Full-time club coaches have come to Scotland for the first time, courtesy of a bold initiative on the part of Scottish Hockey, in association with sponsorship from Aberdeen Asset Management.
The first phase of the professional coaching programme was launched yesterday with the announcement of the three coaches who will work with selected national league clubs: John McKnight and Chris Anderson with two top-flight men's sides, PSL Clydesdale and Grove Menzieshill respectively, and Sandy Keith at Granite City Wanderers, who play in the women's second division.
The coaches are attached to their clubs for the next three years and will be responsible to both Scottish Hockey and their own club management, who will contribute to part of the cost of the initiative.
Lee Cousins, a director of Scottish Hockey, said: "We are delighted to appoint three professional coaches and deploy them to the selected clubs. These individuals have the required coaching qualifications and experience to make a positive impact across the range of activities included in their remit and bring success to the clubs they are working with."
The announcement is the culmination of Aberdeen Asset Management's three-year sponsorship deal with Scottish Hockey, launched at the start of the year. It involved supporting the outdoor national leagues, shirt advertising for the men's and women's national squads, as well as the coaching input.
Over the next couple of years, it is hoped the number of full-time coaches could reach five.
John McKnight is eager to deliver Gilbert's aspirations at PSL Clydesdale, the club based at Titwood on the south side of Glasgow. "With Clydesdale being my home club, I feel an affinity anyway and want to be part of the mechanisms that will further develop the standard of hockey being played by the first team and the junior sections of the club. My job is also to establish links with local schools, to introduce more youngsters to hockey and to work with the West District boys performance squad."
The 28-year-old is well qualified for his new post; he played for Clydesdale's first team from the age of 14, he has coached extensively at school, university and club level and also for the Melville City club in Australia over a three-year spell from 2008.
He approaches the challenge with relish. "It is a unique opportunity," he said. "Clydesdale has a very young squad, which brings a number of challenges, but there is a lot of talent and the players have aspirations to improve their performances. I hope to help them to reach their goals, even up to international level."
There is certainly work for McKnight to do at Titwood – Clydesdale are sixth in the first division at the winter break – but the coach believes his new charges have the potential to consistently compete at the top level of the league.
Anderson, the Menzieshill coach, will be taking on perhaps the most improved side in the division. Going into the winter break, the Taysiders are third, only three points behind Grange at the top.
He says that the opportunity to be a full-time coach was too good to pass up. "It is an exceptional chance to develop a wide range of responsibilities, from the first team to school festivals and taster sessions, along with coach development and looking to increase participation over the coming years."
The Dundonian has set out his stall. "The aim is to finish in the top four this year, challenge for the title in years to come, and ultimately to gain a place in Europe in the outdoor game for the first time."
Perhaps the most challenging assignment faces Sandy Keith with Granite City Wanderers in the women's second division.
"I'm excited by the chance of committing my time to the players on a full-time basis so I can help them reach their potential," he said. "The selection of Granite City Wanderers in the programme is a slightly more difficult task, as we have to take our players into the performance ethos."
Keith's first task is to get his charges into the top flight, then he aims for a top-six finish next season. It should not be a pipe-dream: the Aberdonians lead the way at present.