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Insightful, perfect solution or back in a pickle in no time?

The latest EIHA statement arrived on the social media doormat yesterday morning with a slightly uncomfortable thud.

As expected for NIHLS1 the format for 17/18 is 9 teams.

Basingstoke (3rd in the EPL), Peterborough (4th in the EPL), Swindon (6th in the EPL), Bracknell (9th in the EPL) whom I shall continue to refer to as ex PIHL teams and

Invicta (2nd in NIHLS1), Streatham (3rd in NIHLS1), London (5th in NIHLS1), MK (7th in NIHLS1), Cardiff (promoted to NIHLS1) whom I shall refer to as NIHLS1 teams.

The fate of Chelmsford, Oxford and Solent hangs in the balance but it is expected they will be included into NIHLS2.

So, one of the most significant things here was who stuck their head above the parapet, took a chance and withdrew.

Chelmsford, Oxford and Solent placed 1st, 4th and 6th respectively last season now look likely to be given respite in NIHLS2 with the potential I guess that a knock on NIHLS3 will form. However, any club that remained in NIHLS1 and for whom next season results in last place will not be allowed to drop down.

How one year a team can easily win a league and demote itself but the next year a club can come bottom and be denied that same right is baffling so when the news comes about NIHLS2 let’s hope it all makes perfect sense.

If as expected Chelmsford, Solent and Oxford arrive in NIHLS2 then jumping early will have been rewarded with understanding. For those remaining in NIHLS1 battling on, helping to sustain the new format could result in one of two things for the bottom placed club. Struggle on for another year or fold. How does this make for a workable model?

It has been made clear that the door to NIHLS2 will be firmly locked. It is not however clear what the plan is if one of the four ex PIHL teams were to decide to give Elite hockey a go. Add to that the possibility of one or more lower placed clubs folding this would put the league back where it started – with seven teams, which we are told is unsustainable.

Interestingly a statement issued by London Raiders reveals they are buoyed up and ready for the challenge and were seemingly building towards the PIHL in any case. With a shiny new rink on the horizon and a new coaching structure in place this is a club with high ambitions and a positive outlook on the current situation. So why weren’t they supported in joining the PIHL? Was it simply a step change too far for them at that stage? Perhaps the PIHL could have continued as it was with London Raiders waiting in the wings to be included upon their return to Romford.

Will we see the collapse of NIHLS1 only to find the PIHL resurrected next season with the original 7? Much will depend on how the season plays out in the south and also in the north.

The 2017/18 season may have been better served by a 7 team PIHL with a crossover cup. I’m still not clear why Ken Taggart deemed it unsustainable. Is there clarity and transparency about the reasoning behind this entire restructure for all the clubs affected?

Clubs may have been unhappy with the cross-over cup in the past but if it were a choice between a regular NIHL with separate PIHL and compulsory crossover cup or an integrated NIHL/PIHL I wonder which option clubs would have chosen.

It’s interesting to consider that if the original 7 PIHL clubs had stayed together there would have been 24 competitive games for each club (based on two home and two away) which could have been added to with a cup competition.

As it stands the 4 ex PIHL clubs in the south will now get just 12 competitive games each (when they play each other) with the expectation they will then thrash the NIHLS1 teams in the other 20 games. This hardly seems like an appealing and sustainable standard for anyone.

NIHLS1 teams on the other hand will have 16 competitive games and 16 games where they may suffer significant losses. Which teams are likely to retain their support in those circumstances? Those doing the winning or those on the losing side?

Before I forget, hoorah for the playoffs. 8 of the 9 teams will go through to the playoffs with the 9th team being offered momentary respite from a miserable season before remembering that they aren’t going to be allowed down to NIHL2 anyway. If 1st place plays 8th and 2nd plays 7th etc then how can that ever be a joyous proposition for the NIHLS1 teams when they are more likely to be those placed 5th to 8th?

Fingers crossed there will also be an announcement as to the naming of the new league. Surely those who were to be honoured with their names heading up the conferences won’t be forgotten in the melee.

The knock on effect to NIHLS2 cannot be ignored. With nowhere to go you have to feel for those clubs who have limited resources with players signing pay to play contracts who will suddenly find themselves up against the likes of Chelmsford and Oxford – unless of course NIHLS3 is created.

So the timescale for restructure did not adequately take into account the enormity of the change and it’s impact on the teams at various levels. Conversations should have been happening one-on-one well before the end of the season. The proposals should have been provided prior to the meeting and clubs should have been able to have honest and private dialogue about what would and wouldn’t work,

This post can’t even begin to consider the implications for coaches, players and fans, the financial aspects of this new structure on clubs or indeed what ‘the NIHL1 standard’ mentioned in the EIHA statement actually means. This blog post barely scratches the surface and others will no doubt be better placed to write meaningful and perhaps more upbeat comment.

As an eternal optimist I would love this post to be about how bright the future looks for ice hockey across the various tiers, however it’s hard not to see the downsides at this point. Having said all this, I honestly hope it all comes together and works.

In simplistic terms as posted in a previous blog (EPL vs NIHL or Fruitcake vs Chocolate Fudge Cake) you can’t make a chocolate cake out of fruitcake ingredients. The frocolate cake is upon us folks, step right up and take the taste test.



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Another Day, Another Drama

Sometimes a week can feel like an awfully long time in hockey. This week however has whipped past in a frenzy of drama, leaving some completely bemused and others angry at the current situation.

Having had a count up on the EIHA website from last season, a few short weeks ago there were 7 PIHL teams in tier two, 8 NIHL1 south teams and 8 NIHL North teams in tier three with 5 in NIHL2S East and 6 in NIHL2S West and finally another 8 in the N2 equivalent. Despite my complete mathematical incompetence I make that 42 teams across all the levels. 7+8+8+5+6+8 = 42

So when I wrote my original blog post about the potential impact of attempting to integrate the PIHL and NIHL1, I think we probably all knew in our hearts that it was going to be (diplomatically speaking) a giant challenge.

Just prior to the meeting rumours developed of a defiant NIHL1 standing firmly and not surrendering to the demands of premier teams. We held our breath as a bold and confident statement was released declaring that everything was resolved, everyone was happy and a new day was to dawn with a combined tier two and three. We tentatively sighed with relief. Sadly the relief was short lived and two short weeks later as the weekend approached the news broke that three NIHL1S clubs had left the league.

As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and with hindsight the lengthy do-it-all-in-one-day meeting should probably have been several meetings enhanced by frank and honest dialogue between each club and the EIHA or LMC as to the financial viability of the proposal.

Good old ‘financial viability’ – popular phrase of the moment, generally a little vague and interpreted differently depending on who you are and what your situation is.

The entire exercise was about focusing on creating a stable environment for the seven teams of the newly named PIHL. And whilst the focus was on the magnificent seven of the PIHL, 35 teams supporting the infrastructure of hockey in the UK have been inadvertently affected to various degrees.

If a more robust review had been in place then perhaps Solent’s issues would have been properly heard. And not just heard but listened to and acted on. The concern for the impact on British hockey of the folding PIHL took centre stage and the needs of the NIHL were disregarded.

Meanwhile, the north has been quietly getting on with it. Perhaps a week behind in the thinking process or maybe nobody is in a Solent-like situation. It’s possible that the bigger impact will only be seen in the south whereby in order to protect the fortunes of the 4, 19 others have been overlooked.

Anyone familiar with NIHL1 would have been aware that Solent, with their small rink, limited audience and resources would struggle against the likes of Swindon, Basingstoke, Bracknell and Peterborough.

One or two comments exclaimed surprise that Solent, Oxford and Chelmsford took two whole weeks to withdraw. And although this is the equivalent to a lifetime in the management of the NIHL where the entire situation was hoping to be remedied in a 6 hour meeting, the reality is it’s no time at all to consider the future of a beloved club.

The timeline of disaster is a little unclear as to who said what first and it probably doesn’t matter. Solent appear to have spoken up prior to the meeting about their situation but were swept along by the tide of positivity and didn’t want to let anyone down. This became clear via a heartfelt, well written statement apologizing for the situation and it’s knock-on effect. We felt your pain Solent and we half saw it coming.

What we didn’t see coming was Oxford and Chelmsford. Particularly Chelmsford, heavyweight of NIHLS1 and I’ll come on to them shortly.

Oxford however may have been a victim of their first-rate PR. A club seemingly on the up and committed to developing hockey in their local area. But beneath the surface lurked a less stable situation for the future than perhaps we read into and they admitted. So a statement of leaving was issued along with a volley of tweets explaining and defending the actions of a club desperately looking for a way forward.

And then there was Chelmsford. Unexpectedly revealed as the third club unable to take on the challenge of the new NIHL1 a somewhat baffling statement was released. A picture quickly formed of a club down on it’s luck, with players leaving in droves, financial stability compromised and struggling to see a way of competing at NIHL1. An astonishing piece of PR that left even the most die hard hockey forum supporters speechless.

The general feeling seems to be that nobody quite understands the improbable and sudden demise of Chelmsford, always promoted as a well-run machine with a development ethos that is second to none. Is it too much to believe that it has crumbled to nothing over night?

Leadership right now is vital for the league and a reflective period of silence is awkward. An organisation that makes the rules must enforce the rules and therein lies the rub. If the rules are allowed to be manipulated then they will never be taken seriously.

A clear and defined way of reviewing what has happened and why needs to be undertaken and a way forward established. It’s mid May and clubs are now in limbo wondering what might happen next. Will Solent take their place in NIHL2? Will Oxford and Chelmsford find themselves without hockey in 2017/18 and is the knock-on effect of teams requesting demotion fair on the likes of Haringey Huskies and Slough Jets?

Will London Raiders, Invicta Dynamos, MK Thunder or Streatham be next to remove themselves from the increasingly unpopular NIHL1 for fear of folding or will they continue in the hope that the storm will settle and calm waters will prevail?

One thing is certain; it’s not over yet. Last weekend we thought things were settled, this week the future is again cloudy with a chance of rain. If nothing else the players and the fans deserve a resolution. And a resolution that works because they are the biggest losers in this.

Whatever the solution is it might not be pretty and it probably won’t be perfect but a solution must be found by the EIHA / LMC for the good of the future of hockey because as we know, turning a blind eye and hoping for the best with what we’ve got simply isn’t good enough.



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Que Sera Sera or Seize The Day?

So I’ve come out of hibernation today to offer a slightly different and hopefully useful take on the responses so far to changes to the league and our clubs as we all move on to the challenges of a brave new hockey world.

The sun has set on the great Premier / NIHL debate and as the sun rises on a new day for hockey it’s a good time to reflect on how we’re all dealing with it.

Blog posts have been written, opinions shared, texts sent, phone calls made, tweets tweeted, forum posts read and now is very much the moment for people to share how they feel.

The universal truth here is that for each person, what they say and how they feel is based on their own personal experiences. It is each person’s own reality and is therefore never wrong. It’s important to remember that sometimes people merely want to be heard. To be listened to and absolutely not judged.

We all know that change is rarely simple and often controversial. How change is handled and communicated is key to its longer-term viability and whilst it is true that many organisations handle change poorly that in itself is never a valid excuse for not dealing with it well ourselves.

With any luck then, with this in mind and as the changes relating to second tier hockey in the UK bed in, let us have faith that the overarching infrastructure of hockey will take the time to monitor progress, listen to clubs and plan. Quick fixes to complex issues are rarely successful in the long term so it is important to continue to plan properly for the future.

It’s also true that for change to be the most effective it must be viewed as positive by those affected by it. Will people ever invest in change fully if there’s nothing in it for them and no way of feeling positive about it? Taking this into consideration, communicating well at every opportunity is crucial and is where so many falter.

Equally important is the ability to see the perspective of others, not least because it’s possible to miss something important if we don’t.

Now stick with me here because it should become clear. When you’re thinking about change within the league or your own club, imagine you are in a room with dozens of other hockey people. An assortment of managers, coaches, players, fans and sponsors. You are squished around the edges of the room, which is almost entirely taken up by a gigantic multi coloured beach ball. You can’t see past it and you can’t see over it you only see what is directly in front of you. Some people in the room will see the beach ball has red and blue sections, and others will see it has green and orange sections – it simply depends on where you’re standing.

With hockey at the moment everyone sees the changes differently. Whether it’s managers, coaches, fans, players, sponsors, officials or referees. Each perception is valid, each is real and none should be rejected or rubbished as wrong.

But wouldn’t it be the most useful to look down into the room from a detached perspective and see it for what it is? To take into account other views and to move forward. In order to see the whole beach ball we have to somehow rise above it and whilst we could all do with the big picture perspective it is most important for our governing body.

It is natural that for some the perspective will be a negative one and there’s nothing wrong with that (in small doses). It’s a valid expression of how something or someone makes us feel and it often surfaces as a result of a feeling of injustice. And it’s ok … but it needs to be temporary.

We are all entitled to our own truth – our own feeling of what is and was, right or wrong. And while we are sharing our own truths and opinions that are shaped by our personal experiences, it’s helpful to remember that the company we keep will often influence our thinking. Take The Hockey Forum for example, as well as being a source of interesting facts, light hearted communication and fun it is also a safe haven for BMWs (somewhere to go to Bitch, Moan and Whine). It can also be a dark and harsh place where it’s deemed ok to rudely challenge, judge and rubbish other people’s views under the safe cloak of anonymity. However you view it, it is rarely constructive.

So here’s a suggestion. Find a way to express yourself but step back from engaging in a continued dialogue that will prevent you from moving on. Spend some time wallowing in the sadness or injustice that you feel but don’t wallow too long. Being dropped from a team, offered less money, feeling undervalued, or being forced to move on are all valid reasons to wallow but let’s not wallow endlessly. Step away from the misery and move towards thinking positively.

For anyone making decisions and communicating change whether it is on a personal level or club level remembering self-awareness can really help. Understand the impact of your words on others. Never underestimate the impact of a small gesture or of a few brief words. Treat people how they want to be treated and not how you would want to be treated and always try to be fair, honest and courteous. Successful communicators are able to step back and see how the situation looks through someone else’s eyes.

And if things go wrong we should ask ourselves some questions. What can we learn from this? What will we do differently next time and what is there that is positive in this situation? Learning from the past is important but knowing when to let it go and move on is invaluable.

Finally, in a sport where players line up together at the start of the game to battle for the win let’s none of us subscribe to the ‘que sera sera’ philosophy that whatever will be, will be, let us instead ‘carpe diem’ and seize the day.

Bloggers note. Thanks to Paul McGee (@TheSumoGuy), international speaker and author who gave me his blessing to use some of his ideas in this blog.