The future certainly looks bright for Chelmsford Hockey Club as a result of its far-sighted youth programme that now involves almost 200 boys and girls under the age of 18 in training every week. It is one of the biggest and most successful youth sections in Essex.
The training sessions have become so popular with youngsters from a wide area that extends beyond Chelmsford to Brentwood and Colchester that 14 voluntary coaches are required every Sunday morning to cope with the demands of young players eager to develop and improve their skills.
In fact, the training sessions are now spread throughout the week with a full programme on Sunday mornings between 9.00am and 11.30am for ages 6 to 18; more specialised training on Tuesdays between 6.00pm and 7.00pm for girls aged 14-16 while the boys are arranged in three squads for sessions on Wednesdays between 7.00pm and 8.30pm.
Overall supervision of the programme is the responsibility of Natalie Fulton, Chelmsford Hockey Centre's newly appointed Director of Coaching who has just been presented with the prestigious 2004 Sports Woman of the Year Award by the University of Pretoria in her native South Africa. Natalie represented her country in the Athens Olympics and won a gold medal in the pre-Games Four Nations event.
When the Chelmsford Youth Section was established by Chris Randall, a player and coach, in 1986 it adhered to certain principles and these still apply. While training sessions and matches clearly improve individual playing skills, the parallel objectives – through the sport – were to enjoy an exciting and fulfilling lifestyle as well as forging friendships and acquiring the responsibility of being a team player.
There are 11 teams set in age groups from under-9 to under-19 and each squad has its own coach and manager. Such a wealth of latent playing talent has over the years supplied quality players for the senior ranks – both men and women- and to date the Youth Section has produced players who have represented England Ladies at under-18 and under-21 levels. The boys have also gained England honours at under-16 and under-18 level. And both boys and girls have represented Essex and Eastern Counties at all levels.
Other honours have accrued with the under-11 girls’ squad reaching the finals last year of the National mini-hockey finals at Cannock and narrowly missing the title by a single point. The under-19 boys team went to Holland in June and won an international tournament at Zevenbergen. Both boys and girls are bidding for indoor hockey titles during the current season as well as attending county trials and development sessions.
When anyone discusses Essex sport, there can be no doubt that one of the first names that springs to mind is Chelmsford Hockey Club. Prominent at all levels of county, regional and national competitions, Chelmsford is recognised as the premier hockey club in the East of England and one of the most successful clubs in the country.
One of the components of this success has been an emphasis on youth development and the fast tracking of youngsters has seen a continuous flow of players who have represented their county, region and/or country, and from junior to senior ranks.
Chelmsford has always recognised the need to develop home-grown talent and our structured coaching and player-development programmes continue to nurture some of the best players in the country.
Our long-standing partnership with schools and the community at large continues to grow and, in recent years, the emergence of our primary and secondary school clinics is comparable to none. However, the ethos of the whole Club encourages achievement at the highest levels to go arm-in-arm with participation by all family members, so that is not unusual to find three generations involved in the game over a weekend, perhaps even with the junior member of the family as young as 7 and the senior member aged 50 and upwards.
Youth Development Programme
Chelmsford Hockey Club has been in the business of taking the game to local youngsters and their families for over 17 years. In 1986, it was one of the first clubs nationally to introduce a structured youth development programme, giving children the opportunity to participate and compete in an exciting and enjoyable family sport.
From early beginnings of just a few children, over 150 boys and girls, aged between 7 and 18, regularly take part in weekly training sessions run by qualified coaches on Sunday mornings and weekday evenings throughout the season.
Supported by parents and many club members, Chelmsford runs teams at U9, U11, U13, U15, U16, and U18 level for both boys and girls.
This all came about with the realisation that, with the decline of sport in schools, if we had to fulfil our ambitions for the long-term success of the Club, we had to develop our own members for the future. Years have passed and the Club is now fully integrated, with youngsters playing in our senior sides as soon as they are judged to be ready for the adult game.
This long-running development programme is now richly paying the following dividends:
However, the story is not just about the best players - it is about providing good quality sport for all.
Primary and Secondary Schools Hockey Coaching
For the wider community, Chelmsford Hockey Club, in conjunction with Chelmsford Borough Council and Essex County Council, has developed and delivered hockey coaching into local primary and secondary schools.
Our youth development programme is now one of the cornerstones of the local authority’s sports development strategy and, as a result, hockey is one of the key supported sports for the town of Chelmsford, looking set to stay that way for many years to come.