The Belgian men’s honour division has seen some important changes these last years. Difficult because traditionally there is a lot of opposition to change in Belgian hockey. Something typical for Belgians but less for hockey though.
Anyway the level of the competition has risen immensely in the last decade, mainly because of a handful of clubs with the wish to shake things up and take their place at the top. Thanks to some clubs investing in quality trainers and quality foreign players. Also because when in the early years of this century a Boys Under 16 team showed there is way to get to the top becoming the European champion, the federation stepped up their efforts with the men’s national team. I wrote about it last year in “Succes heeft vele vaders” (= “succes has many fathers” – article written in Dutch), so won’t go into that again…
The competition and club teams became better, proof of this the third spot for a Belgian team in the Euro Hockey League (EHL) we recently took away from the Spanish. The national team improved a lot with for example two subsequent qualifications for the Olympics and a silver medal at the Europan championship last summer and this even inspired some clubs and later on the federation to start doing more or less the same thing for the women. However succes in sport (probably not only in sport) always comes at a price, all be it different prices for different people.
This year we see more of our top players leaving Belgium to go and play in the Dutch competition, the world renowned “Hoofdklasse” and I think they are right as individuals in making this decision. To become a better player you have to train, play and compete with the best of the best. However this could also be a bad thing for the level in our own Belgian competition, the cradle for future talents… So I thought it would be time to think about a SWOT analysis of Belgian tophockey, to see what could be done to prevent a descending curve…
Belgian hockey has several strengths. The fact that we are part of the comfort zone in the world in western Europe. We have enough money, even during these crisis years, with sponsors allowing top players to more or less live for their sport during key moments. The fact that we have no real distances in our small country, so travel is no obstacle to come together for training and games.
Belgians rarely see the added value of topsport in someones life. Parents of talents will often hold them back afraid the passion for the sport would interfere with studies and the possibility of getting a good job to live a happy, be it mediocre, life later on… Especially when the chosen sport is not the one where a pot of gold awaits below every rainbow, even faint rainbows.
So much opportunities are out there for Belgian tophockey. When resources are managed the way they should both men and women have the possibility to become and stay for several years among the top nations of the world. The women still have a long way to go, but the men are already knocking on the door. Remaining on top is another challenge though (Read “Confirmation is topsport“). If the issue of infrastructure would be dealt with our sport has the possibility to grow to 100.000 players at least of which the majority would be girls and women.
Resulting from the weakness described above the government also is not involved enough in (top)sports. This means infrastructure is below par in our country. Because that is where government can make a real difference but all too often seems content with handing out peanuts.
The lack of long term vision among club administrators running the sport also comes from the same cause. Often volunteers with lots of love for their club, successful in their own business but without any vision for the sport other then the interest of their own club. They uphold silly rules and habits to protect the mediocrity and often even work against their federation when they want to move forward.
So those who want our sport to grow and offer our kids the best of both worlds (good recreational possibilities and the option of topsport as well) will need to be able to wake up our government officials to really invest in sports infrastructure and choose our club administrators among those people willing and able to look beyond short term goals and beyond their own backyard. Quite the challenge… I hope some will step up and do a more thorough SWOT analysis and from there on make things move forward so these last years of progress won’t go down the drain. It’s crunch time…