As you do in a 3 hours flight, I got slightly bored and decided to write some lines about current state of affairs on our beautiful sport. I know, this is not the most original topic and according to the reading stats of our website coaching or technical articles are way more popular for our readers, but like the big majority of us coaches, I care about what’s going on hockey development worldwide, and my involvement goes way beyond being ‘just’ a coach.
More than one or other minor or major disagreement regarding possible future paths, the biggest issue of our times has to do with our ‘identity’, how does the community and the rest of the world perceives Field Hockey?
We live strange days on our sport, there is permanent doubt, change after change and I am afraid we are losing our identity (whatever it was…).
People tend to believe that being a sport so open for change, it is a sign of ‘modernity’ and something to be proud of. Well, I agree that the game have made some tremendous improvements regarding rules and equipment.
However, the truth is that is not OK to be permanently trying, failing, changing, trying again and eventually failing again… This is not how you deal with a worldwide sport followed from so many people from so many different angles. This shows some clear lack of strategy.
Change is welcome but it most be a well thought and sensitive process, otherwise it only creates confusion and damages our identity as sport.
How does hockey competition looks worldwide?
Let’s assume there are 4 main and organised competitive structures around the world;
- Club (mostly the European model).
- College (USA, UK, South Africa and few more countries – actually field hockey is one of the biggest, if not the biggest college sport worldwide).
- Regional (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some Asian countries.
- International competition.
*Indoor Competition (6×6) – Let’s add this indoors short version of the game, normally simultaneously running aside from outdoor competitions. I believe could be an instrumental tool for hockey promotion and development around the globe
The level of professionalism varies immensely from country to country, if you want to be a professional (financially sustained) athlete or coach, either you are in the national team setting, playing or coaching in one of the top European leagues (and even there not everyone gets a ‘salary’) or working within college or school hockey academies.
The European club professional environment has been absolutely fundamental for talented coaches and players from all over the world to develop their game, their knowledge and benefit their home countries and consequently the quality of the game worldwide. It’s a beneficial situation for everyone, european clubs profit from world class knowledge and work ethics, while these ‘immigrant’ coaches and players can dedicate their time to fully engage and develop on their talent on a professional basis.
International Hockey is Key (?)
The FIH (the highest international governing body of hockey) considers that international hockey is the strongest and most impactful tool to promote the game worldwide. Agree it or not, it is relatively easy to understand the logic behind it:
Major International events =Country vs Country = National proud and interest = Stardom = fan engagement = Media exposure = Growth!
Unfortunately, this formula is not working to make the sport globally popular…
Yes, I know that we can still pack a full stadium with a couple of thousands in Argentina, India, Netherlands or UK when the home nation is playing but does that say a thing about our growth potential as a worldwide popular sport?
I also know that we need to play the TV broadcasting ‘ball game’ but more than some attempts of doing what is expected to be done or to follow other sports examples, we need to first understand what is our identity and what are the unique selling points that can make us standing out from other sports (at grassroots level and at sponsors tables).
- What made our sport becoming so popular in a country like Belgium and why did hockey collapsed in countries like India or Pakistan?
We can’t follow other sports formulas in a pure copy-paste style because it simply doesn’t work like that, every sport have different structures and conditions, that is why is so important to understand where do we come from and what we are before deciding where we want to go.
- Rugby, Cricket, etc have certain similarities or elements that we could learn from when we idealize the hockey structures of the future.
For instance Rugby survived without an Olympic Status, used major international events as their biggest promotional asset but found a good balance with European club competition, by the way they also used a smaller version of the game as an easier playing ‘vehicle’ for non top rugby countries. By the way, always surprises me how much so many hockey teams devalue the world cup and only see it as a stepping stone event in between Olympic Cycles.
- I am all in for the game to be played in the streets of China, Turkey, Brazil and Morocco but then we need to understand and let go some of our colonial/upper scale/elitis mannerisms. It is easy to say that the sport should go more global, more ‘footballized’ but when the German star Christopher Ruhr behaves like a football or basketball star, part of the #hockeyfamily think that is over the top and not according to hockey courtesy codes of conduct…. Bulshit! Keep going #CR17 🙂
- We shouldn’t lose our Olympic status but what is the prize to pay for that? To change our game completely? To go to a ridiculous format of 5 against 5 that not only is a completely tactical and technical assassination of the mother game as it is a very dangerous game to play… Disastrous!
- Should FIH be the main promoter of the game? Why not considering some partially private governing possibilities, companies with large experience of managing high profiled sports and athletes.
- We proudly say that one of the nicest thing about hockey is that everyone is reachable and the game bring us together, like some kind of global family. The social media department of FIH repeatedly ignores the biggest social media influencers – people that do a marvellous and voluntary job on promoting the game.
- There is a current problem with FIH (demanded by a big international TV broadcaster) removing thousands of hockey clips from official FIH competitions. I understand contractual obligations and the financial interest behind it but what is the promotional value (not to mention the educational value) of all those thousands of clips compared with a couple of sponsored millions? Tricky one.
Of course we need high quality tv broadcasting but again we need to understand the dimension, the needs and how to find a balance real game – social media.
- Additionally to my last point, what is the most effective way to grow the game everywhere? Some geo-blocked pay-per-view matches or thousands of likes and views and engagement of content flying around internet?
- Are we to be a massive televised sport? Should we look to other innovative ways to broadcast and show hockey matches? Are full hockey matches being followed by younger generations?
- We still get thrilled to see some national cable televisions broadcasting hockey matches but do you know that the majority of those transitions are financially supported by national federations…
- How can our stars be widely known if there is no real weekly/daily fan engagement at their club and daily level?
- Can you recognise the face of the German Timm Herzbruch, the Dutch Lidewij Welten, the Indian Manpreet Singh? Some of the best talents worldwide and this should make us think about where do we stand and the way we promote our sport.
- Look at this fantastic initiative from Scorrd Hockey – The world cup fantasy league. What a brilliant and economic way to engage people with players that they would never heard about. This is a clear example that are a lot of opportunities to explore and different ways to engage people with our sport.
- Some of the main decisions regarding the future of hockey are taken by National Federation presidents…
Without disrespect those are not the right people to primarly consult and to eventually allow fundamental decisions about our game. Some of these presidents never played hockey (not that is a primary condition but helps to understand where we come from), are either on a political or diplomatic path, not to mention a lot of them don’t even understand English and are just obsolete minds.
We need to talk with people that are on the field, hockey educators, technical directors, veteran international players and experienced hockey coaches.
- A brilliant and organic move from FIH was to open the possibility of international sanctioned matches on non-developed countries to be played on grass or other surfaces. Obviously it is far from ideal as the appropriate version of the game should be played in artificial turfs but while we don’t create more affordable and eco-friendly pitches this shows an inclusive approach from FIH. Those are the kind of measures that could stimulate more accessibility and therefore popularity to the game worldwide.
Innovation and straight forwardness as a sport?
- Mixing social media with real live sports
- Gamify training and playing concepts
- Empower the fans in central decisions – let them vote
- Bring big events to subtop hockey countries and/or exotic/iconic locations
- Consult the real game experts
- Involve the real social media hockey experts
- Continuing investing in coaching and leadership programmes
- Let’s look for standardised competition calendars and formats
- Let’s accept that Europe is the home of top club hockey and create the room for that within international calendar (Everyone benefits from that)
- Inclusive and comprehensive hockey strategies on developing areas
- The turfs and equipments should become more accessible to everyone
- Let’s learn what are the USP from hockey and use them to build a modern identity
Always available to discuss, understand, agree, disagree, accept and to learn on any hockey conversation, either with a Malaysian Sheik or with non hockey background parent.