Interview - Mateusz Grochal
Mateusz Grochal: simplicity & accessibility of Hockey5s crucial to hockey’s growth
Mateusz Grochal – who coached Poland’s Under-16 boys’ team at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, an event he describes as ‘incredible’ – discusses how Hockey5s is playing an important developmental role not just in Poland but in countries all around the world. Grochal speaks at length about how the simplicity and accessibility of this format makes it an ideal entry point into the sport.
Hi Mateusz, thanks so much for talking to us. Tell us about your how you became involved in Hockey5s in Poland.
Mateusz Grochal: “I believe it all started in 2014, where we first saw it in Nanjing at the Youth Olympic Games. Later, when EHF (European Hockey Federation) introduced an Under-16 competition format, we had some internal talks in the [Polish Hockey] Federation about how we can implement it, how we can be competitive and maybe qualify for the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. At the same time, we wanted to keep in mind that 11-a-side is our priority, and how can we use Hockey5s to achieve more than we normally would. So, we started without the boards, and in 2015 we had our first regional competition for Under-16 teams. It was quite good because we had a lot of teams joining the competition. We divided a regular field into to two, where we played without the boards and added the scoring zone. It was quite interesting, because from that group we had some players who were later selected for the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. Later on, we also joined in some test matches with Austria and Switzerland, and we adjusted our infrastructure at the Olympic Center in Wałcz (north-west Poland). We finally bought the sideboards, and we organised a European Championship, which was called the European Future Heroes Cup.”
So, you are pleased with the way the Hockey5s is helping the sport within Poland?
Mateusz Grochal: “Yes. Being a coach and a true admirer of Indoor Hockey, I see some similarities (with indoor). I think of it as a small-sided game that can help to work on some things that are crucial in 11-a-side hockey. It is a nice tool for juniors, but at the community level it can be quite interesting as a simple format, something that is quite accessible for someone who has not seen hockey before.”
The accessibility factor is quite important. Are you seeing it having an effect on the number of people playing the game in Poland?
Mateusz Grochal: “Yes, but due to the pandemic it is a strange world that we currently live in. I think with Hockey5s, the simplicity of it and how easily it can be explained to someone who has not seen hockey before, with very few rule limitations [is very positive]. In Indoor Hockey you cannot lift the ball outside the circle. For someone who has not such a technical level of skill, it can be quite limiting to compete. [In Hockey5s], the fact that the ball does not leave the field is also quite interesting, because in the total game-play time, most of the time the ball is in action, where in other sports [that is not always the case]. I watched the Super Bowl and for the whole match there was like 12 or 15 minutes of action, which was so strange for me! As a spectator you want to see something that is action packed, and I think Hockey5s does it quite well.”
What do you love so much about Hockey5s, and how do you see it developing as a global sport over the coming years?
Mateusz Grochal: “As I mentioned, the simplicity and the fact that it can be easily implemented. In Poland, we don’t have that much access to good infrastructure. We get to use small football fields and other venues that are easier to get to. I think the number of nations, for example in the European Championship we had 16-20 teams participating, teams that you did not see before on the hockey map. Suddenly they are coming to Poland and competing, which was really empowering to see. When you look at Zambia (Men), what they did in Nanjing (7th place) and later on what happened in Buenos Aires (4th place), I think it is a great example for other nations.”
You were head coach of the Poland U-18 men’s team that competed at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, where Hockey5s proved to be a real hit. Can you tell us about your experience in Argentina?
Mateusz Grochal: “Incredible. Not only for me but for the players who were part of that group, it was amazing. I think not only from the hockey point of view, but also as a cultural experience. The atmosphere that was there, I think for most of the games the hockey venue was fully packed. I remember the games against India, Argentina, Australia. That was [special]. The Hockey5s pitch is very small so communication between the bench and the players should not be a problem, but with the venue so packed, that was impossible to talk to each other. Whenever I see those players from that group we come back to those memories. It is something I actually find hard to describe. The culture and spirit that was there, it was amazing.”
Your Poland team finished fifth in the competition, beating Australia in the 5-6 play-off match. You have already mentioned some of the other nations that were there, the likes of Zambia, Vanuatu and Mexico, all nations that you played. How do you think Hockey5s is helping those countries?
Mateusz Grochal: “At those kinds of events you have a chat with other coaches and managers. I had a chat with the coach of Vanuatu, who explained how Hockey5s became a social function in the area, and how those boys from Vanuatu had this trip to Buenos Aires made possible thanks to Hockey. With Zambia and the project that was happening there, together with the Hockey Dreams Foundation, the growth is happening, and it is thanks to Hockey5s. In Europe I see countries like Georgia, Malta and Finland (getting involved), so for a hockey geek it is empowering to see this happening.”
So, you feel it is contributing to the global growth of the Hockey? Clearly the focus is always on the 11-a-side game, but Hockey5s has got a vital role to play in growing the game.
Mateusz Grochal: “Yes, I do believe that. We have this thing in Poland where the clubs that normally play indoor and outdoor and now also signing up to play Hockey5s. This is because it is much more accessible; we have parents interested in competing. As I said, it is quite easy to explain to someone. I like the new rule adjustments regarding [the introduction of] the scoring zone and the time of play. If you look at other sports and what is happening, I think Hockey5s is the way to go, to spread hockey world-wide.”