Walking to Hockey Success
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 team members came to me and said that she was finding my 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, where Alan is head development coach, and 35 people turned up. A year on and the Walking Hockey Club at Bromsgrove attracts 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,” says 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.”
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.
Alan is also in talks with a major leisure provider to trial Walking Hockey in some of their 80 leisure centres around the UK. Currently the leisure company, England Hockey and Alan himself are discussing ways to overcome a couple of issues.
“The surfaces at the leisure centres are 3G, which England Hockey do not recommend for hockey and there is also an issue about qualified coaches,” explains Alan. But, he adds, England Hockey has been hugely supportive and in this case have come up with two potential solutions. A larger ball as used in Quick Sticks will overcome the problems posed by the 3G surface and comprehensive training of facilitators to run Walking Hockey sessions will reduce the need for qualified hockey coaches.
Facilitators are currently used by both Victoria Basketball and England Netball to great effect and will provide safe training and playing opportunities when there is a lack of qualified hockey coaches.
A year on and Alan is still reeling from how the game has taken off. Every week he is speaking to groups who are interested in taking up the sport. These range from reception classes in schools who see the benefit of introducing the concepts of movement and team work at a slower pace, to groups providing services for people with learning difficulties.
And if the interest in the UK wasn’t enough, June 2017 saw Alan heading out to Australia and New Zealand to talk to everyone from state government officials and the Minister for Health and Sport to representatives from the national hockey associations.
“More than in the UK, 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 New Zealand’s version of Help the Aged. They are planning on getting something off the ground there at the moment, so that is pretty cool. “
There were also talks with Hockey New Zealand and the Auckland Hockey Club, all of who have plans in place to introduce the sport in the next few months.
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 Associaiton. 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 club structure. Just recently Alan has been contacted by Field Hockey Canada and a college in Massachusetts, USA.
Back in the UK, 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.
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 Hockey5s and ‘J-ball’.”
In May last year, Alan and the Walking Hockey Club were nominated and short-listed for an Innovation Award by England Hockey as a way of recognising the success of the initiative. The project also won the Community Project award at the Hereford and Worcester Sports Awards.
“The thing that did it for me was in the early days at Bromsgrove. A woman [Anne Turton] came up at the end of the third week and said ‘thank you, you have given me a new lease of life.’ It transpired she hadn’t left the house for months after she had been receiving treatment for cancer. I almost burst into tears. I could have worked away then, it was job done for me.”
While Alan might have been tempted to hang up his hockey stick there and then, the growth in the activity means that life for this particular member of the hockey family will be busier than ever.
The rules and adaptations of Walking Hockey:
The rules of Walking Hockey have received a makeover since Alan’s visit to New Zealand and Australia to ensure consistency of the rules across national borders.
Teams consist of 4-6 players. There are no goalkeepers.
The pitch is reduced size, the ball is larger than a regular hockey ball. The goals are smaller than regular hockey goals.
Minimal physical contact.
There is not always a need for an umpire as the game relies on an ‘honesty policy’. As the games get more competitive, having an umpire is recommended to keep the participants safe.
No running: if you run, possession is immediately handed to the opposition.
There are no set positions and players can ‘sub’ off at any time.See more