The impact of Great Britain Women’s hockey team winning gold at Rio 2016 has led to a huge increase in participation in the popular Olympic team sport in Plymouth.
There are now over 1,100 players in hockey clubs across the city and those numbers are on the rise.
Team GB featured former Plymouth Marjon Hockey Club ace Giselle Ansley, MBE, and her inclusion appears to have reignited a city-wide rush to play women’s hockey.
Less than a year after its formation Old Plymothian and Mannamedian Hockey Club’s ladies section boasts 30 members.
Ansley’s former club Plymouth Marjon has started a fifth team to cope with an increase in demand for regular competitive women’s hockey.
PMHC head coach and Plymouth Marjon University sports lecturer Jamie Oxley believes Team GB’s unprecedented success at the Rio Olympics has acted as a catalyst for a hockey explosion in the city.
Speaking about Plymouth Marjon Hockey Club’s efforts to build on the success of Rio 2016, Oxley said: “Now is really an opportune moment for us to capitalise on the sport’s popularity amongst the people of Plymouth.
“Winning women’s hockey gold was one of the stand-out stories of Rio 2016 and we have felt a positive impact on the club’s membership as a result.
“We’ve seen a big uptake in junior participation but also seniors, with a lot of adults looking to get back into the sport or take up something new to keep fit.
“We really need to expand our current facilities to keep up with the popularity of the sport.
“We do not want get to the point where we say ‘we haven’t got room for those who want to come and play’.
“In order to account for continued rise in memberships we need to develop the current facilities, which is why the University of St Mark & St John and the club have secured over £500,000 to go towards the construction of a new pitch.”
Dr Karen Cook, Deputy Vice Chancellor at Plymouth Marjon University, said: “We are committed to providing an excellent educational experience for our students.
“We are now ranked as the fourth best university in the UK for sports facilities but also recognise the importance of sport to the community.
“This is why we are so keen to work with Plymouth Marjon Hockey Club and the City to develop an exciting new training centre for a sport growing so well in the region.”
Oxley says membership at hockey clubs within the city continues to rise “up 14% from last year to 1,179 players with the biggest increase across the city’s four junior clubs.
“While the sport remains popular in many of the city’s primary and secondary schools clear barriers exist to the expansion of the sport because of the need for hockey specific all-weather pitches.”
Oxley aims to turn Plymouth Marjon’s north city base at Plymouth Marjon University into one of 13 England Hockey performance centres serving Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.
As well as hosting all-year round training and games, the performance centre would enable Plymouth to host regional and national tournaments.
Tournaments would attract competitors, their families and supporters to the city, creating an added boost to the local economy.
On hearing the plans, Olympics gold medal winner Ansley, said: “In the time that I have been playing hockey, I have seen such a difference in the levels of provision and participation in the sport in Plymouth.
“Plymouth Marjon Hockey Club has played such an important part in this development, as well as my own personal journey in the sport, from Sunday morning and midweek junior hockey right through to playing for England and Great Britain.
“Hockey probably gets less attention than some sports, which is why the gold medal success in Rio was so important.
“You have to take these opportunities and build on the success to ensure sustainable increases in participation.
“The inescapable fact is that future Olympic and World Cup successes are built upon the grassroots of the sport which is why ensuring that there are sufficient facilities to deal with demand is absolutely vital.”
MP for Plymouth Moor View Johnny Mercer said: “It’s great to see sports clubs looking to expand with a real eye on making a difference in the lives of young people.
“Like most people I read almost weekly about the health, or lack of health, among younger generations.
“We have a requirement to put in place policies that seek to encourage young people to participate in sport so when we get a golden-egg opportunity - like the success of Giselle and the GB women at Rio 2016 - we need to make the most of it to draw in participation.
“I think the plans for a new pitch at Marjon look great and it would be fantastic to see these services linking in more young people through the community clubs based at the University but also through primary and secondary schools as a space for hockey lessons in a quality environment.”
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