FRIDAY night is hockey night - and for 200+ children, whatever the weather, you just can’t keep them away.
The Rugby & East Warwickshire Club’s sessions are tremendously popular and the youngsters just love to play. They learn new skills, make new friends, develop as sportspeople and put it all together in games and tournaments.
Children train in year groups from reception upwards, each section with a lead coach and helpers. There’s also a beginners’ group to give newcomers the basics until they’re ready to join their age groups.
All the groups will have a theme for the night, adapted for their level, starting with around 40 minutes of fun warm-ups and drills and finishing off with 20 minutes games. Those I spoke to all seem to like the games best.
Many parents also stay around for the hour at Rugby School’s floodlit pitches to watch, chat and help - generating a great family atmosphere at the club.
A few I spoke to said their children talk about hockey constantly, nothing puts them off going and it’s a great opportunity for them to meet up with different friends, progress their skill levels, improve co-ordination and enjoy the cameraderie of being in a team.
Watching on Friday, the one thing that came over above all else is that the children really enjoy it and want to be there.
(Nothing like my memories of hockey at school, where to be honest, most of us would have done anything to get out of it!)
This was the fourth week of what are usually 12 or 13 week terms.
Young players Mathew Nobes, 11 and 12 year-olds Flossie Rosser and Anastasia de Clermont, were full of praise for their coaches and said they like playing games and tournaments, learning new skills which they can put into matches and take back to school and making new friends.
And their message to any children who might be thinking about going along, was just to try it and they’ll probably be very glad they did.
Alex Bowler-Smith, 7, has been going to the sessions for quite a while and said his coaches are all very good.
Alex enjoys the matches and on Friday evening said they had been practising blocking and keeping the ball on the end of the stick.
And another of the younger players, Indigo Hudson, 8, said she got to know about the sessions because her brother and his friend used to go.
She plays hockey at school and enjoys being able to take back what she’s learned at the club.
On Friday Indigo was enjoying the warm-ups and practising turning and keeping possession of the ball.
One of the coaches is Polish international Symon Oszyjczyk, one of two playing for the senior club. There are strong links from the junior to senior set-up, making the Friday sessions a window into the club. There are also separate mid-week boys and girls training nights which the youngsters can progress to and these feed into the adult section.
Youngsters only have to be 13 to play adult hockey and many take their first steps into it via the Badgers team, which mixes boys and girls and experienced seniors.
The Friday night players come from 20 different schools and from 31 towns and villages around Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, as far afield as Towcester, Stratford and Warwick.
And the sessions have become so popular that since they were started by REWHC Junior Co-ordinator Richard Allan nine years ago, they have never had to advertise.
They also take coaching into state schools, such as Rugby High, Harris, Avon Valley, Ashlawn and some of the cluster schools.
Richard and fellow Junior Co-ordinator Julia Bower showed me around on Friday evening, with club chairman David Assheton, who at 59 is the oldest player in his side, in contrast to their 14-year-old goalkeeper.
They all say that’s the reward of the junior programme - seeing youngsters develop into the senior ranks right through to the first team.
And it’s one of those sports where players can continue to enjoy it for as long as they want to. And by teaching children the correct techniques from the beginning, they will have the right skills to build on all the way through.
REWHC has three ladies’ teams, all playing in Warwickshire leagues and seven men’s teams.
The men’s first team are just one step away from the national league and those below are also strong sides playing a very good standard of hockey. There’s even debate as to whether the club should start an 8th XI.
The juniors play matches about twice a month and everyone has a chance to play.
Only the county championship teams are selected on ability and REWHC made a clean sweep of the U10s and U12s titles last season.
On Sunday Rugby hosted an Olympic Legacy tournament for three age groups, U10s, U12s and U14s against ten other clubs.
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