Siobhan Madeley is well-known among European hockey clubs and national associations as the Communications Manager for the European Hockey Federation (EHF). At her home club, Three Rock Rovers in Dublin, Ireland, she takes on a very different role.
“I suppose I am programme coordinator” she says in an interview with RTE, Ireland’s national radio station. The programme she has been coordinating is an ambitious and inspiring one – to start a team for children with intellectual disabilities.
Just a few months down the line and not only is a team in place but they are just a few months away from competing in the Euro ParaHockey Championships in Amsterdam in August. The range of intellectual disabilities among the squad members includes Downs Syndrome and Autism, but for Siobhan and her team of volunteer coaches, everyone is aiming for the same goal – to give as many people as possible the chance to play hockey.
The squad was formed in November 2016 and soon grew from four to 14. “I guess we were both excited and nervous,” says Madeley. “None of us had really worked with children with disabilities before. We work with our juniors so we know about coaching children and its pretty much the same thing to be honest.”
From September, Three Rock Rovers is offering coaching for children with intellectual disabilities from the age of eight, where they are coached with mainstream children and, then at the age of 14 the coaches and parents will decide if the players will stay in mainstream hockey or join the 'Three Rocks Rockets' team.
During the interview, which took place pitch-side during a lively training session, it was evident that the players had quickly built a great team spirit and developed a love for the game.
“Its a good sport, its a sport where you can make good friends and it is good fun,” said one of the team members, while another player added that it gave her the chance to develop her self-confidence as she learnt new skills.
“It’s helping with the team work aspect,” says one parent. “He is a only child and he isn't able to just hang out on the street with his peers, that is something he will never be able to do, so this is a chance for him to socialise.”
“Every Tuesday after work I am absolutely buzzing,” says Team Manager Hannah O’Byrne. “I can’t put into words how much I adore the coaching. Around this area there is nothing else provided for kids with disabilities so this is a chance for the kids to run around for an hour and the parents can have a cup of coffee and a chat on the side-line. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be.”
For Siobhan, the next step is all about organic growth of the sport. “What we need now is for other clubs in the country to start similar teams so we can play against other clubs. We believe that is the future, it should be organic.”
When it comes to coaching, the Rockets are spoilt for quality. Besides Siobhan, the Head Coach is Niall Denham, TRRHC Men’s First Team Coach and Irish Under-16 Coach, who is in his final year of EHF Top Coaches Programme; and international umpire Alison Keogh. Other members of the men’s and women’s teams also pitch in.
The Rockets and their coaches and supporters are currently busy fundraising to raise the money necessary to send the Rockets on their way to Amsterdam where the Euro ParaHockey Championship takes place between 20-23 August 2017. For more information on Three Rock Rovers Rockets, click here.
This is yet another example of the amazing development work being doing across the world which is helping develop the sport in line with the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy, which you can find out more about here.