This girl can – how not to pick hockey teams

Why grassroots hockey should never use the ‘captains-pick-teams-one-by-one’ method of team sorting….

Hockey is a competitive sport, but the Back to Hockey campaign is all inclusive. It welcomes players of all ages and abilities.

However, there’s an inherent contradiction in this. A contradiction in the idea of putting out the strongest team and yet encouraging everybody to take part. It’s my belief that everybody should be able to play and to find the right level. So how do you pick teams and deal with this contradiction?

I certainly know how not to do it! Recently, I watched a couple of times as a local grassroots club sorted themselves out into informal teams for club games and training. It was suggested that the club use the ‘two captains pick who they want’ method of sorting teams. A couple of players were named as captains and they had to choose who they wanted one by one. They were too young to know that it might be wise to pick a weaker player first and just went for the stronger players first, looking uncomfortable as they did it.

And guess what? The older Back to Hockey players were picked last – after the gifted youngsters and the more skilled, experienced players. One older player, who loves playing but only started a couple of months’ ago whispered, looking very hurt, ‘I was picked last of course, along with all the bottom team players. I’m rubbish. I don’t know why I bother playing.’ Yet the club is short of players and needs her for the lower division team. She’s a valuable club member. This was humiliating and wrong. I was shocked this is still happening in grassroots hockey.

I can’t express strongly enough how wrong this is. There is no reason to be picking teams in this way. Even the argument that the pickers should pick the weakest first doesn’t work for me. Leaving your Back to Hockey players last to be picked is not good for the grassroots sport.

I was utterly outraged. Not least since I was subjected to this ritual humiliation myself with netball at school. I was tiny and often picked towards the end for netball, along with the other short girls. This is why I now hate netball. Doing this in a club achieved nothing but make people hate hockey and never come back.

I’ve seen the best coaches simply and discreetly hand out bibs, apparently randomly, and nobody notices and feels left out.

Meanwhile, a much better approach at my club Norwich City HC. Coaches randomly numbered players into four groups. Then small unit play between teams with the losing group  swapping to play other losing team and winners playing each other. Allows players to be stretched against stronger players and have some success against weaker teams. Worked really well and was impressive.

What do you think is the best way to sort teams in club games and training matches – and any informal games?

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