Monday, 20 October 2014

Away Games from hell...

Most, if not all of us, will have at some point experienced an away game from hell. If you're unsure what I mean by this, let me explain...

There’s no surprise when playing at home, you train on the pitch, you know what’s for teas and you have set expectations regarding the changing rooms. With away days, especially when you’ve not played the opposition before, it’s all a complete mystery. You turn up to the meet time, there are ‘what if?’ questions flying around and there’s a certain buzz that just don’t get with home games. Off you go with no idea what you’ll be faced with and, if you’re like me, you play it down, saying things such as “they’ll probably have a sand-based and we’ll have to make our own sandwiches for teas.” As you can imagine I’m quickly told to “shut up”, or worse, and so I sit there and witness the excitement spiral out of control. By the time we arrive expectations are sky-high, I’m talking the Olympic water-based pitch, television crews, kit nicely folded up in pristine changing rooms, and a three course meal to finish. If only. Unfortunately the reality check sets in as you stagger out of the car park and there, laid before you, is possibly the sandiest pitch you’ve ever seen, so bad in fact that you can’t make out the lines. You’re hoping you’ve taken the wrong turning and what you’re looking at is just an over-the-top long jump pit, but no, grab your buckets and spades chaps, we’re going in. Who’d have known there was a beach so far in-land?!

Begrudgingly you warm-up and the game gets underway. Seventy painful minutes later you come off the ‘pitch’ wondering how you managed to lose to a team that had nothing but an aerial chucker and a quick forward. The problem when you're not used to a really sandy pitch, is that it's difficult to execute the slick, passing game you’ve been coached to play. It should be relatively simple though, increase the ball-speed. Why then, does the slow, sticky pitch cause some of your team mates to go into meltdown and resort to dribbling?! That makes about as much sense as someone deciding to wear Crocs in an attempt to be fashionable ------->

Having lost to a team with next to no hockey ability, your weekend is quickly becoming a write-off, in fact some of your team look like they’re already suffering from ‘Sunday evening syndrome’, all hope now rests on the teas. You follow one of the opposition to their club house, usually a social club that appears, from the outside at least, to have been unoccupied since the 1950s. It’s not looking good, and as you walk inside any chance of salvation goes down the toilet, as on the table in the corner of the room lay the ingredients from what would make for a truly uninspiring episode of ‘Ready Steady Cook’.


 Of course this is a worst case scenario, you’d have to be particularly unlucky to experience the whole lot in one outing. Unfortunately not all of what I’ve said is an over-exaggeration, there are still too many sand-based pitches dotted around the country that are impeding the progression of hockey as a sport. If you predominantly play on a sand-based then get together and think about how to improve the facilities at your club. The only benefit of a sand-based pitch, is that training gets cancelled when the weather's bad... Is that worth the misery of playing crap hockey week in week out?! I don't think so.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Getting hockey noticed - Skill And Nominate.

As an advanced warning, this post may become more of a rant, but I'm just going to go with the flow...

Roughly 9 months ago, in fact, around the time when Neck Nominations were flooding our Facebook news-feeds, I experienced a rare eureka moment. I thought to myself, this is such a great idea, why not apply the nomination-based concept to hockey in some way? After all, hockey struggles to get a word in on social media amongst all the other major sports, so something like this could be a step in the right direction for getting our sport noticed. I spent a lot of time dabbling with the idea and finally thought, let's just have a stab at it and see if it goes anywhere.

As a result, and some of you may have heard, Hockey Issues has very recently set up a Facebook page to host an interactive challenge named 'Skill And Nominate.' If you haven't you should check it out at: it's going to be great fun. Don't worry if you're not especially skilful, this challenge is for anyone who enjoys hockey so get involved!

I spent a couple of days drumming up interest prior to the launch of the page, messaging clubs of all shapes and sizes. A number of clubs, universities, and international players have expressed their desire to help get the ball rolling which is amazing and the support is much appreciated. Unfortunately, in an attempt to gain more exposure, I approached the FIH (International Hockey Federation) explained the concept, the aim (being to promote hockey), and merely asked them to share the link to the page on their timeline so more hockey players could be made aware. Here is the reply I received:

Maybe I've interpreted this message incorrectly, but I think what's happening here is the FIH are stealing the concept for themselves. Does anyone else think it's "kind of funny and strange" that they're conveniently waiting another month to run with the idea? Perhaps it is a complete coincidence, however I very much doubt it. The confirmation of their thievery came when I replied asking if they fancied collaborating on the basis 'Skill And Nominate' was already live, and funnily enough, wasn't graced with a reply. I suppose they've got what they want now so why bother wasting time acknowledging my follow-up message? Then again, at least they had the decency to reply in the first place, unlike England Hockey, who held true to form in being as responsive as an insurance company the minute you try to make a claim. Has anyone else tried on several occasions to get hold of England Hockey and been given the cold shoulder? 

Anyway to get back on topic, 'Skill And Nominate' is for the benefit of hockey, not Hockey Issues, but for everyone who likes the sport to take part in and have a laugh. If the FIH end up doing their own thing, then they are undermining the whole point by forming a divide. Who knows what 'Skill And Nominate' could spiral into, it has the potential to become huge. What I do know is there needs to be a concerted effort, therefore Sam Ward and Ellie Watton using the concept to run #skills4scan on a separate medium is not good for hockey. Furthermore, a joint campaign would hopefully increase donations towards the fantastic cause they are raising money for!

Before I sign off from this far too serious post/rant, I just want to make clear why I'm giving the FIH and England Hockey a bit of stick. I want hockey to be given the credit it deserves, for there to be large turn-outs at national league games and for hockey to feature regularly on television. This isn't going to happen if the governing bodies don't support positive initiatives, or if members of the hockey community turn their noses up at clubs like Holcombe, who hopefully have kick-started the move towards hockey becoming a professional sport. Cricket's progressed massively in this respect over recent years, so why can't hockey? Pull your fingers out people, unless you're happy allowing the sport to stagnate, and letting international hockey get bumped to the red-button by replays of the darts from 2005. In which case, jump on the England Hockey bandwagon and ignore me.

Rant over. Next time it'll be significantly more amusing, I promise!


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

3 rules to training after a bad day...

We all love game days regardless of the time or weather, but what about training? Let me paint the picture. You get home after a rubbish day at work/school, feeling like the world's against you, and then you realise it's hockey training tonight. Bollocks.You unwillingly march upstairs and throw your kit on, whilst looking out the window at the relentless rain beating down. You're praying that your captain will ring to say that training is off tonight, as running around in the rain for an hour and a half might just be the final straw, not to mention that bloody sock you just can't find anywhere! But of course it's not cancelled, it's an 'all-weather sport' remember?! Unfortunately 'all-weather' only encapsulates rain but that's besides the point. If you ever experience one of the evenings illustrated above, then here are three suggestions on how to make training at least bearable:

1. Arrive late - This way you miss the dreaded warm-up led by the person in the team who possesses next to no hockey ability, but instead gets into the team on the basis that they're fit. You can also get just as warm by cranking up the fan in your car to the hottest setting, and this way you stay dry for longer too.

2. Avoid ball collections - Yep you guessed it... When everyone else disperses to the corners of the pitch to collect balls, stand where the coach wants them congregated and form an orderly pile. You won't be popular, but someone has to do it. Shotgun rules apply.

3. Always assume involvement in short-corners - When the time comes for those involved in short-corners to go off and practice whilst the rest partake in a fitness test, always assume you're involved. When you've had a bad day what would you rather do, shuttles, or practice your 'backing-up'?

I'm not saying you take these three suggestions and execute them perfectly every training session, because before long you'll have no friends and be playing in the 6th team. However if you've had a particularly shocking day and need to attend training in order to be selected at the weekend, these might just ease the pain.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Umpires - A player's perspective.

Before I start getting stuck into the fairly controversial subject of ‘umpiring’, take a moment and think back to the most enjoyable matches you've ever played in. Can you recall any incidents with umpires in such games? I bet you can’t. Umpires have the ability to make or break a game, but ensuring the game runs smoothly and remains enjoyable is no easy task. It only takes one lapse of concentration, leading to an important decision being based on an educated guess, to change the entire atmosphere of a game.

What we must realise as players, is that any umpire, regardless of qualifications or experience will eventually make a mistake, it is after all human nature to balls things up. This is where the decision review system prevalent in international tournaments acts as a form of ‘get out of jail free card’ for umpires who've drifted off to think about what they’re going to have for dinner when they get home, and in turn miss a potential result determining, last minute foot in the ‘D’. 

Unfortunately the review system hasn't worked its way into the domestic game, probably as it involves filming the match to then review if called upon. Personally I think nominating a member of the ‘crowd’ to film and act as a stand-in 3rd umpire would be amusing, but would probably cause more problems than it would solve.

Poor umpiring, especially in the lower leagues where umpires aren't appointed is forgiveable, however the problem arises when umpires officiate dishonestly. We've all experienced the classic 'first one' excuse:

But why do they do it? Why not be honest and just admit that they've not seen the offence? Well, appointed umpires have a ‘reputation’ to uphold as they’ll have achieved at least the prestigious level 1 qualification and therefore will not want to appear out of control. But some umpires need to realise that they ruin matches by attempting to become too involved and not letting the game flow. If I had been given a pound for every time I've turned up to a game, recognised the umpire and thought, this is going to be ‘fun’, I’d be a rich yet still grumpy man.

I wanted to see whether you, the hockey community, had any funny stories to tell regarding incidents with umpires, or whether I just need to bite the bullet and show the hockey police more respect. Here are some of the best responses tweeted in:

If these examples don’t scream inconsistency/incompetence then you should consider doing your level 1 umpiring qualification, seriously, you’d fit right in.

Oh and whatever you do, don’t let your potty-mouthed coach loose on an umpire or else there’s a good chance this will happen:

In all honesty though, if you’re one of the good guys then thank you for doing a great job and letting us players get on worrying about not stopping the ball, or giving away possession to the opposition’s centre forward etc. Thanks to everyone who tweeted in with their umpiring stories. If you're still reading by this point I'd appreciate it if you could share this with other hockey players, or umpires if you fancy an argument, Cheers! 


Friday, 22 August 2014

Pre-season Fitness

Yep it's that time of year again, pre-season fitness. Feared by all players, except perhaps the elite, or those unpopular individuals who use sayings such as "no pain, no gain." Personally I think anyone who says they enjoy pre-season are either lying, or have cheated during the off-season by staying in shape so that they can laugh at the rest of us.

The problem is, the same scenario occurs every year. The season finishes, your coach tells you to stay fit, and for some reason you never listen. You tell yourself "it'll be fine, my fitness won't deteriorate that much before the season starts up again..." Unfortunately reality only kicks in when you pitch up to the first session back, wearing that training shirt you swore fit you a few months ago. The only silver lining is that most of your team mates have clearly indulged in the "see food" diet as well. In fact, when I was re-united with the team I thought I'd accidentally turned up to the ladies' session - some of the moobs were quite impressive.

After a quick catch up you hear those fateful words, "Right, in you come then everyone." Next thing you know you're running up and down the pitch with your coach shouting at you as if you've turned up late to an army boot-camp. Don't you just hate how they stand there, laughing inside at your suffering, whilst conveying about as much remorse as Hitler? I'm pretty sure I made it to at least the 25 yard line before contemplating throwing in the towel as a player and going down the coaching route, so I too could shout at overweight people whilst never having to run myself. Honestly though, have you ever seen your coach run? Didn't think so. After an hour and a half of hell, over the course of which you've sweated more than Rolf Harris at a crèche, the session is over and you head home with the knowledge that you're going to need a full-body cast tomorrow morning.

Luckily, you remember pre-season fitness coincides with the summer holidays, so like a prisoner of war desperate to escape, you book a last minute getaway and jet off to somewhere warm and peaceful, where there's no shouting or running around. I can picture it now, there you are on your sun lounger, plying yourself with enough food and drink to satisfy several people, but you can't help but feel guilty at the thought of your fellow team-mates being whipped (not literally I hope) into shape back home. Not only this, but deep down you know that having missed the fitness sessions, you're going to have to work so much harder upon your return. Still, the pizzas and copious amounts of alcohol will numb the pain for now right?! 

Anyway, to those of you who haven't run away from pre-season (no pun intended), I salute you. To those of you who have, I'll be seeing you soon... RIP.