Lots of potential, but no-where to play
“If you build it, they will come,” Erwin Handura utters the famous mis-quote as he explains that Namibian hockey, particularly indoor hockey, is full
of potential, it purely lacks facilities and funding.
Erwin eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. The head coach of the Namibia women’s indoor hockey team is not only head coach for both the outdoor and indoor women’s squads, he is also Head of Development and Portfolio Holder with the Namibian Hockey Association and coaches hockey at the University of Namibia. Much of his coaching work is done on a voluntary basis and, in his own words, hockey is a passion that “takes too much of my time”.
Not that there is any chance of Erwin giving up any of his hockey commitments anytime soon. We met at the end of the Fifth Women’s Indoor World Cup in Berlin, where Namibia had finished a creditable ninth. Erwin was relatively pleased, although his original target was to finish in the top eight.
An appearance at the Indoor World Cup is one reward for a development system that began back in 1995, suffered a demise from 2004 until 2015 but in recent years been raised to a whole new level.
“We have a three year plan which runs from 2015-18, so our target is to introduce hockey to all 14 regions in Namibia,” says Erwin. “We go to one area and introduce hockey into four primary schools. We give the schools equipment, sticks and balls and, over a four day period, we hold an introductory course for the teachers; we spent two days coaching the children and teachers together; then on the fourth day we have a festival.”
Just three days to learn the game?
Erwin is certain of it: “In just three days kids can play hockey, largely because they already know football or netball and the principles are the same. They can pick it up quickly and it is so important that they play the game.
Getting the children to play regularly is one of the stipulations that comes as part of the hockey development programme. In return for four days of coaching and a set of equipment, the schools must agree to enter a local mini league with other schools on the programme.
“Introduce the game and give them the equipment,” says Erwin, as he explains his simple business development plan. “We know it is a model that works because we did it between 1995 and 2003. We introduced hockey to age groups ranging from U12 to U18. After that, from each region, a team was selected and they played in a national tournament. If you show kids they can travel with hockey, that will act as a powerful draw away from the traditional sports of football and rugby.”
The current programme is funded by one of the national banks and, although the sponsorship is due to come to an end this year, Erwin is confident the programme will be extended. Much of this confidence is based on the good performances of the national indoor team, both in qualifying for the Indoor World Cup and for their results at the event.
The original programme, which Erwin ran from 1995 to 2003, has produced a number of elite players. Captain in Berlin was Magreth Mengo – a product of the 1995 coaching programme. Many of the children from that programme were part of the team that came third in the Junior World Cup qualifier.
“We have the players to be good,” says Erwin. What Namibia lacks is facilities and a wide pool of coaches and umpires.
To that end, Erwin is looking to big business and support from national and international governing bodies. “There is a growing interest in sponsoring hockey, especially indoor hockey,” says Erwin. “We are discussing this with banks and businesses. For an investment, a bank could have its name on a state-of-the-art indoor facility for the next 10 to 20 years.”
To address the coaching and umpiring gap, Erwin is encouraged by what he has seen in Berlin. “The FIH Academy was running a High Performance Coaching Course for indoor hockey and there were several coaches from African nations there. That is what we need – to get our coaches on these courses.
“If we can get the structure right, we will be looking at a top six finish at the next Indoor World Cup.”
It is not just the FIH that Erwin is looking to for help. Namibia has many links with Germany and over the course of the World Cup, Erwin was busy making contacts with teams from across Europe and the wider world.
“If we can spend two weeks each year playing clubs and national teams in Europe,” he says, “That will help our game tremendously.”
That is the elite level. But how is the development at grass roots level progressing? With just a few months of the current three-year plan remaining, Erwin and his handful of coaching staff have so far introduced hockey into seven regions of Namibia. They will be pulling out all the stops to get round the other seven regions.
It is a big ask. Erwin only has a small number of coaches working with him. He does the coaching for free but says that he is loathe to ask other coaches to give up their time for no payment. He is hope is that one day the initiative will become sustainable. “I am doing this on a voluntary basis. it is something that I love. Sometimes you have to do things for free until they become established and sustainable.”
The schools that play hockey are divided between the wealthy private schools that can afford the costs of travelling to tournaments and buying equipment and those state schools that rely on fund-raising and parental contributions. It is a situation that Erwin dislikes but can see no immediate solution. “Sometimes a kid’s hockey future is determined by his or her school and by the club the or she joins. Some clubs just do development much better than others.”
Nambia’s facility count is ridiculously low for a nation that just finished ninth in the world. The outdoor game has three artificial turfs across the whole country. There is not one high quality indoor playing surface in the whole of Namibia.
“We need decent halls where teams can train and play,” says Erwin. “We have the players but we don’t have the facilities. The University of Namibia has a hall but it is also used for basketball, other sports and for wet weather activities. We always improvise. We find an outdoor space, put some kerbing stones down as boards and play. Where there is a will there is a way.”
To prepare for the Indoor World Cup, the Namibian team travelled to Europe two weeks before the competition started. The training matches, against German and Dutch clubs, was as much about getting used to the surface and how to play off good quality boards as they were preparing for a global event.
Currently, there are eight or nine clubs in Namibia. A 57-team indoor league caters for huge numbers of keen players. There is a thriving Masters league. Kids in schools eagerly pick up sticks and want to play. At the top of the pile is one man trying to cater and harness this enthusiasm. Erwin Handura’s life-long passion for hockey is sometimes severely tested but never diminished.