Fast-paced, speedy, high energy – all words that you associate with hockey. But for some people, these descriptors make hockey an intimidating activity in which they feel they can take no part.
“In October 2016 one of our ladies came to me and said that she was finding our back to hockey coaching session ‘too much’. It was something that, as a coach who was concerned with inclusivity, I had to do something about.”
The coach was Alan Gormley and his solution was to create Walking Hockey.
The first six-week taster session took place in January 2017 at Bromsgrove Hockey Club in England, where Alan is Head Development Coach, and 35 people turned up. A year on and the Walking Hockey Club at Bromsgrove has seen more than 70 people, ranging from youngsters who are trying the activity for the first time to 70-year-olds who have always enjoyed the game but needed to reduce the pace as injuries took their toll.
“I came along to Walking Hockey because I could no longer run due to knee injuries,” said club regular Charlotte Wright. “It was a chance to play competitively without damaging my knees further.”
Another regular at the Walking Hockey club is Anne Turton. She is using the sport as rehabilitation after she received treatment for cancer: “I played a lot of hockey as a youngster and it was my passion. I played a couple of seasons with Bromsgrove Ladies but then I stopped and I wasn’t very active. In August 2015 I was diagnosed with myeloma – bone marrow cancer. I have come through some pretty hefty chemo sessions and this is part of my recovery periods, to build up stamina and to get as fit as I can. I wanted to get out and meet people rather than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.”
For its creator, Anne’s words would have been enough. “The thing that did it for me was in the early days at Bromsgrove,” recalls Alan. “Anne came up at the end of the third week and said ‘thank you, you have given me a new lease of life. I almost burst into tears. I could have walked away then, it was job done for me.”
But Alan didn’t hang up his stick and the game is spreading rapidly. Alan regularly receives messages from clubs and other organisations who are looking to start their own Walking Hockey club. There are currently more than 20 clubs offering Walking Hockey in England, a handful in Wales and many more clubs considering offering it as an option.
And if the interest in Great Britain wasn’t enough, June 2017 saw Alan heading out to Australia and New Zealand to talk to everyone from state government officials and the former Minister for Sport in Queensland to representatives from the national hockey associations.
“More than in Great Britain, it seems the governments of Australia and New Zealand recognise the value of sport in promoting good health and are prepared to fund physical activities that have a health benefit,” explained Alan. Indicative of this is the fact that the Minister for Health in Australia is also Minister for Sport.
“We had a good talk with the Head of Adult Participation in New Zealand and she is contacting the national equivalent of Help the Aged. They are planning on getting something off the ground there at the moment, so that is pretty cool. The Head of Youth Participation was also very interested.“
There were also talks with the Auckland Hockey Association who have shown considerable interest in this discipline.
In Australia there was an equally positive reaction. Since Alan’s visit, there has been an officer appointed in Cairns to promote Walking Hockey across the territory and a pilot scheme run by the Sunshine Coast Hockey Association. Fremantle Hockey Club is also planning a Walking Hockey club to be launched in the near future and Hockey Australia is also exploring ways of introducing the activity into their structure. And already this week Alan has been contacted by Field Hockey Canada and a college in Massachusetts, USA.
Back in Great Britain, and life is getting even busier for Alan as more groups and organisations want to learn about this new sport. One of the Bromsgrove Walking Hockey regulars is also a pulmonary health nurse and following her recommendation, Walking Hockey will be getting a mention in the latest documents to be released by the British Lung Foundation as a way for people to improve their cardiovascular fitness.
In addition to this, Alan is working very closely with Hockey England to put together a 'How To' package due to be released this year. "England Hockey have been been very supportive," said Alan, adding "They have been on board since day one."
Also in the pipeline is the creation of a Flyerz Club at a school for children with learning difficulties. This should be off the ground just before Easter. Alan explains that Walking Hockey is a great activity for the children. “The playing area is quite small so a small-sided game works well but the main thing is the slower paced nature of the game. The children find the chaos of team sports difficult, so we are spreading the game out into areas, dividing the game into thirds – it is a mix of Walking Hockey and ‘J-ball’, which I learnt about on my visit.”
In May last year, Alan and the Walking Hockey Club were short-listed for an Innovation Award by England Hockey as a way of recognising the success of the initiative and were honoured to be chosen as winners. The project also won the Community Project award at the Hereford and Worcester Sports Awards.
While Alan might once have been tempted to hang up his hockey stick, the growth of the game means that life for this particular member of the hockey family will be busier than ever.
This is another inspiring project which aligns to the core aim of FIH’s strategy – to make hockey a global game that inspires the next generation. As part of this strategy, global does not just refer to geographical reach, but also to the wider spectrum of people that can engage in the sport.
For more information on Walking Hockey, contact Alan Gormley via .