsenal) Netball, Rugby (saracens) Athletics and Cycling. What is so good about Oakland Hockey Academy is that the students mainly are from state schools with no possible chance to go to University. The Academy was formed in 2017 by Simon Archer , yes we are related, he is the Director of coaching there, the students flourish in learning Hockey and also at the same time studying their chosen subjects. In its short time as an Academy Hockey Wales have sent 4/5 boys to reside and they have gone on the play at junior Levels , The college had over 45% play for the England colleges this year playing England Universities and EngU16, and the biggest success is that a lot of students have now gone onto University which is remarkable for where they started of from. This year players will join up to start college from numerous clubs across the South region and of course the established Welsh link.
    Bedfordshire County hockey use the college as their base and Simon coaches various sides for the County, Cheryl Harding I am sure knows of the College what I am not sure if Cheryl and Simon have had a chance to meet to share their joint knowledge going forward.

  18. Hockey does not seem to happen in many of our state schools at this time. Lack of time in a full and increasing curriculum, lack of staff with a coaching hockey qualification or an interest in the game, access to pitches, astro, G3,shale, MUGA or what ever space available, sports hall space and other activities much more popular in winter months, other activities better perceived by young people. Lots of other reasons people can add.
    I know some clubs work hard to get into schools and promote hockey.
    EH should support school hockey more.

  19. This is all about club hockey. I taught in state comprehensive that produced many elite players including internationals. Hockey in state schools is now dead and buried and hockey has become the preserve of fee paying schools. It appears that England hockey has given up on state schools an untapped source that remains untapped.

  20. Joe Middleton asked: ‘What are they doing in Holland, Belgium and Germany?’ (To be honest this leads me to an answer for possibly a different thread, yet it is linked.) Dutch proper youth leagues means NO 14, 15, 16, 17 YEAR OLDS PLAYING SENIOR HOCKEY. Period. Full stop. Apologies for shouting with capitals, but this has always been a bugbear of mine. Also, the Juniors (6-18 year old) play on Saturday and the Seniors (18+) on Sunday. Which means that many (high-level) Seniors play on Sunday and coach a Junior team on Saturday.

  21. I have stated elsewhere that I believe the current TA system has flaws, even though I coach within it. One thing it isn’t, however, is a cash cow. EH have provided no funding – Each TA must stand alone, and provide in the region of 40 weeks of coaching for the 25-30 kids of each sex, with “contact time” between 1.5 and 4 hours a week (zoom calls, training + match sessions). So it’s a big lift in contact time from the previous PC system and that in itself increases costs (Pitch costs, coaches’ time). Add in kit and yes, it’s more expensive, but the TA’s are not running at a profit as they are also providing bursaries. Is it value for money? Well, EH are running a survey with the parents of players in TA, so I guess we’ll see.

  22. AC, DC, PC, JRPC… it’s hard to think why so many people think the talent development system is broken…

  23. I am to say the least annoyed.
    Where were all these opinions two years ago, as normal hockey people sit on their hands and whine behind other peoples back rather then fronting up. I fronted up.
    Please look back at the four articles I wrote some eighteen months ago before the system started. I had listened to people in clubhouses and sought the opinions of people with excellent coaching records none of whom supported the proposal and pointed out the copious flaws in the plans.
    I agree entirely with James (above) about the way hockey has positioned itself as an elitist private school game, the fees charged by TA’s are eyewatering.
    Changes are needed at EH to sort this Liz Truss mess out.

    • Jon, This is the point I make above. Hockey in state schools is dead, those kids in state schools with sporting talent will be filtered into other sports. What chance is there when you run 5 teams by yourself and go to a very different type of school who have 2 members of staff per team. I have no idea what the answer is but it is such a shame to see real talent end up playing local league football when they could have been elite hockey players.

  24. My lad is at TA. He is not Rich ora hockey public school.
    He got there through hard work and committing his own time to getting better.
    TA is aimed at a performance level of hockey. It is by its very nature not all inclusive. If you wish to get chosen work at hockey. It’s far from perfect but
    It needs time.
    So please stop trying to rip the hockey community apart and lets all come together to look at the real issues hockey faces. Especially with so much coverage for other sports pulling away talent.

  25. The old system had its flaws, parental manipulation of pathway coaches, club coaches and private school teachers in charge, picking their own pupils, members etc. However, it gave a clear and motivating “pathway” of ambition for all, if not always entirely fair. The TA system sucks talent away from smaller clubs, a big club near Southampton and one in Bath have ruined Andover HC and Devizes HC at U16s and U18s. The system has encouraged this. The commitment in time and petrol money to drive further to training in these clubs, sometimes 3 times a week is huge, not possible for many, and not worth it, although you do see famous public school minibuses turning up with pupils. A strong school 1st XI is a great advert for a private school so who can blame them. The removal of a clear, democratic system open to all has removed the motivation for many players to keep striving to be the best they can be, this includes my daughter for whom both netball, Cricket and rowing all offer much more democratic and pure “talent” based opportunities to represent her country.

  26. My son David is really talented and has been working incredibly hard at field hockey since his 8th birthday. One of the other local clubs runs the TA, though. Their goalie isn’t great but he’s in the TA and my son can’t get a look-in. It’s a stitch-up. I’d have thought that it would be healthy to have lots of players to draw on. David has nowhere to go other than club hockey now.


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