Talent Survey: what you have told us

Pennine Pumas 2019 Futures Cup
Our aspiration at England Hockey over the next few years is to work more closely with the hockey community and to bring to reality a shared vision for high quality talent identification and development. The first step towards achieving this ambition has been to discover how you viewed the existing system and how it could be enhanced and improved. In May, we published the Talent Survey and nearly 1,400 people replied. 

England Hockey would like to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the questionnaire. The depth and quality of your feedback and the constructive feedback that we received has given us a wealth of insight and plenty to consider. Our task now is to reflect, consider and map out a strategy for the future.

About the Talent Pathway Survey
The respondents to the survey are involved in hockey in many different ways: more than half were parents or guardians of junior players, the next largest group were players, with almost 400 players recalling their real-life experiences and offering an abundance of ideas and insight. Coaches made up the third largest cohort of participants, while other respondents included club committee members, umpires and county administrators. 

Geographically, the responses came from all regions; the gender split was 53% female, 43% male and 2% other/prefer not to say. 

For the purposes of the survey, the questions focused on three stages of development: emerging talent (11-14 years of age), talent development (15-18) and performance development (19-23). 

Initial Conclusions
While responses varied when referring to each stage of the pathway, there was also a lot of broad consensus transcending the three stages. Here are some of the most common themes in response to the questions we asked:

Player Development – what’s most important?
  • An effective player-coach relationship was deemed highly important at all stages of development; as was developing the person, not just the player. Hockey skills development was also considered very important at all stages, but particularly at the emerging talent and talent development stages.  95% of respondents rated this as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ at emerging talent, 91% at talent development and 81% at performance development. 
  • The importance of competition at all stages was emphasised. It should be noted that the responses stressed that it was about the quality of competitive experience, not the actual winning. Not surprisingly ‘Winning’ is seen as more important in the later stages of development; 69% said it was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ at performance development level compared to 38% at emerging talent level. However, this was markedly less than the 88-90% who cited the competition experiences as ‘important’ or ‘very important’. 
The talent development environment: what’s most important? 
  • More than 70% of respondents ranked ‘Encouraging the players to set challenging aspirations, high standards of behaviour and high expectations’ in the top three most important factors across all stages of the player development. 
  • The importance of the coaching environment was stressed repeatedly: having coaches who understand the demands of high-level hockey and apply this in their coaching came through strongly, with 73% and 79% of respondents placing it in the top three factors at the emerging talent and talent development stages respectively.
  • Words such as: inclusive, welcoming, inspiring, safe appeared again and again with the importance of an inclusive environment ranked as a top three factor by a significant number of respondents (45% emerging talent level and 30% at talent development level).
Inclusivity and accessibility
  • There were strongly voiced concerns about both inclusivity and accessibility issues, and the dominance of private schools. Many respondents identified inequality between the two school systems – private and state – when it comes to hockey delivery. Issues here include access to facilities and coaches as well as access to the talent development pathway.
  • The cost of playing the game was highlighted as a barrier for some. There were also concerns raised over the location and accessibility of facilities. 
  • A geographical division was also cited, with the perception that some southern clubs have access to a larger pool of talent and better facilities than those in the north. 
There was a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the selection process and a feeling that here was an opportunity for significant improvement. Respondents suggested the need for a more widespread, inclusive and regular scouting process, with the emphasis on future potential rather than performance.

Visibility and attractiveness 
  • The current attractiveness of the sport was questioned with a commonly expressed view that it needs to appeal to a much wider talent pool. 
  • This took many forms: from a simple ‘what brand does hockey want to portray?, more high quality competition opportunities at a young age to compete better with other sports, to the question of bias – conscious or unconscious – when it comes to selection. 
Suggestions for improvement 
Among the suggestions for ways to instigate change raised through the survey are: the need for greater investment – emotional, and financial – in club hockey, with greater recognition of clubs and schools in talent development; the importance of role models – when it comes to attracting new players into the sport; a modern coaching approach that is supportive and highly knowledgeable; and the development of a system with multiple entry points, designed to reduce the number of players lost to the sport at different stages of the pathway.

Where now?
We asked for honest feedback and constructive suggestions and, via this survey, you have delivered. These are all significant areas for England Hockey and the sport in general to address. This survey is the first step in recognising areas for change and improvement and then coordinating a plan to move the talent system forwards.

We have a huge opportunity to reshape junior hockey over the next decade. As a sport, we can work together to make sure that our talent development system is stimulating, inspiring, challenging and one that young players are proud and excited to be a part of.

Over the coming weeks we’ll reflect on the feedback and messages received in the survey, together with other insight and views we’ve captured through England Hockey forums such as the Player Pathway Committee and the Elite Domestic Game panel.   

The unprecedented situation caused by Covid-19 means we are operating in an uncertain and changing environment and this makes setting precise timelines difficult. However, our intention is to share some initial concepts and ideas, which set out a new strategic direction for our talent system in the coming months. 

This will be something which articulates our desire to address issues raised and enables us to work more closely with people and organisations in and outside the current hockey community.

While some of these are hugely difficult issues which extend beyond the scope of the talent system in isolation, there are others we believe we can address more quickly. As an example. we have already begun exploring alternative selection methods for England Age Group Programmes. 

We are excited and passionate about the opportunity that lies ahead and are eager to work towards a common goal of creating the best possible opportunities for talented young people to thrive and achieves their dreams through hockey.