Hockey: Hampstead & Westminster success down to ‘culture’ says Smith

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 April 2019

Hampstead & Westminster celebrate (pic Mark Clews)

Hampstead & Westminster celebrate (pic Mark Clews)

Mark Clews 2011

Hampstead & Westminster’s director of hockey Richard Smith claims the secret of the club’s success during its 125th anniversary season has been its ‘culture’.

Hampstead & Westminster celebrate against Beeston (pic Mark Clews)Hampstead & Westminster celebrate against Beeston (pic Mark Clews)

Smith helped the men to their League Finals triumph at Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre, soon after the women had secured promotion to the Premier League, on a memorable weekend for all.

And the 31-year-old, who played for Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics, was delighted to see everything come together for the club.

“The secret is the culture and atmosphere of the groups,” he said. “The coaches lead by example. It's about good people first and then playing the best hockey we can play.

“Being on top of the detail gives us the confidence to play to the plans.”

Hampstead & Westminster in action against Surbiton (pic Mark Clews)Hampstead & Westminster in action against Surbiton (pic Mark Clews)

Smith has been instrumental in putting together the pieces of the Hampstead jigsaw over the past six years, as he looks to replicate a model experienced on the European mainland.

Working for Lane 4, a human performance management consultancy set up by Adrian Moorhouse, Smith knows all about culture and leadership, after his own Olympic experience.

But he knows there are still plenty of hurdles ahead for Hampstead, adding: “I've been at the club for six seasons, but was out for the first three with a knee injury.

“I'd played at the London Olympics and then in Belgium and decided I wanted to join Hampstead while I worked through my rehab for a chance at Rio.

Hampstead & Westminster celebrate (pic Mark Clews)Hampstead & Westminster celebrate (pic Mark Clews)

“I've led on the sourcing of coaches and recruitment of players as director of hockey. I saw the potential Hampstead had to become a great community and the aspirations of the club.

“We've tried to improve and get the best coaches and gradually we've got them when we wanted.

“How Kwan (Browne) sets us up, he's a phenomenal coach who has been contributing in the Premier for a long time, at Canterbury before, and he very much deserves this win.”

It was a first outdoor title for Smith, who has been able to play for the past three seasons with his knee 'back to where I can play'.

Hampstead & Westminster celebrate (pic Mark Clews)Hampstead & Westminster celebrate (pic Mark Clews)

But he had to overcome another injury at the very start of the campaign, breaking his finger in the first match at Reading and missing the next five fixtures.

Thankfully he was able to contribute against Beeston and Surbiton, adding: “It's nice to be able to play on my terms, it's been a really good, enjoyable journey.

“We were relatively calm before, getting on with things as we normally do. The group had the balance and perspective it always had. Hampstead prides itself on that. We've tried to be professional the last few years, putting more into hockey, but it has always been fun.

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“European qualification was the first target and there was an element of confidence. We knew how well we'd played and how Kwan has us set up. It's more of a challenge if things are not going our way and how people react.

“When we played Beeston in the league, we didn't stick to the plan and the atmosphere turned a bit. It's about keeping calm when it's tight and not panicking.

“We were ecstatic to qualify for Europe and the women were brilliant cheering us on, so we showered and went to support them.

“We still had a beer in the room after. It's how we've done things all season, getting the balance of celebrating, then getting the protein shakes and starting recovery.

“We stuck to the process, got on with it. We knew it would be tight and it went in our favour this year which we felt was just and deserved for all the work we've put in.”

Current GB internationals Harry Martin and Will Calnan were able to play their part, ahead of a host of home fixtures in the FIH Pro League this summer.

And Smith had praise for two other Hampstead youngsters, while also revealing how he is trying to help clubs and country.

“James Oates is in the GB Development squad and Toby Reynolds-Cotterill has come in and been brilliant,” he added.

“Will and Harry are great when they're around. The club game is so important to these guys. They love being involved in the club stuff. I'm on the Elite Domestic Game Panel and we're looking at the relationship between domestic and international hockey.

“They've got the responsibility to represent the club each week and they get involved.”

With Welsh internationals Rupert Shipperley, Jonny Gooch and Stephen Kelly also in the Hampstead squad, along with Irish international Chris Cargo and South African Matt Guise Brown, there is no shortage of experienced talent available.

Yet there is one missing ingredient for Hampstead – somewhere to call their own.

They remain a tenant at Paddington Rec, but the old Carlton Tavern which used to double up as their clubhouse, is out of action.

“We're getting more professional off the pitch as well, but it's such a challenge, with no clubhouse,” added Smith.

“We need to link more with the community and get sponsorship, we need dedicated staff, it's still volunteers. The coaches are the only professionals.

“In Europe, they are little businesses with six or seven staff to get things done. The conversation is about what is the direction for hockey now? What do we want to be?

“We've got relationships with companies so people can further their careers too. We're happy how we go about things, but we want to keep our identity as a central London club.”

Not only that, but England's champion club.

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