The Hockey Paper and our readers pose questions to England Hockey CEO Nick Pink on its new strategy, which promises to make the sport more visible, relevant and accessible over a five-year period
The Hockey Paper: EH claimed it would double the number of 7-13 year olds in club activity and the vision with the number of state schools offering hockey by 2028.
There are a lot of challenges there, not least space and pitch time. What’s the drive behind this and how can you make sure that it can be doubled within five years?
Nick Pink: We’ve talked about youth specifically in the strategy. So, we want to support that area of development. And actually, we’re seeing that nationally already. So, one of the big areas of growth is in that 7 to 13 age group that we’re seeing at club level at the moment. So that’s the area that we see as the greatest opportunity for growth.
And that’s the area that’s going to sustain the sport for the future. It’s a huge opportunity for a sport like hockey. There are so many great attributes about our sport and you know, the feedback we receive through data, but also anecdotally is obviously the gender equality piece.
The fact that we are genuinely gender equal as a sport, literally almost 50/50 right through the game, is such a positive attribute.
And even anecdotally at the club that I participate in we’re seeing players, young players rocking up on a Sunday morning when those junior sessions are taking place and they’re coming to the sport because they see that gender equality, because they’re seeing it on the pitch, on the field of play as the coaching sessions are taking place. But also what they’re starting to see is the fact that actually up until a certain age, it is gender equal, gender neutral, almost in the space that boys and girls are participating together.
So celebrating that and sharing that I think is important. Growth is important because that sustains the sport, that keeps us as a sport going forward. Yes, of course there will be challenges in relation to how we deliver that. A lot of those will be local challenges. So those are about local solutions and ways that we can work to achieve that. But equally there’s a national agenda at play here, particularly in relation to state schools.
The amount of physical education and school sport in schools, in state schools, is at its lowest for 12, 13 years. In 2010, national data was talking about 85% of children under the age of 18 participating in two hours of PE in schools. That’s dropped, according to the Youth Sport Trust, to 30. And it is almost a national crisis when you put it into those contexts.
So hockey has a part to play in that, we’re not the only answer. We have a part to play. And because of the strengths of the sport, because of our gender equality, because of the sense and the values that resonate and run through the sport and values, were really important in our strategy review that we carried out as well.
We have a role at England Hockey to play in terms of influencing nationally, and there’s absolutely a role at club level to provide safe, enjoyable experiences for those children, those young people that are coming to hockey for the first time or coming back.
And is it up to EH or clubs to do some activation within the community, which a lot of clubs are doing to try and engage state schools? It takes a certain coach who’s into hockey to try and elevate the sport …
It’s absolutely both. It’s definitely a collective one. It’s about identifying where those opportunities are and it’s about making sure it’s almost as easy as it possibly can be, which sounds a very easy, general comment to make, but it’s about facilitating opportunities for children and young people in state schools to participate in hockey. In some cases, that’s us going to the school, to the facility.
And that can be quite challenging in a volunteer space. I absolutely get that and understand that. But equally, it’s about making sure when there is an opportunity for those young people to experience hockey for the first time, they’re getting a real quality experience. And whether that’s fun, whether it’s inclusive, whatever it needs to be to make sure that that’s there and where we can help is we have programmes and initiatives like Hockey Heroes, we have programs like Quicksticks and other things that can be adapted to support those clubs that are delivering that.