It really is all about inspiring future generations as players from the Australian men’s and women’s squads regularly take time out of their busy training and competition schedules to visit communities in remote parts of the country.
The aim of the visits is to encourage young people, often from indigenous communities, to live healthy lifestyles and pursue their education – through the powerful medium of hockey.
On the most recent visit, the Kookaburra’s gold medal was one of the star attraction as Jeremy Hayward and Georgia Wilson visited the Pilbara Community Hockey Programme in Western Australia to help out with coaching clinics, teach hockey skills and chat to the youngsters taking part in the programme.
Hayward was one of the men’s squad that beat New Zealand in the final of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, while Georgia remains an important part of Paul Gaudoin’s team despite being ruled out of both the Commonwealth Games and Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 squads after suffering an ACL injury.
“We’ll head to primary schools with a view to teach life and health skills, providing inspiration and a can-do attitude, with the conduit being hockey.”
Hockey Australia Commercial Partnership Manager Shane Tonkin
The two hockey players were taking part in the first of eight visits this year by various members of the men’s and women’s squads to communities across the state of Western Australia. The visits to various communities will culminate in two hockey carnivals at two locations in August this year.
The Pilbara Community Hockey Programme has been in existence since 2011 and is a partnership between Fortescue, one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore and who are based in Western Australia, and Hockey Australia, as part of the national association’s National Indigenous Hockey Program.
Fortescue’s association with hockey extends from its sponsorship of the Australia national squads through to grass roots projects such as the one at Pilbara.
Hockey Australia Commercial Partnership Manager Shane Tonkin spoke abut the reasons behind the National Association’s commitment to the programme. “The Pilbara Hockey Community Programme, with Fortescue’s support, is about taking elite athletes and sport to the remote indigenous communities of north Western Australia. We travel to some of the most isolated towns in the world, to meet people who seldom get to experience and spend face-to-face time with elite international athletes.
“We’ll head to primary schools with a view to teach life and health skills, providing inspiration and a can-do attitude, with the conduit being hockey. We’d love to see these children begin on the pathway in the game to play at their local club or association and potentially one day represent the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras like Brooke Peris from Alice Springs or Des Abbott or Joel Carroll from the suburbs of Darwin.
“Through our partnership with Fortescue we’re forming hockey associations in these regions to give them a formal pathway to play the game, such as the Hedland Hockey Club or Nickol Bay Hockey Association.
“Long-term we want to expand into other towns in the Pilbara region, such as Newman and Tom Price. The big picture for Hockey Australia is a nation-wide indigenous programme. We want to use this as a pilot programme.”
Hockeyroo Georgia Wilson added: “I’ve really loved going up there and the kids have been so enthusiastic. They have a great willingness to learn.
“A lot of them haven’t played before so we start from a basic level and we’ve been able to progress. It’s been really encouraging to see.
“There’s a tournament at the end of the eight-week block so a lot of the teachers are trying to prepare them for the inter-school rivalry. The people have been so welcoming.”
“It’s great to speak to the kids about being an elite athlete. We always have a Q&A session after each visit and there’s always heaps of questions about nutrition, playing overseas, meeting famous people and much more.”
The Pilbara Community Hockey Programme is a great example of a national association and the individual players within it delivering on the FIH 10 Year Strategy, the , which seeks to inspire millions more people to play hockey.