I recently attended a meeting of enthusiastic parents of schoolboy hockey players and Committee members of a Johannesburg hockey club.
It threw into the spotlight a cluster of topics that have been investigated and heavily debated in recent years in local and international hockey - the hockey continuum – the cradle to grave journey of a hockey player.
By Steve Jaspan
Elements of the continuum include: Quality coaching in formative years and pre-school hockey; challenging school and youth hockey competitions with suitable coaching; strong clubs who assist youth and create a platform for the launching of national and international careers in an environment of camaraderie and team building; and a place for social and recreational hockey with a less competitive edge including masters/veterans hockey.
I have highlighted that the game is shrinking in certain areas, exacerbated by competing interests, modern life, and lack of artificial surfaces at clubs, declining administration and coaching, despite one of the sports’ hallmarks - it’s wonderful volunteers. The loss of hockey players after schooling is complete is very worrying.
There is little doubt that the key building blocks in this hockey continuum have to be put in place and the strategic planning backed by a “business” or “operational” plan to implement it, is crucial.
But not more so than key personnel, charismatic people who can guide or lead the process cleverly blending professionals with volunteers, whilst cost-effectively funding or resourcing the program.
These are becoming the challenges for the world of hockey and particularly South Africa where the paucity of quality coaches and administrators is assuming emergency proportions.
Maybe from the ashes will emerge a phoenix as concerned, skilled parents and hockey lovers step forward.
However, without an inspiring vision, the will to implement and succeed backed by an operational plan driven by the necessary charismatic but determined people, the future could be gloomy.
Maybe the meeting mentioned in the first paragraph will be one of the breeding grounds for new models of hockey development, coaching and excellence born of necessity, and grounded at schools and clubs.
I hope this will lead to a hockey renaissance and new innovative approaches to build the great game of hockey – the same could apply to other sports, particularly the Olympic Sports - battling to survive in a rampant professional world awash with money, where 80 000 people turn up to watch Christiano Ronaldo model his No 9 shirt at the Bernabeu!
Steve Jaspan is FIH Executive Board member from South Africa.