A visionary club with a dedicated leader successfully developing junior hockey. Some advice for struggling clubs">

FEATURE: A visionary club with a dedicated leader successfully developing junior hockey. Some advice for struggling clubs

Photo courtesy of Don Sawyer – prestophotos.com

Bruce Curtis is known to have only one eye that for his club, Labrador Hockey Club on the Gold Coast, Queensland. However the heart of Bruce is to see hockey grow as a sport globally because he loves his hockey. He has played for Labrador and dedicatedly served his club for decades. Hundreds and hundreds of juniors have come through their meticulously and successful junior program. The fruit of the clubs junior development labour has been the witness of Australian representative players and this year’s dominance of their A Grade Men’s team who play in the Premier Brisbane Competition. The played in the grand final against the strong Brisbane based club- Easts. Their motto is ‘Families Together Growing in Sport’ which in itself says an enormous amount.

Bruce Curtis

Photo courtesy of Don Sawyer – prestophotos.com

In recent Go Hockey News editions we have focused on the necessity to develop junior hockey participation numbers as a sport for its longevity and success. Across Australia we are witnessing the overall struggle of clubs to build their junior participation. Yet we have coinciding with this struggle model examples of how clubs are turning the struggle around into a successful model. Labrador hockey club has never struggled because of what they have as a vision has transpired into reality. It is for this reason it was asked of Bruce to share with the hockey fraternity at large as to the secrets of their clubs success.  The following information is a result of questions posed to Bruce from Go Hockey News. If you are a club or association administrator certainly read on. 

How to build a successful junior hockey participation program ‘where a vision becomes reality’?

The vision came from myself close to when I was stopping playing competitively, I had kids I wanted to create opportunity for and Labrador had basically no juniors. So I worked on pulling together a program that would be parent friendly. Parent friendly in the Labrador area meant low cost, one time, one location, no mid-week commitment and well run eg. Season draw provided at week 2. These are the basic criteria I felt hockey needed to attract young participants. The major team sports having much more media coverage and profile, the recruiting phase had to be direct contact with children where they gather – primary schools.

What was your original vision for junior hockey development? Why is it successful? 

Success comes from the Club taking ownership of all aspects of the program and hard work over many years. Clubs can solicit assistance from Association staff but long term success will not be possible without dedicated Club personal driving the program. The Club volunteers also need to take a long term view and not simply that of what is best for the Club while their children are involved. Synthetic fields and centralised venues in cities have distorted hockey administrators strategies into making parents transport their children reasonable distances when they are at the early trialling a sport phase. That is ok in smaller towns where it is not far for all residents to travel to a venue but easy for parents to decide there are easier options to provide the sporting experience to their young children if they need to travel past other viable options. Therefore Clubs need to create a local  venue for their junior development program close to their schools and possible target market.

How is your current junior program structured?

Photo courtesy of Don Sawyer – prestophotos.com

  Our current Junior Development Program at Labrador HC starts in February where we have paid coaches attend local primary schools conducting structured skills lessons, usually to year 3 or 2, concluding with all children being provided with a flier to be given to parents outlining all the parent friendly aspects of bringing their children down to try playing hockey. Sign on date is set at the conclusion of the school phase with games commencing the following week in March. On Saturday, Labrador HC conducts three divisions prior to the children and parents deciding to continue into Association run Under 11 competitions. Tigerstix Cubs is for preschool and year 1 children – usually siblings of older children – one hour, drills then a game on 12 th of the field. Tigerstix Rookies is for year 2 and 3 children – one hour, drills then game on 1/4 field. Tigerstix 10’s is for year 4 and 5 children – one and a half hours, drills then game on a half field. We don’t have strict age group rulings, children participate where they feel comfortable and where their friends are also participating.

What is the approximate number of juniors you have in your club specific program? 

This season we have retained approximately 140 participants. Our Club still needs to expand these numbers to remain sustainable under the current cost structure due to the Commonwealth Games redevelopment. We aim to recruit 60 new participants each season. Some years Queensland Government grants assist funding greatly and our Club is most appreciative of their assistance, however a Club absolutely needs to prioritise a significant budget to make the program successful. Thankfully Labrador HC administrators over the past 26 years have all been totally supportive of funding our Junior Development Program and have taken a long term view over short term thinking.

How did you develop the volunteer base that is needed for coaching, managing, administrating your program? Are they hockey educated, if so how was this done?

Volunteers in the infant stage came from existing Club members. However as the program grows, because it is parent friendly the community minded parents become involved where they see a need to assist. Labrador teenage juniors are also a strong contributor to coaching the children on Saturday mornings. They are provided with a season curriculum and dedicate the hour or hour and a half as their community service. Because the school program phase is crucial, the administrator and coaches are paid on an hourly rate to timetable schools in and conduct the lessons. All other personal are volunteers, parent and junior coaches receive a small reimbursement (equivalent to a JD fee) for the season’s commitment.  While we all need more volunteers, if the program is conducted professionally, over time it generates Club volunteers to supplement the hockey tragics. Labrador’s current treasurer, uniform officer, equipment officer, under 11 coordinator and grants & fundraising coordinator have all come from their children entering our Club via the Junior development program.  With the limited time available, we try to educate all our volunteers and coaches about hockey and our Club policies and ethics. This is one area we are currently striving to improve through better communication strategies. Our coaching staff vary widely in experience and ability. However safety and endeavouring to make it fun for all children are the main objectives of the Saturday morning sessions. This is made much easier because there are no point score etc. Parents generally want their children to exercise, participate willingly and have fun. Our coache’s number one goal is to retain as many participants as possible for the following season – set your strategies from this principle and not from the adult perspective of WINNING.

How do you address the costs of playing hockey for juniors?

Cost is restricted as much as possible. A small joining fee once committed, no compulsory uniform cost, playing equipment supplied  and a $2 weekly fee if they are playing on the synthetic surface. This will be under review in our budget process at the end of this season as our costs have risen significantly now that our Club does not own its own field due to the Commonwealth Games redevelopment. Every endeavour will be made to keep costs as low as possible. This is our biggest competitive advantage over the major sports at the young entry level.

Do you utilise the strategies Hockey Australia have put in place to develop junior participation, if so what and if not what do you do?

We have always supported Hockey Australia’s initiatives for junior recruiting. Development of quality drills/lessons is great. However the latest version of Hockey Australia’s recruiting participants is too expensive for our families. We have gone it alone this season to maximise numbers.

What do parents like about your program? Are they involved? 

Yes. Some parents are involved in the coaching of the teams, assist coaches with equipment set up and pack up. Comments are overwhelmingly positive about all aspects of what we do in Junior Development Program at Labrador. Only negative feedback comes when a parent believes their child is not being coached as well as others. I try to address that by consulting the coach and offering positive suggestions on how to improve. You can’t please 100% percent of people and anyone really dissatisfied leaves or goes to where the grass is perceived to be greener.

If you were offering advice to other clubs and associations as to how to build a junior participation program what would it be?

Advice to Clubs is contained in all above. You need to find dedicated people who will support a long term vision, work extremely hard over a long period of time, think as parents of children and not as traditional hockey administrators.

How do you see the future direction of junior hockey participation going?

I can only articulate a personal view from what I witness locally. All junior competitions, with an exception of a regional under 16 high level competition, need to have decisions made based on maximum retention of participants. My view is that competitions are currently administered as a younger version of adult premiership winning competitions. I have been a lone voice in local discussions about improving junior competitions by thinking differently rather than historically. While this philosophy remains, dropout rates will continue to increase. Go Hockey News thanks Bruce for his willingness to share with the wider hockey community.

Source: various Thank you Don Sawyer – prestophotos.com

2 thoughts on “FEATURE: A visionary club with a dedicated leader successfully developing junior hockey. Some advice for struggling clubs

  1. Good effort by Labrador Hockey Club and well done for the contribution you put in for hockey. At Sutherland Hockey Club in Sydney South we have around 240 junior players. Maintaining junior numbers is a big task each year and we have managed to maintain our numbers purely on club efforts with little or no assistance from local, State or national governing hockey. Each year our club runs a Term 3 School Gala Day and invite the local schools to participate and in Term 4 we have run for over 30 years a schools summer competition involving around 500 kids over three afternoons a week. Our growth relies on volunteers running these programs each year which does harder and harder each year as the volunteer base dries up.

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