At new Kent hockey club HC Knole Park, months of lockdown did not stop the club’s members from developing their skills, whilst staying connected and improving wellbeing.
At HC Knole Park, COVID-19 has been a barrier to playing hockey but also a catalyst for innovation and individual improvement.
In the first lockdown in March 2020, the club evaluated the situation and saw an appetite among members to continue hockey training despite the constraints of the ‘Stay at Home’ order.
During the first lockdown, which fell at the end of the 2019-20 hockey season, HC Knole Park took hockey training online. A programme of online hockey, daily strength and conditioning, sprint drills and speed endurance running began, and the club offered free membership during the first lockdown to allow more young people to access the offering.
Club Captain Adam Ward adds: “After approximately 2 weeks in lockdown we realised that our members were desperate for some support to keep themselves and their families active during this tricky period.
To support members they arranged a daily virtual group session which is led by the director of coaching Duncan Parnis. In this session Duncan took everyone through a simple fitness session followed by a 20-minute hockey skills session. Each week has had different themes, including supporting mental health awareness week by setting our members a daily kindness challenge.”
A return to real-life hockey was fully embraced by the membership, and indeed many players had improved remarkably as a result of their home hockey skills!
A new lockdown from January – March 2021 meant a new refined and developed lockdown programme, including online hockey sessions, skills coaching sessions, individual feedback during online sessions, a flexible fitness programme, strategic webinars including video analysis of games and a range of fun sporting challenges that went viral across the UK on social media! The club even hosted a highly successful online bake-off!
Members and parents have been hugely grateful to the club for keeping everyone moving and developing during lockdown.
U10 parent Alex Bridger-Wood said: “The programme was brilliant, engaging, motivating, connecting and fun. The challenges were great fun, a challenge and varied. Knole Park has been by far the most engaging and thoughtful club of lockdown! We have felt that the club has really looked after us and our well-being. The relentless and consistent daily sessions have been brilliant. My daughter has felt supported and engaged.
I don’t think they ever considered back in March 2020 that they would still be doing this months later,” admits Ruth Bingham, the club’s Chair, “but I am so proud of how they have responded as a club, adapting and moulding our offering to support our members throughout the challenges of the pandemic.”
Lockdown 3 in January 2021 meant the end of a hectic and happy half-season of hockey and the advent of another long period without team sport. HC Knole Park had a well-oiled programme structure to roll out, with members used to rolling out their 2×2 astros and participating in online hockey and S&C sessions, but the club did not rest on its laurels and the programme continued to develop.
“During the first lockdown, we were teaching players how to develop their fitness, how to build a programme. I’m keen not to tell people what to do; I want them to learn, enjoy and develop healthy habits for life,” said Duncan.
“This lockdown, most players were already in these routines so they offered a competitive element with weekly 3km blasts (or age adapted versions) and a suggested running programme. It was great to have the buzz of the 3km blast like a Saturday fixture, with players submitting their times for an invisible leaderboard. It was great to see how people improved so quickly and began to really enjoy running their 3km!
Players tweaked their individual programmes to suit their goals and other activities. For example, 7 of our players have been involved with NAGs with their own training programmes, and many play other sports, which we support and encourage. Some younger members may not yet be ready to get out running! Although it did get lots of parents out running too! Whatever they could do, the coaching team was happy to support them with advice on their goals.”
The fitness programme has not only progressed players physically but also helped with their wellbeing.
U16 player Elen Nicholls said: “When stuck in the house with home schooling the online sessions gave me a focus and release of tension at the end of the day.”
“To have two teenage girls (aged 16 and 17) who have exercised daily throughout lockdown through the KP framework has been incredible. I would say that this has been key to maintaining a calm, positive household,” said one U18 parent
Knole Park has managed to keep its players active in a time when this is proving a nationwide challenge.
Parent Alex Foster said: “I have been hugely impressed with the lockdown programme and the coaches’ enthusiasm and commitment. After a year of very little school sport, as the parents of teenage girls, we are very concerned about the effect this will have on this group going forward.
"Duncan has certainly done a great deal to reduce the chances of our girls and others dropping out of sport. The girls have loved the challenges and the 3K blasts. I’d say the running commitment has been the greatest success for us. My eldest has developed an almost daily running habit – incorporating it around her studies. I’m sure the feeling of wanting to do the run to support the team has developed into a love of running and the benefits on health and well-being and getting a break from screens!”
The 3km blasts became a weekly ritual replacing Saturday fixtures and getting everyone moving at their own level and improving significantly. The adult teams created a Strava group to support each other. One U16 player said: “Even if I wasn’t really looking forward to the 3km blasts I found it really beneficial and uplifting when I saw that I did improve. I think it made me more relaxed about it and started to enjoy it more.”
A popular update to the programme was the inclusion of weekly coaching sessions for all age groups, in addition to the daily training sessions offered for all.
From Monday to Friday, every weekday of lockdown, members could log in to a 10-minute mobility session, then 10 minutes of strength and conditioning, followed by a 20-minute hockey session. Some sessions were attended by almost 100 members! The sessions were progressive and innovative, working on solutions to hockey problems like avoiding a shave tackle or manipulating a defender in a block tackle, as well as incorporating plenty of free play and creativity.
Each weekday, a different age group was then able to continue onto a session with their cameras on, to receive further ideas and feedback on their skills and technique. These sessions were hugely popular and were enjoyed by all.
“It has been great to see the improvement that members have made during some very challenging months of sporting isolation. Remote learning has worked remarkably well and it has been really positive to have the time and space to give individual feedback and see people responding to it,” said Duncan.
U14 player Kammy Bussey said: “The lockdown programme has been amazing at keeping me engaged and helping me improve my technical skills! My favourite activity has been the daily hockey sessions and also receiving personalised coaching videos to help me improve technically even more!”
Webinars on advanced hockey tactics were also very successful, with players taking the time and effort to go through video footage and ask questions.
“I feel like I have a much deeper understanding of the game, and find it so much easier to watch hockey and apply tactical ideas to my own game. Duncan makes it all very relevant and easy to understand,” said an U18 player.
One of the most exciting new facets of the third lockdown programme has been the hugely popular KP Challenges. The hashtag #KPChallenge is well-known on social media, and Great Britain hockey stars such as Sam Quek and Tess Howard have shared some of the best KP Challenge videos too!
“They wanted to create challenges that weren’t necessarily hockey-related but got people up and having fun with their families, staying active and learning about themselves and their hand-eye coordination, speed, agility and so many other physical and mental skills!” says Duncan. Examples of the challenges included football keepy-uppies, throwing and catching with a partner, an agility square between cones in the garden, hockey aerials into buckets (and basketball hoops in some cases!) and keeping four balloons in the air for as long as possible!
The Knole Park social media team kept the channels full of videos, showing hundreds of members attempting the various challenges.
Wendy Bakewell, parent of an U16 player, said: “The challenges have been lots of fun and also included some family participation so felt inclusive. I am very grateful for the Club’s dedication to engaging the players and for encouraging them to push themselves especially during a challenging time like this pandemic.”
A video of HC Knole Park members Elen and Mali Nicholls doing keepy-uppies on their hockey sticks whilst skateboarding received lots of attention on social media. The most liked video of lockdown was an Instagram reel of siblings Moritz and Elisa Hippe, who built a hockey skill park out of snow in their back garden!
HC Knole Park is committed to supporting the mental health of its members and the club is partnered with West Kent Mind. U16 player Grace Ellis said: “It’s been a fantastic programme with such variety and depth. It was a great combination of skill, fitness and fun, and gave all the family much needed structure during lockdown.”
U14 player Bodicea said: “I have enjoyed taking part in the challenges, especially with my brother. I like the competitive nature of competing with other age groups at the club. Knole Park feels very much like a hockey family. Although I’m new to the club, it has already showed me the closeness of all members of the club. They train as teams but they’re all working together as one club.”
The value of personal connections has proved vital during lockdown, and HC Knole Park members have enjoyed feeling part of the club.
An U14 parent said: “The lockdown programme has kept Evie totally connected with the KP community. Almost every day during lockdown she has been completing a KP activity of some description whether it be a training run, a 3km blast, a KP challenge or an online hockey session.”
U16 players Cara and Amie Gould said: “The lockdown programme has been a fantastic distraction and focus away from the same four walls and the same screen. Not only have they had fun, they have been given a full body, mind and soul workout! From daily stretching, to the S&C, hockey skills and our weekly online training sessions, to the weekend challenges, they’re fully prepared to get back on that pitch!”
Now that the government has allowed grassroots sport to return, HC Knole Park is back on the pitch! A full and exciting summer programme will continue all the way until the start of the new season.
Members are still keen to play lots of hockey, especially after having missed out on so much due to the impact of COVID-19. Hockey returned triumphantly on 29 March, with sessions every day that week and throughout the Easter holidays! Everyone has returned fit and ready to jump back into gameplay, thanks to the online programme. Most importantly, everyone is so happy to be back on the pitch doing what they love!