Rosie Swarbrick talks to Leyland and Chorley Hockey Club ladies’ coach Rob Alty
Three years ago Leyland and Chorley Hockey Club ladies’ division was on the brink of oblivion.
With just seven players and vultures circling above ready to pick off and lure away the scraps of remaining talent coach Rob Alty had to think fast.
Fortunately, the ‘magnificent’ stayed loyal and became the core of a new era for the club.
Just months after taking the reins, Alty and the women hatched a plan to stop the slide and save the club.
Through national recruitment drive ‘Back to Hockey’, word of mouth and support from the men’s division the women’s side rose from the ashes.
We only had seven female players and some people were contemplating joining other teams and we could have been down to just two had they left.
Alty changed the ethos of the club installing organisation and putting an emphasis on preparation.
From health and safety protocol to fitness training and theory sessions, the ladies now go into every match with confidence, high fitness levels and a thirst for victory.
The blueprint was an instant success. The recruitment drive was so successful L&C were able to set up a second team and this summer they are planning to expand further by setting up a third team.
Since Alty took over in 2012 the first team – led by one of the seven talismanic captain Sarah King – have secured two championship titles.
After promotion from Division Two in 2014, they steamrollered the opposition, emphatically clinching the Lancashire Central Women’s Hockey Division One title with a 9-0 victory, with three games to spare last weekend.
Keeper Alison Clewlow has only conceded six league goals this season and strike trio Raelene Strickland, Sarah Maycock and Penny Robb have contributed heavily to a mammoth goal tally of 71 – and the season has not even finished yet.
But the first team’s success could be matched by the seconds who could also gain promotion this month after winning five of their last six matches.
Today Alty is back on the touchline at Buckshaw Village hoping the ladies can maintain their perfect record and make it 15 wins from 15 matches with victory over Springfields thirds.
And the 33-year-old coach, from Leyland, was honoured at the 2014 Chorley Sports Awards for his work with the club.
He beat opposition from across the sporting spectrum to bag the Grassroots Coach Award in December.
Alty revealed the secret to success is...failure! He said: “Failure is the secret.
“I believe in failing. I believe in order to succeed you need to fail.
“If you don’t fail won’t achieve. You need to fall to know how to pick yourself back up again.
“You also need to make sure you are fully prepared from a health and safety point of view and from an exercise point of view.
“I’ve made the ladies prepare more for games.
“We are a lot more organised now on match days, before match days and after.”
The whole hockey club is thriving at the moment with a fantastic team spirit.
They have a strong junior set-up and the men’s first team have just sealed their third consecutive promotion.
And Alty believes his biggest success is helping the ladies and men’s sides bond.
He said: “This is were I feel I have excelled as ladies’ coach because I have played in the men’s team for several years.
“We all go back to eat together after a match and it has never been a case of the men are one side. It is one club.
“Everyone plays for the same club. It is not about a first or second team, it is about the entire squad and a ladies’ division.
“I’m the ladies’ head coach. I don’t have just one responsibility.
“It is not just all about the first team.”
Alty is pleased to see how far the club has come in recent years.
He said: “There will definitely be a third team. It will happen in the summer.
“It shows how far we have come.
“My first full season as coach was the 2012/13 season.
“I did a half season before that.
“We only had seven female players and the men’s team had merged the year before.
“Some people were contemplating joining other teams and we could have been down to just two had they left.
The ladies’ division was literally on the brink of folding.
“Thankfully they all stayed and we started regrouping.
“Back in 2012 we didn’t know who was staying or going. There could have been just two players left.
“We set up a juniors and encouraged people to bring along friends.
“But we picked up a lot of players through recruitment drive Back to Hockey – a scheme that encourages people who have never played or have played hockey before at any level to come back and play again.
“That was the main way and we will be running another Back to Hockey session in May.
“I think the secret is just the non-judgemental approach.
“Whoever we get coming in we will work with them to get them better.
“And we make sure people feel part of the club.
“We don’t just concentrate on the good players.”
Alty and shot-stopper Clewlow have started a four-week hockey tutorial at Parklands High School.
The junior set-up is important to Alty and talented youngsters have already made the leap from the youth set-up to senior hockey.
Young prodigy Vicky Pilkington is starring for the second string and Leah Green scored her first senior goal for the seconds in their 6-0 victory over Lancaster Nomads thirds last weekend.
He said: “This week was the first time me and Alison have been coaching youngsters in school at Parklands to try and get hockey back into schools.
“For some reason people have been shying away from it because they think it is a dangerous sport or because they need too much equipment.
“I maintain that it is not a dangerous sport if you have the right supervision under the right coaches.
“I was involved in the early stages of the junior set-up but I can’t help out as much because of my commitment to the ladies’ division.
“It is vital, the juniors are the next generation of our players.
“If we stop encouraging, then we will struggle in future years.”
The coach admitted he is still nervous ahead of today’s clash against Springfields.
Alty is keen for the first team to complete the perfect season – they are two wins away from winning every game they have played this season.
He said:“The firsts still have two games left.
“It doesn’t get better, it gets more nerve-racking as the season goes on because we want the perfect season.
“We are playing second and third in the table
“I thought this season we would finish in the top four at best. I can’t highlight one person, they all exceeded my expectations.
“I need to give credit to the second team players. They are still in with the chance of promotion.
“I’m really proud of what I have achieved personally. But what the ladies have achieved is amazing.
“As a coach people could come training and they could not take on board what I’m trying to implement but they have all been willing.
“There is always still room for improvement and for people to get better.
“As a coach I am always learning as I go. If I think something isn’t working in a game we can change it.
“I can pick up on stuff that is going wrong when those on the pitch wouldn’t even realise.
“It always helps when we have a theory session in pre-season so everyone knows their positions and what we want to achieve.
“If we get a top three finish again next year it will be a top season.”