England has become more and more competitive against the top teams.
England has become more and more competitive against the top teams.
(Photo: treebyimages)

Closing the Gap between the world’s top hockey nations and the next tier is an FIH Strategic Priority.

Many critics would say the outcome of the top international hockey tournaments is too predictable and all recent winners have been limited to Australia, Germany and The Netherlands in men’s hockey and the Netherlands, Argentina and Germany in women’s hockey (after the end of the Hockeyroos dominance a few years ago).

In hockey,  you seldom  have stunning surprises like unseeded  Goran Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon in 2001 or Greece winning Euro 2004.

Some pundits may prefer a benchmark that games between any teams within the top 24 should always be very competitive, as occurs in soccer. If the FIH decides in the future to increase the World Cup to 16 or more teams, this will be essential.

The harsh reality is that it is unlikely that a team outside the world’s top 6, maybe even top 4, would win a major World Hockey Competition, unless we close the gap. A further reality is this is unlikely to work unless it is a partnership between the FIH and the National Associations concerned, possibly with the Continental Federations acting as additional catalysts.

So whilst the FIH focuses on this Strategic Priority, creates strategies and allocates resources the likely success of this initiative will depend on National Associations gearing themselves to improve performance on an ongoing basis. This involves a number of crucial steps and adherence to the principle that it is ‘better to learn to fish than be given fish’.

The National Associations must have the desire to ‘close the gap’ or significantly improve performance. Of course, this has to be underpinned by an appropriate administrative structure and resources. They need to appoint a High Performance Manager/Director who must formulate a HP Plan/Curriculum which can be implemented practically, is economical and cost-effective. T he Plan will need to be innovative, using cost-effective ways and means to achieve results.

Some ideas in this regard include:

  • NA offers a top coach and partner a tour/safari in return for coaching
  • NAs twin with top 8 nations or top European Clubs (‘Buddy System’)
  • Invite top European Club plus coaches to tour, maybe with safari included
  • Offer to run advanced FIH Coaching Course and use National Squads for practical on field sessions
  • Arrange a parallel ‘Close the Gap’ tournament to run concurrently at the same venue as a top FIH event e.g.  Champions Trophy
  • Tap into Olympic Solidarity funds via NOCs, assistance from NGOs, data on HP Programmes from websites and other sources
  • NA forms partnerships with HP Centres/Sports Institutes

Good examples of recent success in raising playing standards have been Ghana and Belgium and more recently even England/Great Britain.

These would make fascinating case studies.

However, the bottomline is that if we are to successfully ‘close the gap’ and sustain our efforts on a consistent basis our NAs must be structured and geared for results and continuity. Then the FIH’s aims and assistance can become truly meaningful.

Steve Jaspan is FIH Executive Board member and chairman of the FIH High Performance Committee. He contributes a monthly column 'Viewpoint'. The views expressed in this article are those of the author only.