Oskar och Erasmus-projektet ska få landhockeyn att växa i Europa

Tillsammans med EHF, det europeiska landhockeyförbundet, driver Erasmus+ ett projekt för att engagera unga ledare inom landhockeyn. I Sverige drivs projektet av Oskar Lindblad i samarbete med SWE3.

Erasmus+ är EU:s program för utbildning, ungdom och idrott och det utbildar och engagerar unga ledare i EU. Projektet med European Hockey Federation (EHF) startade 2021 och pågår fram till 2023 – med SWE3 som en av de deltagande förbunden – och ambitionen är skapa ett program inom europeisk landhockey som ger unga verktyg att utveckla landhockeyn i sina länder. Projektet har deltagare i förutom Sverige även Danmark, Polen, Tjeckien, Ukraina och Wales.

Den svenske deltagaren i projektet heter Oskar Lindblad och helgen 17–18 september genomfördes i Stockholm det första fysiska utbildningstillfället för unga ledare inom projektet. I samband med detta tog vi oss en pratstund med Oskar och bad honom berätta mer om projektet och hur han ser på landhockeyns utvecklingsmöjligheter i Sverige och i övriga Europa. Då det är ett internationellt projekt och Oskar Lindblad har engelska som modersmål, med en svensk pappa, genomfördes intervjun på engelska.

In short, can you tell us about the project and what it is that you are doing?

– We are developing two different youth leadership programs. One will be grassroots based and accessible for smaller countries, with the goal to have multiple young people from their country come in, learn leadership techniques, and then hopefully apply them to their federation. Which in turn hopefully can rejuvenate a lot of these countries, such as Sweden, where it is not a massive sport at the moment.

– The second program will be a next step up and will have ten to twelve people a year coming through realistically. There everyone will need to come with a youth leadership project they are looking to run. They will be organizing it with the help of the Erasmus-project, it can be a youth tournament for the Scandinavian countries, something like that. They will have eighteen months where this idea will be developed, and their leadership techniques are further developed within the project, and it can hopefully generate some new youth projects in European hockey.

– It is about bringing that next generation young people through to take hockey forward and about creating new opportunities.

How did you get involved in the project?

– There was an advert put out by the Swedish federation and I had just moved back to England and thought it was an effective way for me to stay involved in Swedish hockey. To help grow the sport that I love here in Sweden was something I just had to apply for. It was a slow burner at first because of covid, as it was all online. But since then, we have had our first in-person meetings and it has been exciting, it really feels like something that has promise.

And what are you doing this weekend in Stockholm?

– This weekend we have the first in-person pilot of the grassroots model. We are going to go through the entirety of the youth leadership course and hopefully we can get valuable feedback. It is also an opportunity for me to practice with a view to potentially leading this in countries that I do not know that much about. So, it is about checking if it works, checking if there are any changes needed and getting experience for the people that are going to potentially lead it down the line. 

– The biggest challenges for me are going to be engagement. I think the stuff we got in the program is good stuff, but there is no knowledge or excitement about the project yet. But once people start to hear about it, once we have people engaged and going, I think it will take care of itself a lot more.

For the people participating this Saturday and Sunday, what will they learn?

– The grassroots model is a shortened version of the longer one, and it looks at fundamentals of leadership. It is looking at different leadership styles, how they can be applied and how it applies to hockey. It is a quick crash course that once you have completed can help you get involved at the club level, or potentially trying to get a youth panel going in your country so that you can have direct input from a group of young people into the sport. But the big aim is to get young people that are not already involved in running of clubs or running of hockey in their country, excited. To get that little bit of taste for ”Actually, I want to be involved in this, I want to help my club, I want to help my federation”. To have that flow of young people coming in.

How much of what you are doing is hockey specific and how much is leadership in general?

– The grassroots part is very hockey-centered. There is the potential for non-hockey players to find it interesting and potentially bring them into the sport, but this one is hockey centric. The next model has more of a sports business aspect but not sports business where they want everyone to run it like an economist, but sports business in a sense of understanding how successful clubs are being run. If there is a better example in American football, they will use the better example. They are not just trying to force hockey into it if it is not the best option.

Can you tell us about your background in hockey?

I started playing when I was ten and I played for one club in England my entire life. I am on the fringe of being on the first team there, so I will play a few games for them, but last year I was the captain of the second team. This year is my final year at the university though, so I am allowing that to take priority now. 

 In 2018 I was in Sweden for a year, and I got to play for Sweden in Portugal at the Under 21s Championships, which was a wonderful experience. I really like the Swedish set up, because the country is so large and the teams are so spread out. I really enjoyed those weekends down in Gothenburg, or weekends in Denmark for a training camp. That is where I got a lot of the drive to get involved again in Swedish hockey.

With your experience of Swedish hockey, what would you say would have to be done to grow the sport here?

 It is difficult and has no easy solution, because here you have ice hockey, ”bandy” and ”innebandy”, so there are a lot of similar sports that are already very large but are almost nonexistent in England. But I would also suggest that that means that there is a demand for stick-and-ball-sports as well. The indoor halls are not hard to set up, most schools already have that, and you can use that goal from handball.

One of the people in the Erasmus-project kick-started hockey in Greece and what he found was that there were a lot of PET-teachers that are bored of teaching the same sport over and over. So, he focused on engaging the PET-teachers, teaching them how to teach the sport. And then supply them with some cheaper hockey sticks, and you get them to teach the kids something new and existing. Because kids are the same everywhere – some want to play football at every opportunity, but there are other kids that want to try something new. You want something different to get you excited. So, school is the key. But again, I am not going to pretend it is an easy solution that will happen overnight. But that is where I would focus my efforts personally, to build for 10 years’ time, not for the next two or three years.

– And like with most team sports you want it to be a social event. You need groups of friends to be involved, so if you get three or four in a class to go try it you can grow more from that. It will take a lot of time and really committed people, but that is where this youth project can help.

– And I know it has been done before, but it has been one or two people, and that is hard. It needs to be a continuity. Åkersberga is a fitting example of that. When I played there, we were a great generation for that team, but we were all within one or two years of each other. That is a good start, but you need to have it rolling so you have more players coming up. I am not sure of what their situation is right now, they might have kept on rolling, but if you get a place where it starts getting heard about, it gets in the local paper, you get people interested. And in particular with indoor hockey with smaller teams, you do not need fifteen players on each team as with outdoor hockey. It does have the potential.

Has there been any contact between the Erasmus project and clubs in Sweden so far?

– No, we have not done anything directly with the clubs so far. That is something that would be good to arrange, but in this project, I am representing Sweden so that I can bring my experience on how Swedish hockey is run, rather than that it directly involves Sweden. The aim is to have a project that has the SWE3 logo in it and that we have contributed to, but it is a project for the entirety of Europe. And it is always good to be involved in the creation of the project, because it gives us a better understanding of what is available to us.

– But hopefully we will get a cohort to go through the grassroots project here in Sweden and hopefully one or two of them want to go to the next level with a project for Sweden, and that is where we can really benefit. Maybe get a project going to get hockey into five schools around Gothenburg, or five schools around Stockholm, with the aim to build a new club in one of those cities. That is the sort of project I think would be successful, and if that works and you go into five schools and get a new club going you just move to a new city and do it in another five schools. If something like that would be tried and evaluated that would be a perfect project, and that is where the direct benefit for Swedish hockey comes from. 

What does hockey mean to you?

I have a slightly unique experience since I am a goalkeeper…

Don’t you have to be a bit crazy to be a goalkeeper?

Everyone says you must be a bit crazy, but I have defenders that will stand in the goal with no padding at all, I think they are crazy, I have foam padding covering me. But something I really enjoy is stopping other people from getting the enjoyment of scoring, and that feeling of throwing yourself and reaching for the ball. That is what gets me. But really it is the same charm as with football, it is the same charm as with every team sport – you go out on a pitch, you work together with a group of friends, and you hopefully be achieving something at the end of it.

The differences between sports can seem huge but the appeals are the same. When you look at the large sports in larger countries it is not the same sports that are big, but it is for the same reason that people are playing. It is a sport that is readily available, and it is about playing on a field with your friends. Hockey needs more equipment and a good pitch, so it has a slightly higher barrier for entry compared to football, but it has the same draws as other sports do.

How big is hockey in England?

– It is exceedingly popular. It is not as big as football obviously, that is the national sport, but I would say growing up in England, in my class, there were more people playing rugby then hockey, but overall hockey is still bigger. Where hockey really lacks is the spectator element, there are not many neutrals that will watch a hockey game, whereas even if you are not playing football you still watch it a couple of times, at least when England is playing. In a country like the Netherlands, they get big crowds for the top teams, which is not the case in England.

What is the next step for you in this project?

– After this weekend it is to compile all the feedback and send it off to the rest of the project. The next meeting is not until next year, so this is really the end of the grassroots project, and we will be focusing on that higher level where you will have more people coming in from all over Europe. They have taken elements from top youth leadership programs from the IOC, UEFA etc. to see what is applicable for the EHF. We will be looking to refine that and make sure it works well and from what I have seen it is exciting and I am really excited to be a part of that project.

– And it is exciting for Sweden to be a part of it, especially as a smaller hockey country. This sort of opportunity really gives us a chance to see how it can be run. There are people in the project that have really changed to sport in different countries, so it is an opportunity to take all that knowledge back to a smaller country where we are trying to grow the sport. It is an experience that we would struggle to get otherwise, so it is exciting to be a part of.