What a great opportunity Hawke's Bay has to have a premier pathway and breeding ground for the sport of hockey.
Earlier in the year we had the festival of hockey for the Black Sticks, and last week we saw the other end of the spectrum, with Hawke's Bay Hockey running an excellent Big Save Small Sticks hockey festival for primary schools.
What a great success it was, with not only local kids having some great holiday fun and getting to experience a tournament, but many teams also travelling here from outside the region.
The tournament really highlighted, that if given such opportunities, the young kids have so much enthusiasm, and what a critical age it is to give them a taste of sport.
Still at that young age with less fear of giving something a go, and an experience that for many will lead to a long-lasting love of the sport.
They rip into it for the pure joy of competing, blissfully unaware of all the great physical and emotional development they are getting. And of course even more unaware of all the longer-term health benefits they will gain from having developed more physical skills that they can call on later in life.
The beginning of the hockey pathway is great - the fun introduction they get at primary schools, most of which have at least a tennis court to get them started on. The facilities are also there for serious international competition at the Sports Park.
We now need to make sure we join the dots in between, to make for an amazing and exciting hockey pathway.
For whatever reason, there has been an explosion of interest in Hockey in Hawke's Bay - partly due to the Festival of Hockey, programmes and role models like Black Stick Emily Gaddum getting about the schools, and the rise of concussion issues in many contact sports won't have done hockey any harm either.
And then the addition of beautiful shiny turfs at the Regional Sports Park has certainly helped excite the kids, and made it a more accessible sport in Hawke's Bay.
The massive growth in many primary schools means we now need to stay ahead of that growth, and set up the supportive pathways to carry the kids through their intermediate and high school age-groups - and for those that are really keen, into competitive development programmes.
The other exciting factor for hockey, is the real renaissance going on in some of the more rural areas of New Zealand. In the old days it was very strong in those communities, but with the advent of artificial surfaces, it meant hockey died in those places without a turf, which were only in the big centres or the wealthy schools - unfortunate for hockey, as ironically so much of the natural talent lies in the rural settings.
So, hockey sat there like an inert volcano, waiting to be reignited, and now we are seeing it coming back hard. Gisborne just north of us is a great example of a come-back town, after recently building their turf, and a good bunch of teams came down for the primary schools festival last week.
Then down in Central Hawke's Bay funds are being raised for what will be a marvellous multisport turf and centre in Waipukurau, it will be a fantastic future legacy for hockey and other sports, and a great partner aligning with the new Sir Graeme Avery led regional Health and Sport Centre at the Sports Park.
Also last week we had the Central Region U18 girls winning the national championship, six of them Hawke's Bay girls. The U18 boys also made the final (losing to Canterbury) with local boy Harry Lawson taking out the overall tournament MVP award.
Harry and a number of his team mates, and all six girls, are all training in the new Avery led Athlete Development facility at the Sports Park along with many other students from other sports.
An exciting crop of talent, themselves now emerging as a new wave of powerful role models for the younger generations coming through, and showing the exciting opportunities that the sport can provide, with two of the girls about to depart to American universities on scholarships.
Rugby continues to be such a success in New Zealand, not just because it is magically in the "fabric of our society", but because it has mapped out a great continuous pathway of development. The more other sports can learn from that, the better their participation and results on the international stage will be too.
Add to the mix the great climate and environment here in Hawke's Bay, and hockey has great opportunities, as with other sports, to rise up and make a magic pathway from kids healthy participation right through to competitive high performers.
Marcus Agnew is the health and sport development manager at Hawke's Bay Community Fitness Centre Trust and is also a lecturer in sports science at EIT.
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