Where are we heading? | Australia 2.0

Looking back to the World Cup in Den Haag: what a beautiful, well organized, colorful and massive tournament.

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Hopefully a turning point for this exquisite sport!

Lately, mostly in the last decade hockey suffered innumerous changes, some for the benefit of the game and others for the sake (need) of a bigger popularity around the globe.

According to the IOC, during the last Olympic Games (London2012) Hockey was the 3rd competition venue most visited but one of the lowest in the media exposure ranking (TV’s, newspapers, social media, etc) those surprising (maybe not) numbers affected the status among the Olympic family threatening its participation in future editions and probably the sustainability of the sport as we know it now. In other words we got to a point where our beloved game needs to please not only the #hockeyfamily but mostly to reach new and anonymous audiences.

In the previous post ‘Hockey: A new marketing approach!Marcos Castro already revealed some insights about FIH strategy regarding media exposure. That strategy is now visible in the major international events, it is clear that after this ‘Olympic ultimatum’ the governing bodies are investing in a bigger media exposure. This world cup in The Hague had 250.000 live visitors and 350 million viewers worldwide, so it seems that we are walking in the right direction.

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In my opinion, besides those optimistic numbers what we also need to concern in order to transform hockey into a ‘mainstream product’ and attempt to give the step from Olympic ‘exotic’ modality to a worldwide recognized sport is to make some structural changes in the way we (the community, the family, whatever…) approach it.

Hockey needs to be more serious, ‘professionalized’ and uniform in what regards competition formats, rules and culture to become a solid universal sport.

Let’s start with the man in the mirror, If we want others to look at hockey differently than we should start by changing something:

– In how many clubs (top, medium, low level) you see players training with soccer shirts instead of a clean uniformed training kit? Not to mention the old fashioned, not hockey related training material…

– How many times you see children getting late to the trainings yet arriving in luxury cars?

– More and better training – on average how many hours do hockey children (on a performance level) train less than dancers, handball, rugby or basketball players?

– For the clubs that haven’t an indoor hall, how many proper training do the children have during winter? Plus, the gap between seasons, some players stay approximately 4 months without touching a ball…

– Even at this videogame era more than 70% of the children have a topsporter as idol, it is then important that our stars have the conditions (financial/time/support from clubs, OC, etc) to be ambassadors of the sport. It is with great pity that the biggest player ever, the retired Teun de Nooijer is not having an important role in hockey anymore, instead he is working in a football club as team manager (in other hand we see players like Maartje Paumen, Naomi van As or Luciana Aymar assuming the role of hockey superstars).

– If we want to attract more fans visiting the matches or watching it at home (and by fans I mean mostly anonymous visitors and not only family and friends) we need to improve the fan experience; pre/post matches ‘conferences’, declarations from coaches and players, comfortable seats in proper stands, good accessibility to visitors, snacks and drinks being served during the matches in the stands, speakers, music, players interaction, etc, etc,etc…

– In Holland you can watch a hoofdklasse match live with more than 15 international players on the pitch for free while a daily ticket for EHL costs around 20 Euros and talking about EHL and although I am a big fan of this competition it seems to me that the organization should ensure with the host clubs that they are not broadcasting matches with only 40 persons in the stands… (happened last year in Lille and Barcelona and even in a couple of matches in Eindhoven).

– Why aren’t we paying at the top competitions in the best countries a symbolic entrance fee to watch the matches? Some can certainly state that ‘why should I pay for something that I never paid before?’ Because if we start to pay for it, we might start to value more the fact that you can watch comfortably (important!) a sports event with 2 high performance teams full of professional or semiprofessional players and staff. This extra income can ensure the clubs and the staff to become more professional and consequently to give a quality step. Some tendencies need to be forced or tried at least…

– Hockey India League has the potential and the goal to be considered as Hockey ‘NBA’ but for that it is necessary to count with all the top players from Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, etc… We need to adapt domestic and international calendars but I believe this is a ‘too’ old discussion.

– We should not have so much dualism in the rules; it is important to decrease the difference between top and secondary leagues, international and national competitions and also that different countries have different rules.

– Understandably Hockey community was always extremely focused at the international tournaments but that has a direct effect and translates into a lack of interest at a club competitions level which are the basis of a sustainable progress as a sport.

– In terms of equipment and facilities hockey might not the most accessible sport as for a new water field the costs will be approximately around half a million dollars together with an estimation of an average 250 dollars per year that a hockey player spends on equipment and club fees. Low cost fields, gear and sticks?

– Do we need to recover India and Pakistan? Sure, I get the thought of getting a tiny percentage of 1.2 billion persons interested in hockey is a lot of people interested in hockey (Don’t forget that their adventurous and skilful unique style of play is also a big plus for the game). I would also add that is important to bring along countries like USA, China, Russia, Brazil, France or Spain…

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I am very optimistic that hockey can step up with some chirurgic improvements and head towards a more consistent sport.

Personally I hope that hockey will never change so drastically that in order to attract new audiences eventually become a completely different game from the one I once fell in love.

Australia Men’s 2014 – Hockey 2.0

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It is curious that a group of people tend to describe the Australian men’s style of playing by saying they play ‘power hockey’ as if:

1. It is a pure matter of option and not ability, culture or knowledge, therefore if other teams chose it they would also able to play ‘power hockey’ and be successful…

2. Power as they only use strength, an optimal physical condition and a hard style of playing…

3. It is some kind of ‘cheating’ or unfair style of play: ‘Everyone lost big time with the Aussies but they play power hockey you know, is not even fair…’

Well… some people (couch experts) hardly know something about sports and tend to resume their analysis to the most obvious indicator that in this case is the fact that the Australian players are effectively harder, faster and stronger than their opponents but fortunately Australia is much more than that almost negative connotation of ‘Power Hockey’.

This team was represented by a superb group of players, some in their career peak, which mastered every area of the game: physical, technical, strategical and mental leaded by a mastermind of the game mr Ric Charlesworth.

Some days ago, I read an interesting article by the former Dutch international Rob Reckers in which he used a very pertinent quote from ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to describe Australia supremacy – ‘Don’t skate to where the puck is, skate to where the puck is going to be‘– a brilliant way to describe the primordial difference between Australia and the rest: the excellent use of the space.

Some interesting elements of Australian play:

– Using ‘push’ as preferable passing technique for mid range passing (instead of slapping);

– In the midfield excellent scanning skills (fast adapting body in a diagonal angles allowing quick vertical passing);

– Perfect use of deep areas (‘corners’ of the D), advanced receiving skills in the space;

– The difference between being and arriving to the receiving point was clear in the timing of ‘crowding’ the D when attacking, probably the most important characteristic of the Australian attack – how in ball possession the attackers never overcrowded the ‘D’ too soon while other teams have attackers already inside (giving the defensive team enough time to a good defensive positioning and making the D smaller and harder to penetrate);

– The previous point doesn’t change the fact that Australia always arrived in big numbers when attacking with perfect scoring positioning, shooting skills and remarkable agressivity and bravery (very clear in the rebounds, either in field situations as in penalty corners);

– Effective penalty corner (attacking and defending)

– Besides penalty strokes and few PC’s shooting reached predominantly low areas of the goal

Thank you Australia!

Bernardo Fernandes

All images rights reserved to KNHB / FIH

2 thoughts on “Where are we heading? | Australia 2.0

  1. Fly on the Wall says:

    The Australians play the best style of hockey and always have FIH needs to sell hockey for its best attributes: skill and speed, rather than tinker to suit ignorant outsiders. Hockey is light years ahead of soccer, which is barely watchable due to all the cheating.

  2. Pingback: So long 2014, Hello 2015! | Self-Pass

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