In these very uncertain times it is sometimes good to take stock and reflect upon what is good and positive in the world. The United Nations inspired International Day of Sport for Peace and Development takes place on 6 April and as part of the celebrations day, FIH is highlighting projects and initiatives from around the world that are showcasing the power of hockey to change society for the better.
Hockey can be learnt and played on just about any flat surface. This is the mindset that coaches and teachers are being asked to adopt in South Africa under aspirational plans to encourage more children to take up the sport.
South Africa Hockey Association (SAHA) is currently mid-way through its four year growth strategy 2018-2022, an aspirational plan to spread the sport across schools and clubs in all 52 districts, with competitive opportunities for all participants. Introducing modified hockey is one of the major steps in delivering the aims of the growth strategy and, as SAHA chief executive officer Marissa Langeni says: “We need to grow the game within our communities and to create opportunities to give greater access to the sport.
“These opportunities can be found within schools by adapting and aligning our modified hockey programme within a physical education space.”
At the heart of the plan are the coaching personnel: primary school teachers, club coaches and community based volunteers who will be trained to deliver modified hockey sessions to children new to the sport. Crucial to the plan is recognition that for people taking up and learning hockey there does not need to be a state-of-the-art water-based astroturf – in fact hockey can be played, in a modified format, just about anywhere.
The pragmatic approach taken by the SAHA encourages schools to use any smooth surface that allows the children to learn the skills and basic concepts of hockey, using modified equipment and smaller teams. To support teachers there is also a resource pack, which details the activities that will help children to learn the fundamentals of the sport.
Under the strategy, South Africa will have a whole new cohort of hockey enthusiasts. 375 new schools will be targeted for coaching and equipment; 7,500 youngsters will benefit from coaching, 750 teachers will be involved in the delivery of the nationwide programme and 2,440 modified sticks and balls will be distributed. Lead sponsor for the project is adhesive manufacturer Ezee Tiles, whose support has helped fund resource packs and modified equipment.
Once the hockey programmes are up and running, then neighbourhood hockey leagues will provide competitive opportunities. There are also a series of regional festivals and workshops planned although the global impact of the Corona Virus is likely to lead to the postponement of many of these activities.
The impact of the programme on a nation such as South Africa is immense. It gives children from all cultural backgrounds, ethnic groups and economic situations the opportunity to learn new skills, improve self-confidence, increase physical activity levels and build better communities through increased involvement of teachers, coaches, parents and children.
For hockey in South Africa generally, this programme opens the eyes of thousands more children to the enjoyment that can be gained from regularly playing a team sport as well as widening the talent pool from which the national team will discover its stars of the future.