Young hockey stars have bright future

TWELVE of Suffolk's most promising young hockey players have been selected among the elite few to make the top junior tiers of England Hockey's innovative new 'single system'.

Stuart Watson

TWELVE of Suffolk's most promising young hockey players have been selected among the elite few to make the top junior tiers of England Hockey's innovative new 'single system'.

For three years the sport's national governing body has been working hard to restructure the pathway to the top for the country's elite junior players so that every single youngster has the same opportunities.

Historically, pathways have varied enormously, not only between boys and girls, but also from region-to-region and county-to-county, so re-writing this deep-rooted landscape has been arduous.

However, this year has finally seen a breakthrough though in the project, with the early stages of a pilot scheme having been implemented in recent months.

The new three-tier system sees promising school and club players initially selected for one of around 130 Junior Development Centres (JDC). This third tier will provide training for players aged between 12 and 17 who are just below county standard.

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Once playing at a county standard, players can then progress to the second tier, one of 42 Junior Academy Centres (JAC), for a more intensive training experience.

The very best of that group are then put forward to the top tier, one of just 12 Junior Regional Performance Centres (JRPC). In the east region centres are based in Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk), St Albans (Hertfordshire), Oxted (Surrey) and Tonbridge (Kent).By this stage, players are recognised as one of the very best for their age in the country, and will have are a number of opportunities to impress further in order to break into England Under-16 and U18 squads.

As well as regular High Performance Camps at U15 and U17 level, the best U16 and U18 players are selected to represent their region in the annual Futures Cup.

Players will represent their region's cluster of JRPCs, each of which has been given a team name. The eastern region will be known as the Saxon Tigers and will play against the Pennine Pumas (north), Mercia Lynx (midlands) and the Wessex Leopards (west). The first ever Futures Cup will take place at Cannock Hockey Club at the end of this month and eight boys and four girls from Suffolk have been selected to take part.

Jamie Bowden, Peter Cole and Jonny Gall are in the U16 boys' squad, while Michaela Chidgey is the county's sole representative in the U16 girls' squad.

Harry Martin, Michael Franklin, Josh Godfrey, Sean Collins and Tom Dunnett and are both in the U18 boys' squad, while Chloe Hunnable, Cherry Seaborn and Sarah Glanvill have made it into the girls' equivalent.

Of that 12, Gall, Martin, Franklin, Godfrey and Hunnable are already involved at England U16 and U18 level, while the other seven will hoping to follow in their footsteps by impressing England Hockey scouts at the Futures Cup.

As well as the seven uncapped England players that are involved in the Futures Cup, a further 15 youngsters from Suffolk have been included in the Bury-based JRPC. All of those, with the exception of Seaborn who plays for the Norfolk-based Harleston Magpies, play for Ipswich Hockey Club.

Charlie Farrow, England Hockey's East Regional Manager, said: “We have always had a system that worked, but the problem was that it was inconsistently delivered.

“Children were getting inconsistent opportunities and there was the worry that some were getting better opportunities than others simply because of where they lived.

“This single system will really enhance what we already have and will build more quality into the system.”

Currently in a pilot stage, the entire 'single system' is planned to have been fully rolled out by July 2009.