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Development Consultancy, Tonga & Samoa, 2001

New Zealander Alan Lints visited Tonga and Samoa as development consultant in his capacity as Year of the Youth Continental Project Manager for Oceania.

Alan remembers the first time he visited the islands:

'I will never forget my first session in Tonga. I arrived early with Olympic and Commonwealth Games general secretary, Steve Finnau, and a sports development officer and checked out the field that had a band stand in the middle of it, and palm trees all around it. One hour later, the trucks pulled up and players, young and old, male and female jumped off the back of the trucks to spend an hour with me. At the conclusion of the session they thanked me profusely, jumped back on their trucks and sang their way home. Maybe not elite athletes, but a wonderful occasion that I will never forget and one that epitomises why development in the smaller countries is essential.'

Q: What was your impression of the situation in Tonga and Samoa this time?

Hockey in Samoa and Tonga is typical of the island nations within Oceania. They are geographically isolated and are about three hours flying time from New Zealand. Fiji and Papua New Guinea are more advanced but can be restricted by political instability. There is a keen bunch of volunteers within these countries but management succession, or lack of it, has lead to hockey lying dormant for a number of years. Oceania president, Derek Wilshere, gave me a good briefing of the island nations but it was important for me to find out just what  'island time' meant: 'there is another day tomorrow - why hurry !'

Q: What is needed most?

Equipment is a huge priority for the island nations. When I visited, I took my own hockey stick and some small TK give-away sticks. These were gleefully accepted but not as prizes, rather as necessary equipment to ensure the training session took place! There was no goal keeping equipment and we had to substitute softballs for hockey balls.

Q: What steps will be taken in the near future?

Equipment alone will not ensure success, but development programmes that are cost and time efficient, achievable and most importantly realistic for the country in question will mean that hockey has a greater chance of success.

There are several ways we do this:

  • Provide subsidised equipment (free equipment often leads to disregard).
  • Ensure development visits are frequent and tap into schools, caregivers, and most importantly volunteers.
  • Ensure development personnel follow projects through, which forges good relationships.
  • Recognise that structural help with administration goes hand in hand with coaching and playing.
  • Have clear, transparent, systematic pathways, which start with youngsters and finish with the elite, to ensure people have something to aspire to and give all the opportunity to participate at their chosen level.

Q: What can FIH do to help?

The FIH has already shown great initiative by establishing international development consultants, like myself. There is a definite need to recognise that development is just as crucial as elitism and the FIH have recognised this through their latest coaching programmes. Development grants available to all countries gives nations the autonomy to decide what they want to use funding for, but constant visits and mentoring with other more successful countries will ensure that the funding money is used constructively.

Q: What effect is YotY having on hockey development in Tonga and Samoa?

The YotY project could not have come at a better time for the island nations. To be part of the global network and participate in a world event such as the marathon means they have some kind of ownership and affinity to the FIH, and ensures that the FIH is not just a name. NZ was able to send two regional development managers to work (Bruce Rosemergy to Samoa, and Gill Gemming to Tonga) and build on my visit and take with them necessary coaching aids, visit schools, run coaching courses and player clinics. Most importantly targeting the youth ensured future development of the game in these countries.

Like anything, change takes a while but already Samoa has played Western Samoa and this is one tangible achievement that has already taken place. It is obvious that there will be short-term pain for long-term gain, and it may be six years before there are obvious signs of development, but the secret is like a good tackler - positioning, persistence and patience.

The opportunity for our development personnel to be linked with the YotY project is only the first step up the hill, and should not be underestimated. The challenge for us is to ensure that at the YotY festival, to be held in Hobart during the Junior World's Men's Cup in October, we continue to plan ahead and help the Tonga's and Samoa's of this world. Major hockey nations take for granted the systems and structures that they have in place and would have their eyes opened if they visited countries who had a total of one hundred hockey players, shared twenty five long hockey sticks, stood in the goal at penalty corners with no GK equipment and where it took in some cases one to six months to save enough money to buy a hockey stick.

Q: What will be the next step?

The next steps are less complicated if you divide it into the short and long term. In the short term NZ development people like Gill Gemming and Bruce Rosemergy, who are geographically closer and have an affinity with the countries concerned, will ensure we avoid one off visits.

In the long term, we must get the local governments on board by being proactive and meeting with the 'movers and shakers' of the community concerned. The secret is to ensure is that we put in place realistic and achievable goals and that succession planning, be it in management or coaching, is part of the development processes.


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