Gary Russell column: Development – show me the money

I started playing hockey when I was three years old. I’m very lucky to have an older brother who played and he’s the main reason i got into the sport.

John is six years older than me, so when ever we played he would always try and win. I was that competitive and wanted to win that if I got beat John would bear the brunt with some new bruises.

My family has been great to me and the sport has given us so many memories and friends. It takes some amount of dedication with all the travel, time on the ice and cost of equipment so I can’t thank my parents enough.

Sadly my mother is not with us anymore but she was a real driving force behind me. I have her mental strength, dogged determination and outright winning mentality. She was a great footballer in her youth.

I want to talk about development. I played most of my years in the Lagoon Leisure Centre with the Paisley junior set up. I did play with other teams but that was my mainstay.

I was blessed with some great coaches during my time there. I had Peter Russell, who is currently the GB coach, Martin Shields, the father of Colin Shields and ex-Pirates coach, John Downs and many others.

Our team was great growing up. Some seasons we went undefeated. The only player in our team at that time that made it pro was Mark Garside.

Braehead Clan don’t have a current junior set up which got me thinking. Is it the clubs responsibility to give young players a platform to play?

Personally, when you first hear it I would say yes. But then I started to think is it? Maybe it’s the clubs’ responsibility to give the young players the desire to play the game. Make kids want to be them.

I do remember I wanted to be a Pirate when I watched Paisley play in the BNL. Where does the ice time come in for the kids? That’s when I start to think it’s not the clubs’ responsibility, but councils and sporting governing bodies.

In Glasgow and surrounding areas there are no people employed to develop youth in ice hockey. I know for a fact that Dumfries, with a population of about 40,000 people, has a Sports Development Officer to look after and progress kids in ice hockey.

So Scotland’s biggest city Glasgow, which has a professional team who attract more than 3,000 fans every game is failing at developing kids, yet a small town with 40,000 people manages it?

So what are the council doing in Glasgow and East Renfrewshire to make sure that kids are getting ice time and getting better at the sport? The answer is not that much unless anyone can tell me otherwise.

The sporting governing bodies who provide funding I personally feel are unfair on ice hockey. I think they base the funding on gold medals at Winter Olympics.

“We are up against competing with the likes of Canada and Russia which all have million dollar hockey industries. It’s going to be tough getting a gold medal from them.

At an ice rink you have several sports – curling, hockey, figure skating and speed skating. Ice hockey is the sport that attracts the most people to the building with fans and players.

Here is a report on funding from the BBC. The investment in curling between 2010-2018 has been £7.4 million, figure skating £1.8m and speed skating £7.2m.

How much does ice hockey get in the BBC report? £0. So ice hockey is the most popular sport in the ice rink, yet receives no funding to help the current and future athletes?

No wonder they have no promise of an Olympic medal. Maybe what we should do is steal 20 guys currently in the NHL with UK ancestors to get us in the Olympics, get them a passport to play and get us to the Olympic final – Conor McDavid has to have a Scottish background with a name like that.

Then we may get £8 million in funding. But why do we not have anything now?

All of that money between those ice sports should be enough to improve facilities at ice rinks, so where does that money actually go?

There are too many rinks that look so old and shoddy. The government has put £15 million into these sports which all need rinks, so I hope those rinks are state-of-the-art.

I can’t say I’ve seen many state-of-the-art rinks in my 23-year hockey career, but I’ve witnessed many rinks being shut down including a state-of-the art-one in Ayr.

So back to the original question – is it the clubs responsibility to give young players a platform to play? My answer would be it’s a joint effort all around, to which all parts need to be present.

(Image permission: Al Goold Photo)

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