Sevenoaks hope depth in numbers can propel them to Premier Division status, reports Rod Gilmour of The Hockey Paper
“It’s a club that is extremely well organised, ambitious and has the potential to be one of the best in the country,” says South African Martin Schouten, who admits to an “action packed, busy” last six months into his tenure as Sevenoaks’ new director of hockey.
Schouten’s remit is a role running throughout the club, from strategy, commercial relationships, junior and senior teams, while he is also men’s 1s coach.
Prior to Sevenaoks, he coached Reading women for three years and is into his fourth year as assistant coach with Hockey Wales men (a year which saw a first World Cup and a third successive A Division campaign at the EuroHockey Championships), as well as leading the under-23 team.
Like the Welsh national side, Sevenoaks, with its stable men and women sides in England Hockey Division 1 South, has also blossomed with its youth development, which has swelled from 240 members in 2007 to over 500 juniors. Six junior national players have also come through the system this season.
Schouten says: “We have incredible depth and we are probably lacking one or two game-changing players across men and women. The next step is recruiting that top calibre of a player.”
The South African is enthused by the club’s second teams which, he says, are trumping local rivals such as Oxted, Holcombe, Canterbury. “They are quite far above those second teams which is really encouraging for us,” he adds. “We need to push that and translate that into our first teams. But we have a really good base to build from.”
Currently, both men and women have the same amount of points in the top flight, with Sevenoaks women sitting fifth on 10 points. With Surbiton 2s the runaway leaders (eight wins from eight) but not able to be promoted, it is set to be a close title run in.
So far this season, sevenoaks have produced a mixed set of results, the consistency factor missing against the lower table teams, while they have lost their last three, which includes defeats against the top two, Surbiton 2 and Barnes, and going down to a late-late goal against Wimbledon 2s last time out.
“The women have had a lot of years of development, finishing second last season at the peak of that mini cycle,” says Schouten. “We have lost some players and have had some younger players step in.”
Meanwhile, the club saw nine new players come in for the men’s 1s. “We are working towards building a strong side to push for that Premier Division position in the next couple of seasons,” he adds.
Jen Wilson, a fellow South African and Sevenoaks women’s coach, is an “invaluable” asset for the Kent club. She is also set to return for this weekend’s Vitality Division 1 South fixture after injury.
“A triple Olympian, she’s coached international teams with Scotland and has been at the club a long time, so should be able to settle the group and get them back into winning ways,” Schouten admits. “If she gets more pitch time she will make a difference to the team performances that’s for sure.”
"The girls are excited to get back on home soil after two away games," said co-captains Kate Reynolds and Sophie Crossley of this weekend’s match against bottom side Harleston Magpies.
“We've had a tough few weeks losing out to a good Barnes team 4-1 and then losing to an overtime corner against Wimbledon. The teams are looking to bounce back against Harleston Magpies. The games are notoriously closely competed."
With his club remit spanning commercial off the pitch, Schouten says it’s a vitally important fabric of today’s modern club.
“It’s a space that is evolving quite quickly for clubs. With live streaming, or national competitions, it’s becoming a more attractive proposition for commercial partners,” he believes.
“I am just trying to manage those relationships from a more full-time perspective from the club; working with some of the board members to ensure they are getting the value they want.
“We are lucky in Sevenoaks, where we are in an area which is quite business rich, be it families who are part of the juniors who have their own businesses. It’s a great avenue for the club, honing in on people who are already with us.”
Sevenoaks also have five sponsor partners (lead and headline) emblazoned on their shirts, which provide “hugely valuable money into the club” to sustain senior and junior sides playing across the country.
At indoor level, Sevenoaks men have been in the Premier Division for nine seasons while the women’s 1s will be aiming to regain their place in the top flight. With this indoor pedigree, coupled with high performance summer academies and masterclasses, the year-round performance aspect is an enticing one for potential partners.
Sevenoaks are based at The Vine Club, shared between the cricket and hockey clubs, which is a five-minute walk from their Holly Bush Lane hockey pitch. “There is a real history attached to it and a great place for our teas and drinks,” adds Schouten, “and it’s a real heritage that the town and the club is really proud of.”
Saturday: Sevenoaks women v Harleston Magpies, 1:30pm