Kenya Hockey: The sleeping giant that needs to be awakened

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Kenya was amongst the greatest hockey nations in the world but only a few decades later the standards fell dramatically.

In the wake of an embarrassing performance in the recently concluded 2017 ACN read, about the major problems Kenyan Hockey faces and how a once world-renowned Kenya must be restored to prominence.

Kenyan Hockey as an amateur/semi-pro sport
It is no secret that locally only a handful of players play hockey as a professional sport. Most players are amateur or semi-pro as majority play out of passion. Most teams barely have training facilities and those that do, train averagely 3 times per week.

The KHU leagues are consistently inconsistent – one team can play two league matches in one weekend while another team in the same league plays as many games over a period of two months!

To maintain a high standard and quality of the sport, there needs to be a certain degree of consistency. Player form and play quality improves with consistent challenges. A consistent run of fixtures forces athletes to consistently train and keep up their fitness levels. It most certainly doesn’t help to keep training and not be sure whether the next fixture will be played of not.

The clubs as well have a big hand in these inconsistencies as most, for example, are not willing to play due to player unavailability. Another reason that comes to mind is the fact that most teams are self-sponsored, and it’s reasonably understandable why the fixtures need to change to allow them to collect the much needed funds for logistics and such. Perhaps it’s time for clubs and the hockey union to have some serious thought about sponsorships. It’s worth to debate whether KHU should continue with such leniency or should find ways to help out these clubs.

 

FIH Qualifications
At present there are very few coaches in the entire country that can boast of having FIH Coaching badges. It’s difficult to acquire them in Kenya as one has to either wait for the continental federation to offer the FIH coaching courses or find a way to travel to Europe to attend similar training. The national federation currently doesn’t organize frequent FIH coaching courses.

For our standards in the sport to grow we need to make significant investment in hockey education right from grassroot level. Most coaches locally don’t have the proper education more so the knowledge of modern training methods, techniques and equipment in use. Very few have KHU coaching qualifications which I strongly believe is not good enough.

To match up to the top teams globally we need to raise our local coaching standards. We need to develop a philosophy backed with proper education. KHU needs to organize at least three coaching seminars every year.

It’s also important to form a forum for local coaches where they can share their views and ideas on how to improve the sport locally. Through such forums we can be able to set coaching standards, philosophies and policies to use locally.

It’s no doubt that there’s a shortage of hockey umpires in the country as well. Similar to coaching we need to set up proper education for umpires and develop ways to encourage more people to sign up. KHU has to conduct frequent umpiring courses with a range of activities to assist  local umpires in their development and provide them with a greater understanding of how best to develop their skills which in turn will allow them to be better prepared in their role. A high standard of umpiring will always translate to a higher standard of play.

 

Grass root Hockey
There’s little to no significant investment being made in developing initiation and novice aged hockey players at county level. Currently most players get to learn the sport at high school which is a bit late in modern sport. We need to invest more in Long Term Hockey Development (LTHD) which recognizes these 7 stages in the development of field hockey players:

Stage 1: Active Start: Ages 0-6
Stage 2: Fundamentals: Ages 6-10
Stage 3: Learning to Train: Ages 9-12 males, 8-11 females
Stage 4: Training to Train: Ages 12-16 males, 11-15 females (This most players start learning hockey locally)
Stage 5: Training to Compete: Ages 16-19
Stage 6: Training to Win: Ages 19 and beyond
Stage 7: Hockey for Life: All ages

The best and most obvious place for this to begin is in the primary schools. KHU and local teams should start offering free learn-to-play and street hockey programs. A philosophy must be established so that those teaching understand how to make learning as productive as possible and so that parent involvement can be a positive, not a pressure-filled experience. Grassroots development requires widespread exposure with the emphasis on fun and fundamental skills. Higher-level training can be sought once a player shows greater interest and desire for such.

We also need to set up minor hockey associations at county level and a development model that will provide age-appropriate guidelines for Initiation of players as well as a curriculum to work towards the common goal of helping more kids to play, excel and love hockey in a positive environment.

KHU needs to now start taking keen interest in the high school leagues and tournaments. In my opinion they should not only be a first term event but be played all year round. Other than high school leagues, we need to have county level leagues and street tournaments to drum up support and interest in the sport.

Our field hockey facilities also need to be upgraded to the most modern ones. We also need to have at least one high standard artificial turf pitch in every county. Currently we have only one accessible artificial turf pitch which is quite frankly out-dated and ragged.

As earlier discussed, there’s real value in having as many FIH certified coaches as possible. We should have at least 500 coaches locally with FIH level 2 Certification and above. We need to set standards for coaching certain teams or clubs locally. For example we can state that to coach a Premier League club one needs to have FIH Level 3 qualification and above, a national league club Level 2 and above, high school coaches to have at least FIH Level 1 and so on. A national team coach must have at least an FIH High Performance Qualification.

We also need to invest more in umpire education as much as coaching. We should have at lease 10 highly qualified umpires in every county. Similar to coaching, for one to be able to umpire at a certain level they’ll need to have both experience and required qualifications.

 

National Team Pool and Playing Strategy
One major disadvantage we have of not investing in grassroot hockey is that it is difficult to combine a number of players with enough talent or the “right” physical attributes for the national team and at the same time there’s a limited pool of players to select from. One of the outcomes of this may be that the team lacks ideal team attributes. This usually leaves Kenyan teams in the role of the underdogs.

With significant investment in grassroot hockey we will have a greater pool of players to select from for national team duty. We will be able to easily select players for every competition level may it be U17, U21 or the World Cup.

Many larger nations have developed a playing strategy for their national team which is taught through all the junior teams in order to make the juniors play in the “right way” when they reach the senior team – and in which the right players are brought into the system.

Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of having a catalogue of players from which to select right player for a particular team strategy. We have to constantly evaluate and think about the right way to play, depending on which players are available for the national team at any given time.

We are mostly forced to use our entire player resources thoroughly, while larger nations can just drop players who do not fit in their system, make mistakes or do not function as part of the team and bring in others with the right attributes instead.

 

Sponsorship
Kenyan Hockey is no longer as marketable as it used to be a few years back. We need to find ways to make it more attractive to potential investors. Before sponsoring an activity, sponsors must feel sure that the event/organisation will be successful; has a proven track record, good prospects and generally be aligned with the sponsor’s brand and business objectives.

If KHU were to receive a sponsorship, it would stand to benefit enormously from both financial support and other forms of backing from an established partner, provided that both parties have agreed a set of common objectives to underpin the sponsorship. We need to step away from waiting for the government/clubs in everything that needs financial backing.

Player/club participation fees cover the majority of the costs but support from sponsors provides additional resources which can help keep participation fees low. With lower fees, more clubs will be able to afford to sign up and that means more players being able to receive the many benefits of the sport.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t particularly enjoy a much targeted audience, but it does make way for a greater and wider net by increasing visibility and enhancing the company’s image.

 

One Man Army
Most hockey teams and clubs are run by one man, the “Coach” who does it all. They like to micromanage everything from goalkeepers’ training, technical/tactical training to club administration.

There’s real value in having a supportive backroom staff. It’s difficult for one coach to achieve much while handling everything. There are so many different specialist coaches that can make up the coaching staff in modern sport, like strength and conditioning coaches, physiotherapists and specific positional coaches all designed to help an athlete to perform at their best.

One significant advantage is each of these different roles, the coaches or support staff, all have very important roles in being able to help the Head Coach develop better relationships with their players – they can all get to know an athlete on a different level. In addition, when you have all of these different roles, it becomes an issue for a Head Coach to ensure that everyone is absolutely aligned to the type of culture that the team is trying to create.

All successful sports coaches/managers have one thing in common – they maintain and believe in a strong, diverse and supportive backroom staff. I’ll quote two of the best and well known football managers to support this point (Sorry, I’m a football fan as well!)

Jürgen Klopp:
“I am nothing without them (backroom staff). I think the biggest strength of strong people is to put people around you who are stronger in specific cases than yourself. Only if you are insecure you wouldn’t do that and think, ‘Oh my god, maybe somebody sees he is better at this than I am…’ and all that stuff.

“I have absolutely no problem with this and that makes them so important for me. I like them all but we are only together because they have so many qualities. Without them, I didn’t want to do the job – and I couldn’t do the job anymore. That’s how it is.

“When I started I was alone, but that was years ago and the world has changed – especially the football world, so it’s really important we have this quality around. I am absolutely happy about this.”

 

Sir Alex Ferguson:
“One afternoon at Aberdeen, I had a conversation with my assistant manager while we were having a cup of tea. He said: ‘I don’t know why you brought me here.’ I said: ‘What are you talking about?’ and he replied: ‘I don’t do anything. I work with the youth team, but I’m here to assist you with the training and with picking the team. That’s the assistant manager’s job.’

“Another coach said: ‘I think he’s right, boss,’ and pointed out that I could benefit from not always having to lead the training.

“At first I said: ‘No, no, no,’ but I thought it over for a few days and then said: ‘I’ll give it a try. No promises.’ Deep down I knew he was right. So I delegated the training to him, and it was the best thing I ever did. It didn’t take away my control. My presence and ability to supervise were always there, and what you can pick up by watching is incredibly valuable.

“Once I stepped out of the bubble, I became more aware of a range of details, and my performance level jumped. Seeing a change in a player’s habits or a sudden dip in his enthusiasm allowed me to go further with him: Is it family problems? Is he struggling financially? Is he tired? What kind of mood is he in? Sometimes I could even tell that a player was injured when he thought he was fine.

“I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing, but I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.”

 

Obviously there’s a lot that needs to be done to get us back to where we once were but the above, I believe, should be our starting point. Everyone has a responsibility to make it happen. Players, clubs and KHU need to work hand in hand to wake this sleeping giant that is Kenya Hockey.


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Simon Mwangi

Field Hockey enthusiast and player, who loves living a peaceful life. Looking to grow this sport we all love and cherish in a different way - through cutting edge stats and analysis. Also a branch manager and webdev at a startup. Currently going through my coaching badges as well ;-)

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