The Talent Academies are one of many environments within the new talent system, aiming to provide regular high quality training to develop the most promising young players between the ages of 15 and 18.
They are designed to accommodate around 500 players per gender. This is a small number compared to the thousands of kids playing hockey, and like all talent systems, they won’t suit everyone.
But players with the potential and drive to progress to the top of the game need more regular, high-quality training and competition time where they are physically and mentally stretched in a supportive environment, and the Talent Academies can provide it to them. They will create the best opportunities against the best both in practice and competition, and work collaboratively with coaches from other environments such as clubs, schools and Junior County Hockey to put player welfare at center of everything we do, so that they have the best chance of realizing their potential.
There are currently 21 Talent Academies, 17 hosted by clubs and four overseen by England Hockey in areas where there were gaps in geographical distribution. We hope to see clubs move forward and apply to host in these areas over the next 12-24 months. We are also looking to expand the network to around 25, again to ensure we have good coverage across the country without diluting the standard of players.
While we were developing the Talent System strategy, we spent a lot of time looking at what makes clubs great, and we really want to play to those strengths.
All clubs that have been licensed to host a Talent Academy and have been challenged to raise standards in accordance with key criteria which focus on creating exceptional talent development environments through strong leadership and governance , quality coaching, an extensive training and competition offer, strong local partnerships and individual player development interventions that better take into account the whole athlete. We really challenge the Talent Academies to think about what they are doing to offer something special to players that expands their potential.
Players and parents ask me ‘But maybe I have to choose between the Talent Academy and another environment?’
I remind them that a priority for the Talent Academies is to consider what is right for each young player – this can sometimes be a difficult conversation given the various personal, academic and sporting decisions that young people face, but we must focus on what suits each player. , giving priority to their development needs. To ensure an open and dynamic talent system, players will still be able to access age group assessment opportunities in England whether or not they attend a Talent Academy.
Fundamentally, we believe that talented players can be developed in multiple environments, and it’s about having the right athlete in the right environment more often. Recognizing that different environments at different times will support a young player’s journey is a fundamental tenet of the cultural change that the talent system strives to achieve. By nurturing talent collaboratively, schools, clubs, Junior County Hockey and Talent Academies will foster a more open and inclusive system. This will generate multiple routes allowing an increasing number of players to progress through the game, including improving access to those from more diverse backgrounds.
So what was missing from the old way that couldn’t help us achieve these goals? Clearly contact time was one, but for me another important factor was the need for more collaboration. Working in partnership is at the heart of the new Talent System and it will take time to become the norm.
However, what is nice is that a large part of the hockey community supports this aspiration and now wants to see it in practice and we must help show them the way.
We’ve seen clubs, counties, talent academies and schools start to come together where they haven’t before, putting the player first and considering the most appropriate environments for their development. This is something we need to leverage given that there will not be a single environment responsible for a player’s development, and it is only through regular conversations that we will continually ensure that the player remains In the center.
England Hockey’s role in this is to nurture these partnerships, embed the talent development principles on which the talent system is based and work with different stakeholders to help them understand what this means for their role. It is important to communicate and maintain an open dialogue with those who experience the Talent System, so that their voices are heard.
As the World Cup Hockey live in action is coming nearer the preparations are getting harder from all sides of all the participating countries.
We are not going to immediately be where we want to be or see instant results. However, if over time the environments within the talent system work together to develop an increasing number of talented players, we will all reap the rewards and will have played a part in producing an inspiring generation of talent.
Another subject I often get asked questions about is the financing of Talent Academies. Yes, it’s an increase on Performance Center, largely due to increased contact time, court utilization, and coaching. It is important to emphasize that any surplus made by a Talent Academy is returned to the program or even to the players and parents.
All Talent Academies have had to demonstrate to England Hockey a viable financial model and as part of this financial support is available for those who need it.
Each TA must ensure that they have the equivalent of two full places per gender free of charge, with these funds available to support either the full fee or multiple players with partial fee support. We are looking at how to create additional hardship funds as it is imperative for England Hockey that the cost of the program is not a barrier for players progressing through the game.
We’ve come a long way with lots of input and support from the entire hockey community and we still have a long way to go. At the heart of change are better conversations more often.