Terrassa is probably one of the most important hockey towns in the world.
In our 250.000 population- city, we have 1 Olympian player for every 2.000 citizens. We just have 5 hockey clubs here, being Atlètic Terrassa, Club Egara, and CD Terrassa its big representatives. However, we’ve been producing some of the best hockey athletes in the world for decades. Ventalló, Colomer, Comerma, Dinarès, Amat, Escudé, Sala, Malgosa, Freixa, Alegre, Oliva…are some of the most iconic surnames. The case of RC Polo or Júnior FC is quite similar but they’re more isolated in other cities. But yes, in Catalonia hockey is a “ghetto” sport, located in very few places but with high returns in performance. It’s about quality, not quantity. Why?
Everything started with a cultural exchange between industrial English & Catalan families. The English were living or visiting Catalonia for business purposes (textile). This foreign community got in contact with our local rich community, most of the owners of capital. Some of these Catalan families also decided to send their sons to the UK for adopting new textile skills and some of them came back with hockey sticks. Hockey was part of this cultural-merchant exchange. A leisure activity for the bourgeois. RCPolo adopted the sport and at the same time hockey got established at Terrassa, a growing textile town.
Roughly that was the history. Given this background, the question that arises is: how this elitist-bourgeois close context has contributed to our outstanding performance in the following decades? Let’s talk about talent, youth development and performance and let’s mix it with concepts like identity, social recognition, and power.
First of all, we need to understand how talent is converted into performance. We have many studies, models, academics and theories about that. There is not any magic equation. But many researchers like Jean Côté have collected significative data that may help us to understand the concept of development in youth ages. Here you can see some conclusions or postulates derived from his investigations, and how they’re represented in Terrassa:
Small-cities provide a better environment for youth sports development: To have a smaller environment brings more safety and control to the children. In Terrassa, we have most of our hockey community living in the center of the city (more expensive). Kids belong to very few schools, they use to walk to the home and everything is well settled. Short distances from school to the club by bus and after training going home with parents.
Stronger supportive relationships: Integration. Former hockey players in families. Friends from school and friends from hockey are similar groups. Teachers are close to hockey people. Trainers and coaches are well known for families. Everything is linked and related. A bit endogamic.
A sense of belonging: When there is a social group well defined, that automatically brings a sense of belonging (in front of others), recognition and self-esteem as a return. Is a source of positive social norms. It shapes habits and behaviors. The Terrassa hockey community has its own personality, social conducts, and even particular jargons.
Contact with role-models: In every community there are role-models. Personalities that represents and exemplifies the higher aims of the participants. In our Terrassa hockey community, these fellows are really close to the children. The ones that are not directly family-related, are youth coaches or friends from relatives. The kids can easily interact with their role-models. That is a source of motivation and passion. The idol is at the right aspirational distance. Not too close, not too far.
Tradition facilitates deliberate-play and the consequent specialization: Models like LTAD (the one that I’m in charge of implementing at Atlètic Terrassa) are clear in pointing that in early ages the deliberate play (playing for fun) is fundamental. Not deliberate practice. When hockey is taxed in our community DNA (the first gift after a birth is a hockey stick), to play hockey for fun is natural. For example, together with kids like Santi Freixa we spent hours and hours playing at the club, without any “adult-made” guide, far from our parents, and without any pressure or expectation. Teun de Nooijer started hockey when he was 9 years-old, and just for fun. He did not train more than 2 days per week until 16 years-old. And never hired any “personal coach”. But he was sleeping next to his brand-new hockey stick, and this is what Terrassa kids usually do as well. That is the point: to love the sport. The more fun kids get, the more intrinsic motivation they gain. As clubs, can we promote deliberate play? Yes. How? Promoting social engagement and designing deliberate-play opportunities. We should create hockey apostles.
High-Performance Programs: After the first stages, when the kid becomes adolescent, it’s time to invest more time in the regular practice of the sport. Now it’s about deliberate-practice. More hours. Train to train and train to compete. With the passion for hockey previously adopted and some good values integrated, the teenager is now ready to approach his sport from a different point of view. His hockey peers will help him to get social recognition beyond the family. Therefore, to perform in hockey will become an important KPI for his social recognition. He’s ready to convert his passion for hockey into a sports mentality. He will be able to work hard cause he has a goal and a purpose. To be part of the Catalan U15’s is probably one of the first “performance” indicators that motivate our local guys. Frustration arises too. These highly motivated players will accept more hours of training. If clubs can get good hockey coaches and wise programs during these stages, they will make a huge technical growth. In Atlètic Terrassa we have our own “Performance Programm” for boys and girls U16’s and U18’s. But be careful, If during the childhood the parents have put too many expectations on the kid when adolescent he will definitely reject the sport as part of his negation to parental authority. I’ve seen so many hockey talented players wasting its career because of external pressures from parents.
Terrassa is not a miracle. Its success as “Hockey Town” has some key factors, as I tried to explain. Terrassa has a particular sociocultural environment (still bourgeois) that generates talent and big hockey clubs with professional structures that are able to convert this talent into performance. However, there is still a lot of work to do. We’re facing important troubles like parental early-performance-selection demands; we have budget constraints that restrict our capacity to hire top educators for early ages; we’re lacking good full-time coaches in specialization ages; and also we suffer field-space constraints that limitate the number of hours that we can invest in youth athletes (we’re training less than we should).
Competitive forces have increased the pressure on us and good performance programs are settled in Barcelona, Madrid and other parts of Spain. The capital ($) tends to concentrate the best resources around it, and if Terrassa wants to maintain its privileged position in the future, we would need something else besides our romantic hockey Utopia. We will need smart development projects, good professionals, and top teams.