Fo­cus on get­ting play­ers bet­ter... not bet­ter play­ers

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EV­ERY edi­tion of The Hockey Pa­per so far has seen plenty of thoughts on im­prov­ing the health and fu­ture of the two Premier Leagues.

Ian Jen­nings’ col­umn on top play­ers opt­ing for the fi­nan­cial gain avail­able from lower league teams cer­tainly raised a valid point but to my mind, a much big­ger prob­lem than the money in or out of the Premier League is how much busier some coaches seem to be on their phones than the pitch.

Over the past few years, the off­sea­son re­cruit­ment merry-go-round has been spin­ning ear­lier and faster. In a world gone crazy, any­one that’s been close to an Eng­land squad some­time this decade will prob­a­bly be get­ting a call from a Premier League club with an of­fer.

As much as the money has got out of con­trol though, there is at least a limit to it. What there isn’t a limit to how­ever is the lengths some coaches and clubs are now go­ing to in the ef­fort to make their squads stronger.

We’ve now seen David Ames be­ing the lat­est player from the na­tional squad to ar­rive at Hol­combe; yet an­other great sign­ing for them but spare a thought for the se­vere dent it’s made to Bee­ston’s play­off am­bi­tions. The tim­ing re­minded me of my first sea­son at Sur­biton where a slow first half was lifted with a win against East Grin­stead in the last game be­fore Christmas.

De­spite putting us in touch with the play­off spots, the lift was flat­tened when our cap­tain then an­nounced that he was leav­ing to go to, you guessed it, East Grin­stead. I’ll es­pe­cially re­mem­ber pick­ing up a voice mes­sage from some­one I’d never spo­ken to be­fore called “Phil”, hap­pily telling me that he’d paid off the ex-cap­tain’s fees and, as a cherry on the turnip flavoured ice­cream, adding that he hoped there were “no hard feel­ings”.

Not sur­pris­ingly, you don’t have to look far to find out who the usual sus­pects are. One coach I know from a well-funded club has put plenty of noses out of joint in re­cent sea­sons.

Ac­cord­ing to play­ers, he’s for­ever on the phone look­ing for his next sign­ing and is as happy to tap up the par­ents of other club’s best ju­niors as he is to poach team’s in­ter­na­tional play­ers.

That in­cludes at na­tional squad camps where he should def­i­nitely be leav­ing his club hat at the door. Things got so bad with this guy that I took the de­ci­sion to stop play­ing prac­tice matches against his team as he seemed to view it less like a pre-sea­son game and more like a trip to Bices­ter Shop­ping Vil­lage.

But, as im­por­tant as it is to tidy up this sort of be­hav­iour, there is a much more se­ri­ous im­pact of a coaches spend­ing the off-sea­son fill­ing their squads from out­side on the young play­ers that clubs have a duty to de­velop.

It is crazy that clubs who spend so much time de­vel­op­ing ju­niors (and, in­ci­den­tally, are happy to ac­cept the fees from par­ents for do­ing so) then limit the very same play­ers prospects with their scat­ter­gun re­cruit­ment from out­side.

Hol­combe might tell us that Ames’ sign­ing is great for the “younger mem­bers of the squad” but don’t for­get one of them now prob­a­bly won’t be go­ing to EHL if they qual­ify.

Ian Jen­nings is right. The Premier League needs to re­tain as many of the top play­ers as pos­si­ble and we need to do what we can to pro­mote loy­alty.

Money is un­doubt­edly a prob­lem but that can be off­set by coaches putting their phones away and com­mit­ting more to get­ting their play­ers bet­ter and not just get­ting the best play­ers.

That will re­duce the num­ber of places for play­ers on the merry-gor­ound and also pro­duce young play­ers who are loyal to their club for the op­por­tu­nity they have been given.

The Premier League needs to re­tain as many of the top play­ers as pos­si­ble – we need to pro­mote loy­alty

Hands on role: Coach­ing should be done on the field, not on the phone, as Danny Kerry demon­strated so well in Rio

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