On Wednesday 1st February, the University of Cumbria will be holding a special 5-a-side hockey tournament at the Lancaster campus as part of the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league. The tournament will see our Women’s Hockey teams from the Carlisle and Lancaster campuses competing against each other, as well as other universities from across the country.
We got in touch with David Birch, currently studying for a Coaching and Mentoring degree at the University, who has helped to organise the event and agreed to an interview regarding the day.
David, thank you very much for agreeing to an interview. To start with, why don’t you tell us more about the tournament?
It started last year with the introduction of the small-sided hockey programme. The aim was to allow opportunities for teams who struggle to get enough players for a traditional 11-a-side game, or those universities where too many players are interested to fill the available teams. The smaller games mean that everyone gets a chance to play hockey, especially those who would normally be denied due to lack of interest.
So it’s an extra way to get universities support in their sports teams?
Exactly. We found that last year, hockey had the second biggest drop off for participants. We’ve noticed a lot of people sign up and then just stop playing, reducing the size of the team so that they can no longer compete. So we want to stop that barrier and allow those teams to continue playing the sport they love.
What makes this event good for those interested in hockey?
The rules for the tournament are a bit different to normal hockey, it’s more a development thing. So it’s perfect for beginners, but also for more skilled players as well. For example, at this university we have some really good hockey players, but also people who’ve never held a stick before, so it’s a good way of introducing them to the game, as well as meet new friends and lead to a better university lifestyle.
So how can people get involved with the event?
This particular event was set up 2 months ago, and is actually the first small-sided tournament within BUCS that’s been set at this level. We spoke to Greg Surge, the chairman of BUCS, with the idea for the tournament, and he gave a list of all the captains who had shown an interest in more competitive small-sided hockey. We then messaged them to ask if they’d be interested, and were happy that they said yes. Our group facilitator, Rob Ward, then got in touch with their student unions, sent them a signup sheet and registration form, and it was official.
When’s the event taking place?
This Wednesday at 2pm on the AstroTurf at Lancaster campus, and we’re expecting it to go on until at least 5pm. Hopefully we’ll have two pitches set up for the tournament. There should be four or five teams in total, including two from Cumbria, one from Lancaster and one from Carlisle. We’ll also see Sheffield Hallam, the University of Leeds and we’re hoping for the University of Sheffield as well.
Obviously people interested in hockey will want to go, but what does the event offer for those perhaps less into sports?
We’re going to make a full day of it, so the event won’t just be the tournament. We’re also having a bar set up, food will be provided, there’ll be some great music, people going around socialising and generally making it a good time. So no matter what you’re into, there’ll be something there to interest you.
What is your involvement with the BUCS league?
I’m the chairman of the Men’s Hockey Society, and I’ve helped the girls get on their feet a bit this year as well. I’m also on the SAG BUCS committee - in fact I’m the only male student representative to be on the committee in the country.
How are we doing in this year’s BUCS league?
For the girls, it was really hard. They’ve struggled for captains over the last couple of years, which has led to problems getting things organised. But this year’s captain, Emma Prendergast, has been really keen to keep the society afloat. She’s always looking at ideas to improve the society and get more players involved, and she’s really good at getting people to socialise, so things are looking up for them.
As for the Men’s Hockey, we unfortunately had a big reduction in players due to people graduating this year. It’s really bad because we’re currently at the highest standard of sport at this university, but we’re struggling due to the lack of players. So we’ve decided that, rather than focus on winning more games this season, we’re going to look more at the social side of things. It’s a great opportunity for people to just show up on a Wednesday, play a bit of hockey and just enjoy the company afterwards.
Why do you think these types of event are important? What will it achieve?
We don’t want hockey teams at university to lose players just like that, because a lot of teams struggle to submit a team before they know what new students they’re going to get. Say if they don’t have enough players in a team, then this programme can carry on throughout the year. So even though they’re not playing traditional 11-a-side hockey, there’s still a way for them to play. If that’s not there, they’re going to look elsewhere, maybe join a different team or try a different sport, so we want to be able to give them that hockey experience that they’re looking for.
You mentioned new students just now. Would you say this is a good event for people who are thinking of going to Cumbria and are interested in playing hockey to get a sample of what joining the team will be like?
It’s definitely a good programme that could prove to people coming to this university that we do want to improve our hockey here. We do the small-sided programme not just within the university, but within the community. For example, the Boys Grammar school are really keen and come down every Monday night for a game. So we don’t just look at improving ourselves, but also to make connections within our community, like with the Lancaster and Morecambe Hockey Club. So it’s not just universities who benefit, it’s also bringing together the community and showing people that there are opportunities for them to get involved in these sports.
What’s your connection with Lancaster and Morecambe Hockey Club?
They join some of our small-sided games on Mondays and get to know our players. Our aim within the university is to show beginners how to play small-sided hockey, which is an excellent way to introduce people to the sport, and encourage them to play for the university teams. But once they feel more confident with hockey or just want to improve their game, they can then go on and play for LMHC. Because they’ve met people through the Monday games, they already have some friends within the club before they start, so it’s a lot less nerve-wracking!
Have you seen the teams in action? Who do you think is going to win?
I’ve not seen the Carlisle girls play a game yet. I know the Lancaster girls are all of mixed ability, but I haven’t seen the other teams yet. I’m hoping it will be very competitive on the day, and each team will put on a good show.
Is there much competition between the two Cumbrian teams?
Not at the moment, but it would be good to get something like that set up, like a university tournament. We actually tried something like that in my first year, but it’s quite hard because a lot of sports teams are set up on one campus only. There’s only really Women’s Hockey and Men’s Rugby that span more than one campus, maybe football, so you can’t really get that inter-campus competition. But hopefully with more events like this, we can encourage more people to try out and set up teams.
Finally, is there anything you’d like people to know about the event?
I’d just say come down to the event and give it a go. It’s not just about the hockey, it’s about coming together as a university, showing that we can put on a good event, and make it really professional for the teams that are coming to join us. Julia Briggs at the Sports Centre and Rob Ward have put a lot of effort into the event, and the BUCS chairman will be helping as well, so it should be a really professional atmosphere. But ultimately I just hope people will have a great time and enjoy some well-played hockey.