Hockey South Africa has come up with a master plan to promote and grow the sport from grassroots level, focusing on primary schools across the country and combining the teaching of basic sport skills with the requirements of the national school curriculum.
The project is spearheaded by former educator and hockey player Gary Dolly, who is the national project manager for South African hockey.
He is based in Port Elizabeth but is implementing the programme throughout the country. Still in its pilot stage, the venture has attracted 24 junior schools around the metro.
“This pilot project started last year,” Dolly said. “We refer to this project as the neighbourhood leagues, encouraging the local schools to participate.”
“The aim is to get kids actively involved in sport, promoting sporting skills and consolidating fundamental movement skills.” Since the start of the project last year in September, Dolly says, there has been massive support among teachers because the initiative addresses fundamental movement skills, which are also linked to the life skills programme in the foundation and intermediate school phases.
“In PE, we have 24 schools that are part of the programme, but nationally our target is 100 schools per year,” he said.
“This is our growth strategy. Unfortunately, over many years we never penetrated any new areas because of lack of facilities in certain communities.
“But this approach enables us now to go into any school where there is a smooth surface, such as a class room or a school hall, to introduce hockey as a fun activity.
“This approach is very cost effective because the teachers are required to do physical education.
“What we are trying to do is to piggyback on that, but also to assist the teachers to promote manipulation, which is how to hit and strike the ball on any smooth surface.
“So, all that you require is a stick and a ball because each school would have a smooth surface where these ball skills can be taught.”
The schools that Dolly is working with are mostly from disadvantaged areas and hockey sticks and balls can be quite expensive.
However, the former St Thomas deputy head said all participating primary schools would receive start-up sporting equipment.
Dolly says he believes the programme has the ability to involve more kids in physical activity as well as ball skills and sport skills.
Once one has a solid base in terms of the fundamental movements skills, it is easier to do talent identification and increase the number of players playing the game at entry level, Dolly explains.
“PE, and in general the northern areas, have a very proud history of producing top hockey players over a number of years.
“We believe by exposing kids to the fundamental moving skills at an early age it will increase our base in such a way that we can streamline these kids into programmes were they can receive top coaching and that will enable us to compete nationally.
“The emphasis is on having fun in a very safe environment. In addition, there is an emphasis on values and life skills such as respect for yourself, the community and the environment.
“Those things are linked to the formal life skills curriculum, so this programme is linked to education and that is the drive.
“The focus is purely education through sport.”
Having been a hockey player himself and having played for the South African hockey team before the unification of sport, Dolly said this programme brought new excitement to his life, more especially as the initiative merged education and sport.
“I think this approach – if adopted now and endorsed by the Department of Education, as well as the Department of Sport – has the ability to really make a massive impact and expose more kids to physical education.
“I believe that we will be able to increase our base of players for playing sport and it will also have a massive impact in terms of the social cohesion and countering the social ills that are bedevilling our community at the moment,” he said.