In 2012, Hockey Wales became the first NGB of sport in the UK to roll out a sport-specific Young Ambassador programme and, since then, we have had over 400 young people come through the initiative.
Run from October to September every year, the programme has seen its fair share of successes over the years, with each Young Ambassador playing their part in supporting the growth of the game across Wales.
The Young Ambassador programme is a tool for good across the board, helping young people develop personally and professionally, helping educational institutions develop their offering, bring in a passionate workforce and give young people a voice, helping community events happen, and giving others role models to look up to – all while extending the reach of our sport.
Those benefits were truly felt over another successful year in 2022/23, in which our Young Ambassadors carried out over 1,227 hours of voluntary work.
In April 2023, Bangor City Hockey Club’s Rhys Culley was named Young Ambassador of the Year after epitomising the good that the programme provides.
Rhys coaches the club’s juniors weekly, the club’s Ladies’ 2s, and occasionally the Men’s side, helps organise club events, and umpires at tournaments across North Wales.
He is also now a mentor to younger Young Ambassadors at BCHC, being one of our 12 Platinum YAs himself and one of two members of the steering committee representing the north of Wales.
Since receiving the award, Rhys has also started as an assistant coach for Eryri U17 Girls in the new hockey development pathway.
“My journey so far has been eventful, fun, opportunistic and valuable,” Rhys told us. “It’s been amazing! Through the variety of webinars, meetings, courses and more, the programme has enabled me to thrive, developing myself every step of the way.
“I’ve been able to progress in hockey courtesy of courses and webinars such as introduction to coaching, my level 1 umpire course, and leadership award. That progression has benefitted me and those I coach, because it’s given me a better understanding of the variety of drills and games that teach different aspects of hockey, enhancing everyone's development.
“Personally, he continued, “the programme has allowed me to develop skills such as leadership, teamwork, inclusion, patience and more, which I can use on and off the pitch. For example in school, where I can work well collaboratively, help in independent learning, and manage my time and organisation well.”
The Young Ambassador programme has allowed Rhys to experience a lot of opportunities since his days as a Bronze YA.
Throughout his time, he has collaborated at events like tournaments, helped improve facilities in North Wales, and helped others develop as players, volunteers, and individuals.
But one moment stands out to Rhys, so far.
“My main highlight has to be when I was awarded YA of the Year 2023 for my work and dedication to volunteering within hockey! It was a huge boost in trying to help and work more within the programme.
“My journey has enabled me and introduced me to so many opportunities to develop my hockey and personal life and continues to do so now. Coaching, umpiring, helping at events and much more, the programme has given me the skills and opportunities to help in all these aspects, and now being a Platinum level YA and steering group member, I have an even greater opportunity to voice my opinion and help build hockey for the future!”
All of the work that Rhys has done just epitomises the commitment, passion and attitude within the HYA programme.
From the 39 Young Ambassadors originally recruited in 2012, it’s been amazing to see the progression of the programme and successes it has produced for our sport in Wales.
For 2023/24, the 11th year that the programme has run, we can boast 116 Young Ambassadors who have so far completed 162 hours of voluntary work.
Whitchurch Hockey Club can claim the most Young Ambassadors in a single club, with 15.
Chris Despres is the Chairman of the South Wales Youth Hockey Association and Director of Youth Hockey at Whitchurch.
“In South Wales,” he told us, “we see the Young Ambassador programme as being mutually beneficial to the coaches and committee which are involved in running events, but also to helping the personal development of young people.
“Young Ambassadors are of great value because they help run these events,” he continued. “Some will umpire, some will keep time, others will assist in collating all the scores, others will make sure that the right teams are on the correct pitches with the correct umpires. They can assist in laying out the pitches which may involve moving goals, setting up cone markers and putting dividing strips down between pitches. All these roles are of great benefit because they enable the tournaments to run smoothly.
“As for the Young Ambassadors themselves, they have to take responsibility for whatever role they are assigned. They may have to learn the rules of hockey to be able to umpire; they may need to know the tournament regulations in case issues arise; they may have to know how to keep scores and how to work out the final positions of teams in each competition.
“Having played the sport, they then get an understanding of how to organise events. This develops their confidence and decision-making as well as their ability to solve problems.
“The skills that young people learn are transferable in all walks of life and they are experiencing their own ability to organise,” Chris went on.
“Being a Young Ambassador is also widely recognised as an important interest by many employers and will help gain entry to colleges and universities in further education.”
Hockey Wales is thoroughly excited to see how the YA programme can impact hockey for years to come, and would like to congratulate each individual for their role in improving the sport in Wales over the course of the year.