Bournemouth Hockey Club men’s first team coach believes that player development and recruitment are essential for the local game to thrive. But what makes these areas so important…?
It’s no surprise that Adam Tapper, the coach of the Men’s 1st XI at Bournemouth Hockey Club, has these positive views towards the talent in his local area. Originally from Bournemouth, Tapper was able to learn from first-hand experience how athletes develop through the game from his time as a player and then a coach.
“I didn’t really pick up hockey until I was around 13-14 years old” he explained. “My old man coached the Men’s Fours team and, one day, said that he was short on players. He asked me to play, and I enjoyed it, so I carried on.
“I went to university in Plymouth and played a lot more there. And that’s also where I began coaching.
“After university, I did more coaching when I came back to Bournemouth for about a year, before going to America and then over to Kent to play in Canterbury.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN BOURNEMOUTH
Tapper’s different roles over the years have given him considerable knowledge of hockey. Including the importance it can have, despite its officially being an amateur sport. Working with a club such as Bournemouth, he has had a say on player development, and how the various teams can find their own success.
“I work closely with [Bournemouth Men’s 1st Captain] Robbie Whiting. We have good people working with us to help support me and the role that I’m in. It makes a big difference because, without that, I’d be spread pretty thin.
“When I first joined Bournemouth as a coach, I noticed we had some serious talent, but hadn’t been able to achieve much. Back when I was a young player at Bournemouth, I’d see the first team and wonder why there was never any consistency.
“As soon as I rejoined the club I really wanted to have a constant squad. And to reward talented youngsters who deserved to get the chances that maybe I didn’t get. The other year, we had an average team age of 22 or 23 years-old which was incredible. That included some of the wiser old heads who play alongside some 16-year-olds.
“If the younger players are good enough to play, then they’re old enough. They’re not afraid of being thrown into the deep end, playing against guys with loads more experience.”
IDENTIFYING THE IMPORTANT ISSUES
A unique element for Bournemouth Hockey Club is the rising numbers of those playing for the various teams available. The club has over 300 members playing hockey, alongside five men’s teams covering the South Hockey League. This including their vets side, who play in the Wessex Masters Hockey League.
However, despite this wealth of talent and opportunities for joining the club, Tapper has identified an area in player development that can be an unfortunate problem.
“When I first started, we took the Under 14s lads to the finals. Now all of these lads are 19 or 20 years old, and I don’t think any of them are in the first team. Some go off to university, or we have others who are playing elsewhere. We also have someone who plays for England’s Under-18s, who is going off to Holland to play at a higher level.
“It feels like we develop them to a certain point and then they leave, which is gutting. But I’ve always maintained friendships with a lot of the lads who have come through.”
Player retention can be an extremely difficult area for most local clubs. Tapper believes that this could be due to opportunities for younger players outside of hockey.
“I think every club goes through the struggle of developing your players and then losing them. I don’t think any club is immune to that. But that’s the way it is all over the country — you lose players to university. It can really come down to whether or not you’re able to bring the players back.
“When I was at Plymouth, we would develop players who would eventually leave and move to where jobs are. Places like London, Bristol, Manchester or Birmingham. Rather than places where the best hockey teams are.
Players leaving for work or education can be an unpreventable difficulty. However, Tapper believes that local clubs also face another challenge. Other top teams frequently watch other sides’ developing players, as the rise in the sport’s quality has lead to clubs looking for the best players possible.
“I’ve never wanted to be the kind of person who looks at smaller clubs and tries to steal players, because I just don’t think that’s right”, Tapper explained.
“I know a lot of clubs in London have to do that. I have friends involved with London clubs like Staines and Slough, and it’s so competitive. They constantly have to bring in new players and recruit, as opposed to developing pre-existing players. Because it’s so competitive and the sport is getting to just such an amazing level.
“In the south, clubs are less close together. So many players in the Bournemouth area will most likely play for Bournemouth, which can give us an advantage.”
THE NEED FOR A STRONG MINDSET
Whilst clubs can make an incredible amount of effort to help players develop in the sport of hockey, it isn’t always enough. Tapper believes it is ultimately down to the person – not just their ability – on whether they remain at the club or move on to different experiences.
“You’ll always have players who are considered as big fish in small ponds. Some people are comfortable in that and they find that that’s where they want to be. Others just don’t want to be out of their comfort zone, maybe when they’re younger or older. But sometimes, players do make that leap up to the next level.
“We had a few lads from Weymouth join a few years ago and they really made the step up. But they probably could’ve made that leap ten years ago.
“It all depends on the situation for the player and maybe it wasn’t the right time. Almost like a ‘things happen for a reason’ kind of situation. There are some really talented players out there who just might not be bothered enough, or don’t see amateur sport as rewarding enough. I think it’s tied to their personalities.
“The way I look at it is — if I’m a hockey player, I’m going to be the best that I can be, and that’s just the way I am. That’s my identity.”
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