A night’s sleep interrupted by his kids was not enough to dampen the enthusiasm in Russell Garcia’s voice as he talks about the new FIH Pro League and the impact it will have upon hockey.
“Sally Munday (Chief Executive Officer England Hockey) has said she wants the UK to be a place where hockey mattered, so we should all get behind that. If the FIH Pro League takes off and it works then it will be amazing for the sport at all levels. We need to galvanise everyone involved in hockey in the UK to promote and develop and improve our sport in this country. If we create a land where hockey matters, as a nation we can really start to do things and that will be brilliant.”
Now Assistant Head Coach to England and Great Britain men, memories garner of Garcia as an 18-year-old who joined the men’s squad for the 1988 Seoul Games thus becoming one of the youngest Brits to win Olympic gold.
“At 18 I was brave and played with no fear,” says Garcia. “The thing that I reflect on now, is the way the manager and the coach managed the whole process. There were guys in their 30s who were playing their last tournament and then here I was, a guy of 18, just breaking into the team. It was a very exciting time for me, joining a group of men that I had seen on television in 1984 and 1986 in the Olympics and the World Cup.
Now Garcia is the ‘older guy’ who is helping to lead Great Britain and England’s current stars to international success and he sees the Pro League as “the best route to Olympic and World Cup qualification.”
Since becoming a coach, Garcia has plied his trade with international sides and some of the best club sides in Europe. This gives him unique insight into how the international hockey scene looks right now.
“The centralised programme is so important in the UK where our club system is not as strong as the club system on the continent. It gives the players a chance to train together and add another level of competitiveness. In so many ways it is no different to how players train in Germany or the Netherlands. Over there they train with their clubs three or four times a week, then train with the national team. Here, our guys train the same amount of time, but as part of a centralised programme – different nations do similar things, just in different ways.
“The centralised programme will put the national team in a great position to adapt to the demands of the Pro League.”
And the Pro League is something about which Garcia feels hugely optimistic, although he recognises the problems that are bound to spring up. “Yes, it will be difficult for the national team and clubs to get the right balance in the early days of the Pro League. But the aim of the FIH and the national governing bodies is to project the sport forward and broaden the fan base and that is really exciting.
“It is difficult when you have one league running alongside another league and no-one knows at the moment how it will work. You have to look left and right and see how other nations are doing it.
“In the future, I see a lot of adaptation, borrowing ideas and innovating. Give it three to five years and you will see countries narrowing the detail of how it operates and how it trickles to the clubs. If it does broaden popularity, increase the fan base and increase media coverage, then improvements will be felt at all levels of the game. And that will be so good for the sport. Yes, we are in for a rocky ride, but it is also an amazing opportunity.”