I've often described this role as a bit like driving the bus in Speed. A lot of the challenges just happen to us, and the best you can do is try and steer round them, without much ability to slow down. Back in 2013, all any of us really wanted was a flat pitch, instead of the 27 year old sand base "officially worst pitch in the league" which was about to be condemned. And maybe, pushing it, something halfway to pleasant to offer our opponents to eat afterwards.
We solved that. But what we perhaps didn't all appreciate is that pitch quality and capacity had been a lid on the club. Take on Lee Valley, in possibly the biggest pitch upgrade in sporting history, and people naturally want to join the club. With training improving alongside that, promotions become almost inevitable. With promotions, extra requirements, like new leagues, like more pool umpire obligations, stick to you. Improving our virtually non-existent press and social media presence to help a growing club stay in touch with what's going on, and attract sponsors; well, that to leads to more growth still. As does having a sensible offering for adult beginners. As does starting a youth section at long last. People want what you have, and in hindsight it was inevitable that improving the John Orwell would mean other folk fancied those Saturday pitch slots in a way they didn't when it resembled a plowed field.
So to an extent, once you take those first few steps, it doesn't matter who is in charge. The pace of change is there. What then matters is steering round obstacles, trying not to hit too many, and trying to look out the windscreen rather than turning round to shouting in the back. What matters more, is how you are, how the whole club reacts, than anything much I do.
The season started with us having to get our heads round national league. We had to digest its different rules, we had to cope with an influx of players, and we had to manage that in a way that made it a positive for the whole club. I wanted to take a quick look at how we reacted as a club to some of the off-pitch challenges, and to have a look at some of our stats.
First, the M1 games. We wanted to turn these into events for the whole club. I am so, so impressed by the way you have taken this to heart. When we discussed this at Committee last year, the then L3 captain Rach Byrne, came up with the cracking idea that our squads could take it in turn to host. Yes, I will embarrass you Rach, sorry. Now that’s a brilliant idea, but it only works if everyone plays ball. And didn’t you just! We’ve had music, we’ve had crossbar challenges, we’ve even had a unicycle. Jaws music at short corners. The genius of “Everybody Hurts” playing during a long injury. Memorable, enjoyable good times.
I’d also like to recognise the flexibility a large number of our sides have had to show this year. We started more teams this year to ensure the anticipated inflow didn’t cause members to lose out on hockey. That has been a challenge for the ladies, but perhaps even more so for the men, growing to 11 sides and taking on the bigger variable of national league. The M2 have played an astonishing 39 players this season and still won their league. The men's club captains, Matt and Paddy, and the skippers, have had even more work to do. It turned out to mean doubling and less than ideal squad sizes for some of our teams. At times it hasn’t been ideal, we recognise that, but the main thing is how we react. Do we chuck rocks or do we work together? So it’s only right that I use this opportunity to thank you for taking it on the chin.
A potentially strained situation with a new neighbour seeking pitch capacity was resolved through relationship management. We were able to have a sensible conversation with the Council and GLL, and the situation has been resolved by extending the JO opening hours, and accommodating Tower Hamlets HC at 5pm. Why did that happen? I believe it is because we have transitioned from a club with high turnover, both of players and exec, and a correspondingly low profile locally, to a club that represents delivery on Council sports strategy. Growing participation and our focus on semi-actives, and being quite possibly the most sociable sports club in the Borough helps the Council's goals. It helps the physical and mental health of Borough residents. It creates a positive community environment where everyone is welcome.
What also helps those types of conversation is having some consistency of personnel, Sandra and I having met the relevant individuals before. We are delivering on our promises to them, like youth. We are helping put the Borough on the map, in a positive light. And that’s even before I mention the ridiculousness around the Olympics where we somehow ended up on the Channel 4 News, Good Morning Britain, Lorraine, and a whole host of other TV and radio stations. Kaz & Michael unfortunately leave us for life abroad soon, but what an impact Kaz has made on our positioning in the press. Thank you. And Bolle, I suppose I could grudgingly give some credit for his part in the East Division 1 Champions’ season. You will both be greatly missed.
It’s a similar story with the umpires. The relationship management that DC, Hainsey & Rids have put in meant we had different routes to discuss some of our problems with the UA. That would of course be no use if we weren’t actually delivering. But consider these stats. We now have 69 umpires. We have provided 117 club umpires for Wapping matches, at an average of 12 each week. We have also picked up 41 pool appointments, at an average of 4 a week. The constant work to develop our umpires means we have our first regional umpire in Ant Day, and Wapping umpires now comprise an astonishing 25% of the Essex umpire panel. Now I know we are a big club, but we aren’t 25% of Essex Hockey!
That I’d say is damn impressive in itself, but I’d like to add something else we’ve been trying to work on, which is providing a supportive environment for female umpires. Like coaching, it is an area which can be male dominated. We have more to do, but I think it’s interesting to note that 25% I mentioned becomes 30% when you’re looking at female Wappers on the panel for ladies games. It rises higher still, to 40%, when you’re looking at females on the panel for mens games. Seriously. 30-40% of the female umpires on the Essex county panels depending on how you cut it are Wapping affiliated! It suggests we may be a little ahead of other clubs, but we aren’t intending to stop there.
Clearly, umpires are a critical part of the infrastructure of any club, and I’d ask everyone here to think about how they can support that, from simple things like being nice to the ones we do have, to considering whether you can do some yourself.
Continuing with stats, look at how the coach development is coming along. We now have 9 lead coaches, 3 of whom are new to the club this year. A further 13 coaches have assisted the senior section this year. Our emphasis on providing opportunities and development for female coaches too is shown here. From the funding we found from GLL / Sport4Women in 2013 to the build out of the coaching development side of the club, we are phenomenally keen to ensure this is an equal playing field for anyone who wants the opportunity to develop. 1/3rd of the lead coaches are female, and that near doubles to 62% when you look at the assistant pool we are developing. We hope to support you, both financially, and with mentoring to progress in your coaching career. Combining those stats, it means incredibly, we are exactly 50:50 on the gender split for our senior coaches, and that’s been achieved without turning anyone away from anything.
Then look at Kidds, which is a very different type of coaching opportunity, which has meant more people have tried out coaching this year than ever before. An incredible 28 people have helped out coaching Kidds, from all levels of the club, which shows how important it is to have these different opportunities. 13 of those are new volunteers this year, and 2 have picked up external qualifications. 61% of these volunteer coaches are female.
I think that’s actually pretty awesome, and I also see more people volunteering than ever. But again, as we move forward, maybe we need to think more about the structures here, to ensure we both have the coaches we need but also have the right support available to develop new ones.
Summer League too is growing. We expect 28 teams this year. That is 10 more than 4 years ago, and again, a fair whack of the credit should go to DC for this. That growth has a corresponding effect on how fun the league is and on our finances, and on our need for volunteers. A longer run up might be wise, and you see that inform our motions today.
Now there are of course more challenges remaining. We lost the Cape this year, and we’ve been patiently working on potential replacements. The work never stops, but what makes this place happen is you guys volunteering and helping out with stuff. I’ve deliberately skated over the on pitch stuff, and the finances, as the rest of the team will cover that later. We also have some motions to discuss. But before we go any further with this meeting, let me say this.
Thank you. Thank you for your incredible positivity. It is your “can do” attitude, the willingness to help, to support, that makes this all worthwhile.
Notes: photo credit Iain McAuslan
Updated 20:39 - 1 Sep 2017 by Charlie Ballentine