Time for England Hockey to pay more than lip service to the indoor game

We are delighted to annonce that Nick Catlin has joined the team at Hockey World News.  Take a look at his latest article and blog post below.

With the recent Indoor Hockey World Cup in Berlin culminating in one of the most exciting hockey finals in recent memory, is it time that England Hockey took the smaller format of the game more seriously on both an international and domestic front?

All three of our closest European rivals in international terms dedicate a significant period of time to indoor hockey over the winter period. Whether it be a full indoor programme domestically, which affords club teams in Germany, Belgium and Holland the time to transition from the outdoor game; or a commitment to succeed at international competitions, these nations approach indoor hockey in a very different way to us.

Take, for instance, the Super Sixes finale. Billed as England Hockey’s annual flagship spectacle, the event, which has recently moved from Wembley arena to the Copper Box, is comfortably the most well attended day in the domestic hockey calendar. Consequently, as a paying punter, you might expect to witness some of the best indoor hockey the nation has to offer, played by some of the best players in the country. In reality, the quality of the hockey on display is significantly undermined by the necessity for the clubs competing to simultaneously juggle preparation for the restart of the outdoor league with their finals build up. When you also consider that many of the best players in the country are often unavailable as a result of conditions imposed upon them by the centralised training programme, then the situation becomes even more frustrating. What’s more, whilst the elite of indoor club hockey prepare for the European Championships with their respective domestic finals, the team flying the flag for England, will instead, be resuming outdoor league hockey. It should come as little surprise, then, that an English team has never medalled in the top tier of European club competition.

The national governing bodies approach to international indoor hockey is even more dismissive. Having recently been relegated from the second tier of European competition with a team lacking experience of both indoor hockey and senior international competition, and without any meaningful preparation, England will now face off against teams such as Cyprus, Greece and Slovenia in two years time. I’m certain if you asked the players whether they would enjoy and benefit from being a part of events in which hockey is showcased as well as it was during the Berlin based World Cup then the answer would be a resounding yes!

I am well aware that the UK sport funding which finances the men’s and women’s Olympic programmes is dependent solely on the performance of both teams in the 11-a-side format and thus allocating time and resources to indoor hockey may seem counter intuitive at best and at worst wasteful. However, there are many facets of the indoor game, which can help develop vital skills transferable to outdoor hockey. There is a reason Germany are the best defensive team in the world and have been for as long as I can remember. I was taken to an indoor European Cup in Leipzig at the beginning of 2012 because my selection for the forthcoming Olympic Games was touch and go and there were certain areas of my game, which were highlighted as benefitting from exposure to top level indoor hockey. I was by no means one of the best 12 indoor hockey players in the country, but I was by that stage a fairly experienced international hockey player with imminent prospects of being selected for major outdoor tournaments. It undoubtedly helped accelerate by development as a hockey player. Only, however, because I was playing with top quality indoor hockey players and/or seasoned international professionals and playing against the best teams Europe had to offer at the time. I was ultimately selected to represent Team GB in London that summer, but the foundations were laid on a court in Germany 6 months earlier!

When you consider that hockey is under ever increasing IOC pressure with regards its place on the Olympic roster, then the argument to push indoor hockey to the fore in this country becomes an even more compelling one. It is an alternative, which negates many of the IOC’s concerns with the existing version of the game, requiring far fewer accreditations per team whilst being capable of sharing a venue with other Olympic sports. It also, arguably, provides a better spectator experience on television; and has the greater potential to increase hockey’s global reach (just look at Iran’s bronze medal in the recent Indoor World Cup). Would it not make more sense to put forward an already established version of hockey as a feasible replacement for the 11-a-side format, rather than waste time and money developing alternatives like hockey fives, which is quite frankly embarrassing. Surely, the time is near for England Hockey to pay more than lip service to the Indoor game…?

Hockey World News | Nick Catlin 
Images | Smifsports

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