KISS is the way forward for hockey in my opinion. And of course KISS is is the acronym for Keep It Simple Stupid. Because it’s my opinion also we’ve been making things way too complicated these last years… Let me explain. In a previous post (To Batra or not Batra… that is the question) I discussed the boring stuff about the management of our game on federation level and in this blogpost I go into the sport more… and into the choices ahead of us.
Field hockey vs indoor hockey vs hockey 5’s
Field hockey versus indoor hockey versus hockey 5’s versus whatever other local initiatives haves been launched in recent years is one thing that comes to mind.
I understand the need for a concept of the game next to the original field hockey. Allowing for countries or regions with less roots in the traditional concept of the game or less infrastructure to get involved. That is why the marketing boys and girls at the FIH invented Hockey 5’s and try to promote this concept through the Youth Olympic Games and other events as an alternative for hockey. It’s an answer to those having trouble getting the numbers for 11 vs 11 games and for those with less possibilities to build and maintain artificial waterbased pitches. Also they sometimes claim it would create a faster more spectacular game more to the liking of today’s urban youth.
But guess what…. we already had something that is a perfect answer to all of this. We call it indoor hockey. It’s a fast paced, spectacular game, played in a 6 vs 6 format and the infrastructure needed is one we can share with many other sports (handball, futsal, basketball, …) as well. It ticks all the boxes the FIH wants to. So why complicate matters and try to create a new sport. KISS… let’s stick to field hockey and indoor hockey! And by the way indoor hockey can be played outside as well of course ;) So, if we need to please the marketing boys and girls, give it a new name but let’s not try to reinvent the game.
We’ve just witnessed a top event in Antwerp, Belgium with the European Championships indoor. It was a true promotion for the game of indoor hockey. And in a couple of weeks Berlin, Germany will host the indoor World Cup. I have no doubt they will make it an event to remember as well. So please, let’s forget about that nonsense of Hockey 5’s and promote two concepts of the game of hockey: our traditional game of field hockey and the one we today call indoor hockey. And stick to this…. Let’s improve with what we have and not try to reinvent the wheel…
That being said I also believe the only way to make indoor hockey grow is to really treat it as a different sport. So forget about making compromises to manage the calendars of both indoor and outdoor hockey. I think indoor hockey should have their own calendar and not be worried about conflicts with our traditional field hockey calendar. If players manage to combine both sports, great. If not, no problem…Choose one. This means for example in Europe I do not believe our traditional clubs are the only way forward for indoor hockey. I believe indoor hockey could very well grow with teams outside of the traditional clubs or smaller different clubs (or maybe even franchise teams) with no relation to our field hockey club system.
Rules: tradition vs change
We’ve had quite a lot of changes to our rules in the game of hockey these last years. For some of these we will all agree they had real added value. Think self-pass or allowing trapping a ball with your stick raised above your shoulder. Others have shown no real added value, such as the 4 quarters of 15 minutes instead of 2x 35 minutes. I still feel robbed of 10 minutes of hockey and I know most players, coaches and fans will agree.
In recent time I’ve advocated to not have anymore rule changes for a couple of years. Because we (and especially the public who watches our game of hockey only occasionally) need some time to reconnect with the game we play and not wonder what happened every other time the umpire blows his/her whistle. Still I think we could do with at least one more rule change to make things more simple again: the rule regarding the reception of a high overhead ball where the one receiving the ball can not be challenged (5 meter distance rule). All in all there is nothing wrong with the rule and it’s not ambiguous. However not all umpires are as consistent as one would like and the public often has difficulties understanding. It’s against the nature of our game to allow your opponent the space to receive and control the ball without interfering. That’s why I think it would make life simpler if we abandon that 5 meter distance rule on overheads and allow everybody to go for the ball at any time. Obviously the rule about dangerous play would still apply.
Besides this the FIH is testing yet another rule. The rule for two points for field goals and only one for goals originating from penalty corners, tested in the HIL and EHL, however is making things complicated again. A field goal is not easier or more difficult to score compared to a penalty corner. Both need skill and teamwork, so why treat these different. Unnecessary complications that did not make the game more spectacular, nor have a real added value and therefore I do hope this test does not make it into the rules. KISS… a goal is a goal.
But the most important take away here for me is to stop changing rules for a while (unless they simplify the game = KISS) and focus our innovations for a couple of years more on ways to improve bringing the game to the public through different media. Think of more camera angles during top games, add more relevant statistics to show why teams play the way they play and educate (with quality commentators without “couleure locale”) our audience on the game of hockey and it’s strong tactical plays…
Events vs Championships
Listening to marketing when setting up events or championships always makes sense. If we want to enjoy sport at toplevel we will need money from sponsors and partners in order for those top level players to invest their time to the game of hockey. However when marketing or media partners start dictating the game we cross a line.
When you look at the big picture the FIH and all others managing the game of hockey have got to take into account the different needs for topsport versus recreational hockey. But also manage the differences between national teams representing their country and club teams or franchise teams owned by either their members or their investors. And finally we have to deal with differences between tournament vs events or sport vs entertainment if you will. The KISS principle becomes rather a challenge here as you can imagine…
Let’s distinguish the tournaments vs the events we know about today. First for national teams:
- The Olympic Games and World Cup, both every four years are at the pinnacle of it all as tournaments for national teams.
- Continental championships are next and also only for national teams and organised as a tournament.
- Third level tournaments are the qualifyers such as the Hockey Series, replacing the Hockey World League events. These are open to all FIH accredited nations and the gateway to the top level tournaments.
- Finally we have the invitational events, such as the old Champions Trophy or the new Hockey Pro League. Also the Commonwealth Games and all practice games and test series fall into this last category.
For club teams or franchise teams we could make more or less the same distinction between sport and entertainment driven competitions.
- National titles for club teams such as the west-European club leagues are governed by sport rather than entertainment
- Events like the HIL in India, the AHL in Australia or the EHL in Europe would/could for me more events rather than tournaments, so could be more about entertainment than true sport.
Managing the balance between entertainment and sport will be a major challenge in the years to come. Entertainment could trump sport (to a certain extent) in the invitational events such as the HPL or commercial events such as the HIL. These events would be a showcase for our game of hockey but should not interfere with sport values like the global ranking for example. It doesn’t mean winning such an event would not have any sport value. Quite the contrary. But these are events where marketing, entertainment, promotion, media… could have an impact on the rules or circumstances which would/should be out of the question for tournaments where sport values rule the game.
So KISS…. Global ranking points can only be earned from these tournaments where sport rules. But also I would prefer there would be no global ranking points from continental championships. For the obvious reason not all nations can participate in all of these, so you have no level playing ground. Invitational events such as the HPL or those governed by commercial partners such as the HIL are events where entertainment is key and sometimes sport comes second. These are the events to be used to generate money and grow the audience for our game of hockey. This also means professional players should get money for playing these events. The honour of representing your country still applies obviously but if playing these events means players can’t combine it with regular work (in hockey playing domestic leagues or outside of hockey) or studies they deserve to be treated as pro athletes all the way…
KISS here means to be clear beforehand about what will rule every competition: entertainment or sport.
- Forget about Hockey 5 and stick to traditional 11 vs 11 hockey and the indoor game of 6 vs 6 which could be rebranded to go beyond the indoor…
- Stop changing rules for a couple of years. Focus innovation on ways to show the game for all relevant media.
- Be clear about which competitions are focussed on sport and which on entertainment.
So KISS comes down to making choices, sticking with them and communicate clearly beforehand about these. But in order to do this you first need people with vision and integrity leading our sport. That means it’s time for dr. Batra to step up and take charge… or to step down and leave it to others.
2018 will be, once again, a very important year for our game of hockey!