Former Irish Hockey High Performance manager Dave Passmore has expressed his concerns over what he sees as a growing potential for player burn-out.
In an open letter to the Irish hockey fraternity he made several points which will strike a chord with Ulster coaches, players and their parents.
Many of them are related directly or indirectly to proposals for a new look ‘full’ Irish Hockey League.
Among the concerns expressed at the recent forum at Deramore Park was the issue of schoolgirls and school teachers who might find it difficult to take part on away days if the new IHL proposals were to come to fruition.
But Passmore’s prime emphasis centres around the fact that there are too many demands placed on our younger players in particular.
He also has firm views on the fact that teams that aren’t in the IHL in its current format finish their programme by the end of February or early March.
The schoolgirl/school teacher issue remains the most talked about as far as the future of the IHL is concerned.
Ulster is most seriously affected as the vast majority of our schoolgirls hockey is played on a Saturday morning.
“Many young players also desire and aspire to play top club hockey, but school matches are held in some areas on Saturdays thus making this aspect difficult,” says Passmore.
“When do school players do their physical development? Why, if they play club hockey, should they have to do so immediately after a school match?
“This does not exist in all provinces, yet the school hockey takes on equal importance to the players that I have spoken to.
“We have some great teachers and coaches working in our schools who would agree that there should be no senior school hockey on Saturdays once players are 15.
“We mustn’t forget they have academic commitments too. The Saturday matches often prevents their teachers playing club hockey too if a match is scheduled early.”
Passmore uses an example which applies equally to schools hockey in Ulster particularly for those players who may be good enough to play representative hockey and also line out for clubs.
“At a boys U18 training camp in a February few years ago, I did a survey of the number of matches the lads had played in the few weeks prior,” he adds.
“There were a number of boys there, mostly carrying injuries who had played as many as 10 matches in 14 days! Where was the time for recovery and the regeneration of their bodies? Why were they put into these situations where to not play all those matches was to say ‘no’ to someone, a coach or teacher who they wanted to work for?
“I use the above by way of illustration, but you see the same thing happening to players who are not in any international or provincial team, but are strong 1st XI players.
“It is not confined to our elite players but all our Premier players, whether IHL on non-IHL – we play too much hockey often crammed into short periods of time.
“Where is the fun or pleasure in playing all your hockey in a condensed period of time while finishing a league in February?
“Or in previous years without a backended season, having many vacant weeks where no momentum can be built?
“This is the reality for non-IHL clubs in the top division in their province. Good young coaches are also getting burnt out too so we lose them just as they are at their best.
Passmore’s centralization idea where the senior women’s internationals, like Alex Speers and Shirley McCay, relocated to Dublin drew criticism in some quarters but he has explained the reasons behind the decision.
“A good part of the rationale for having to take this path was that they knew the league and competition structure asked too much of them, compromised them, impacted recovery and often lacked the frequent quality of matches,” he continues.
“Look at how many young players are doubling up immediately after playing a large volume of club matches.
“How do you fit a large ball into a small hole? There is just too much hockey. We added an IHL, what did we take away?
“So, the reason for putting pen to paper is that there are only two ways to move on.
“Either introduce a full IHL where there are a smaller number of high quality of matches, around which quality national programmes can be fitted so there is no longer a need for players to ‘have’ to go to Europe or for systems like CPP (centralisation) to be developed.
“This is what most of the players want if you speak to them – how many clubs do? If not, then the second option is to scrap the current IHL as it just adds to a highly congested calendar.
“Every club has a reason to say no to the development of a full IHL, whether it’s financial, the travel or because they may not be part of its inception.
“But if countries the size of Spain and Germany can have a national league, plus most other teams sports in Ireland, why can’t we?
“It won’t be easy, clubs don’t have to compete in it if they don’t want or can’t, but ask the players and I’m sure most will.
“It will also allow those weaker clubs to develop and have something to aspire towards. Let’s not put obstacles in the way and seek reasons to block progress but seek out solutions and ways around the challenges faced.”