Over the course of the last few seasons I have been lucky enough to work with some outstanding hockey players, a large number of whom have been playing for the club for many years. While the club has been very successful over the past 6 or 7 years, in 2013, while we won the Grand Final, we had very few players under the age of 23 making any real impact in the team.
As a result of this and coupled with the results of research I carried out for my thesis for my MSc a few years ago, I have initiated a semi-formal mentoring system. My MSc included some work with hockey players from ‘non- traditional’ backgrounds and examined interventions to improve their long term performance and achievement. By far the most effective intervention in this study was a formal mentoring relationship set up between an established senior player and one of the young players selected for the interventions.
The aim of this mentoring within our club is that we are aware we have a number of players in their late teens and early twenties, who are undoubtedly talented hockey players, but who were not approaching the sport in a professional manner that would ensure they progressed to being able to make an impact at the high level required within our league. As a result we matched up a senior player with a younger one. They were not necessarily the best senior players in the team, but rather ones that were suited both personality wise and, where possible, positionally. Similarly, for my thesis I chose mentors that were in ‘people’ professions, such as teachers, medical students and the like.
Within my club I chose not to ask 2 out of 3 of the regular international players to take on a mentee initially. This was for a number of reasons; namely that they are often away and when they get back to Perth are extremely busy, so would find it difficult to regularly catch up with the player. I am also aware that from time to time a young player already identified within the national setup chooses to join our club and in these instances, often a senior international would be a suitable mentor within the club, so leaving them free helps in these cases.
As part of the process of education for these younger players, we asked them again to meet with their mentors again and identify clear areas that would make an impact on their ability to affect the game. This better understanding and shared accountability has now contributed to the ascent of many of these players on a very steep learning curve over the past 6 weeks and in this time we have already seen a marked improvement in team results.
Obviously the amount players buy into and use this system varies enormously and also the benefits vary from player to player. There are some players who are well aware of the areas they need to work on and will get on with it conscientiously with or without help; however there are also players, normally ones without much family involvement or prior knowledge of the game, who benefit hugely from a more experienced member of the team helping them progress. It also helps having someone they can ask questions of when I as coach don’t have time to be able to work with each player individually as much as I would like to. Within the club I have left it as a semi-formal set up as all players are there on a ‘voluntary’ basis and so I wouldn’t want to impose extra things on them. However, the vast majority are happy to be a part of the set up and as they understand more about how it works and how they can use it the genuine benefit of their game and relationships within the club, they have begun to take advantage of it more and more.
My hope is that as these junior players gain experience and confidence, they in turn will take on younger players of their own. There is clear scope for this to flow right through to the junior teams within the club, and obviously this would bring massive gains to the club at all levels. There is still a lot of work and understanding before we reach that point though, but that should certainly be the vision for a few years down the line!