Posted in captain, Coaching, eurohockey, Field Hockey, Hockey, Role model, sport, Women in Sport

Farewell not bye? 

It’s no secret that I like hockey. In fact, I shout it out from the rooftops at every opportunity because I have always believed in hockey as a sport. I started playing at the age of 11 as hockey wasn’t a sport that was accessible to me before (Lacrosse was the school sport of choice). And from the moment I picked up a stick, I loved it. Through playing and now coaching, I continue to love it, to watch it grow and develop and I will tell anyone and everyone who is interested (or not!!) about our sport.

It does slightly annoy me when our sport has been dismissed. For example; During a recent discussion with my former work colleagues pre-Olympics about which sports were going to win medals. The obvious sports were mentioned, Swimming, Athletics, Gymnastics, but when I put out there that the Hockey girls were going to win a medal, if not the Gold, I was shot down in flames; “No-one cares about hockey!” was the snipe, before continuing their conversation.

Well – we certainly showed them!

Photo credit: @Getty Images – Gold medals

It was four years ago, I first had the pleasure of meeting the current GB squad pre London 2012. Running around the country as part of the 35 strong Olympic Torch security team for 70 days, the minutes spent at Bisham Abbey were definitely ones to remember.

Day 53: Bisham abbey – GB Squad 2012 + Torch Security Team

It was the 10th July, 2012. We had no idea where the torch would take us today, or who any of the torchbearers would be, just specific timings, locations and numbers of torchbearers in each location. By day 53, the day’s were pretty routine – up, out and run. We barely had time to work out where we were, just where we needed to be in terms of on the road with our torchbearers. Today we were the running team. There were four main rotations of duties on the relay – running, support (the guys and girls on the pedal bikes), driving or rest.

Our coach was heading into the driveway of Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre and fellow hockey player Gunny [Claire Gunn] shouts, “OMG it’s Crista Cullen, that’s Kate Walsh, wait, is that all the hockey girls?” Scrambling to look out the side of the bus, we could see a lot of Team GB had lined up to see the arrival of the flame, taking a break from their preparations for London 2012.

I was so excited. We had already been the running team with Georgie Twigg on the 24th May, down Henleaze Road, Bristol and we were the support team on the 4th July for Captain Kate [Richardson] Walsh as she ran through Norwich. So to see the national squad of the sport I loved prior to a home Olympic Games was incredible.

I jumped off the bus, probably when it was still moving, I was so excited to see them and wanted to have the opportunity to have a selfie with the squad. Catching up with Annie Panter as she was walking back to resume training, I asked (probably begged if I’m honest!) if I could have a photo with her and the squad.

But at that moment I had a revelation. I had the Olympic flame! Surely they would want a photo with us? Ok, well at least with the Flame? And with that temptation the next thing we knew, Gunny, Neil and I were surrounded by the GB hockey squad holding both the Olympic torch and the Olympic Flame.

A few of the girls asked if they could hold the actual flame, or the lantern at least, including my absolute hero Helen Richardson [Walsh]. I remember giving her strict instructions to hold both the top handle and secure the bottom of the lantern as previously when I had given it to Ben Fogle at the Eden Project, he was waving it around and we were unsure how stable the flame was at the time. So sorry Helen for being so strict!! I didn’t want that flame to go out on my watch, and only a privileged few got to hold the actual Olympic lantern.

I have been lucky to continue to meet the hockey girls along their journey. And they are girls that will help anyone who is passionate about their sport. When I was at a particularly rough crossroads with hockey, Helen Richardson-Walsh provided these wise words. “If it wasn’t for people like you, who give their time, energy and passion to our sport, players like me would never have the opportunities to achieve success” that statement stays with me and will always inspire me to continue to be the best I can be. It picked me up from a dark place and saved me from somewhere I didn’t want to venture. The kindness of a stranger can be an immense gift, a re-motivation and a huge inspiration. A gift I shall always try to pay forward and pass on to everyone I coach and play with.

Supporting each match has become easier with a large number of tournaments being broadcast to watch, however the real buzz is being present, live, living the games, feeling the atmosphere and celebrating or consoling with other fans of our sport. I was there for the Bronze medal match in London, I was at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships for the highs. I was also at the Hockey Champions trophy and watching the World cup for the lows. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn!

 The ultimate gift of Gold in the Rio Olympics 2016 was the reward for pain, devastation, hard work, blood, sweat and tears. The road wasn’t always easy, the road often had many pathways, but in the end, you create your own path.

It will be sad to see Kate leave the squad (I’m still keeping fingers crossed Helen will still play!) – When I was captain at Stevenage HC, having taken over the role with seven games to go, in a particularly turbulent season, deep in the relegation zone of the league, I reached out to Kate, Helen and Alex on Twitter to ask if they had any advise on how to avoid relegation. Kate’s response was simple, and is now engraved on the back of my end of season gift from the team that was saved that year.

Play each game like it’s your first, and each second like it’s your last.” And what a last second to for you to play!


Thank you for all you have done. We love you and wish you all the best for your future, may it be coaching with me! Haha! 


Posted in Coaching, Field Hockey, Hockey, Role model, sport

FRE Flyers Coaching Quartet

Claire Wibberley-Young, Andy Halliday, Chris Gladman, Roger Lillystone

Last but not least, we catch up with the FRE Flyers coaches. The FRE Flyers have had the benefit of some of the best hockey coaching since 2011. The continued involvement and support from past and present Olympic hockey players has increased their ability and confidence and the strong bond with this original team is still very evident. 

Training is held every Friday on the Olympic Pitches at Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre. Amongst the plethora of guests, the Flyers have a regular coaching team (shown above),  including Mama Jo, who not only work to improve their hockey, but to also provide that extra support network.


Who are you? Andy Halliday

Whats’s your day job?  Team Manager Great Britain Mens Hockey, Head Coach, England Indoor. St Albans HC. consultant, speaker, dog walker / runner and extreme hockey dribbler.

How did you get involved with the Flyers?  Have been involved from the outset in 2011 when the Flyers were born. Member of the GB Mens 2012 staff, keen to see true Olympic legacy in the making and have been involved ever since.

Any tough times?  There have been two periods of angst. Firstly, post 2012, uncertainty around the future and we all wondered whether the project would continue. 

Secondly, late 2014, funding desperately needed. Everybody rallied and a major thank you to the Crowdfunder scheme and all who donated. It was make or break………

Best time?  Hearing the Flyers cheering louder than everyone else in the hockey arena whilst supporting us at the London Olympics.

Why are you still involved?  I continue to be enthused to see what hockey does for this group of very special youngsters from Newham. Seeing how the Flyers have matured and developed, not just as hockey players, but as young people growing up in one of London’s toughest boroughs.

What do you love about the Flyers?  All inclusive, hockey for all, no barriers. Also, Knowing that if you’ve had a bad day, it is soon forgotten when you are in the company of the FRE Flyers.

Do you have a good story?  We [Great Britain men’s hockey team, London 2012] had just been beaten (hammered) by Holland in the Olympic Semi Final 2012. We were due to play Australia for Bronze, the group were very low after the semi final. We were struggling to get the group back on track for the play off. We received an email from the FRE Flyers telling us how much we (and the Flyers project) had changed lives for the good for this group of youngsters. The email was used in the team talk for that game, a great motivator for the group. On a personal note, it was reality and a light that was shining brightly through the doom of that Semi final. It was a light that has shone ever since. We never won that Bronze medal, but FRE Flyers legacy lives on………..4 years later. Some of the FRE Flyers are full time employed at our Olympic legacy hockey venue, some have moved on, many still play hockey. All are better people thanks to the FRE Flyers project.

How cool are these kids?  As an uncool 54 year old has been, I am learning a new language, “Newham parlance” The FRE Flyers are a sic bunch….lush.


He’s a very modest and unassuming chap but really relates to the kids and their stories. Chris Gladman joined the flyers around three years ago after being invited by Andy Halliday to join the coaching team. He felt he could relate to the kids as he describes that he came from a similar background. At the age of 12 he was taken off the streets of Hackney by a hockey coach and developed into quite a player and coach. 

Chris describes himself as a sports coach, working mainly at Chigwell School in Essex coaching hockey and football. He has played at international level at U16 and U21 indoor and outdoor. Chris, after some prying, discloses, “one highlight was playing in a World Cup in Vancouver, Canada in 1985. I was also in training squads for senior teams before the World Cup in 1986 and trained with GB squad that won Gold medal at the 1988 Olympics.”

He holds qualifications in hockey and football and has a phenomenal mind for coaching. He states, “I am a level 3 coach and have coached at National league level and also worked at National age group levels for England U16 and U18. I now work for myself coaching for numerous people and coaching from children to adults. Also from school, club, County and Regional level.”

He has a knack of getting to know his group within ten minutes of a session and can tailor the level to pitch the session at from that initial time. He is creative, innovative and can keep the kids motivated through any session. And they love him for it. 

When asked about coaching the FRE Flyers, Chris says, “The best thing is that I can relate to the FRE Flyers in the respect that I can encourage them to participate in hockey as I know that it is very rewarding. The FRE Flyers have great attitudes most of the time and are very committed.”  

Who are you? Roger [The Moustache!] Lilleystone 

Whats’s your day job? Retired police officer, now freelance hockey coach, specialising in disability hockey.

How did you get involved with the Flyers?
I had retired from the Metropolitan Police Service in 2012 and had kept in touch with my friend of many years Andy Halliday who asked me if I wanted to be involved with this project. 

Any challenges?
When individuals within the group have had personal difficulties and I feel that we act as more than coaches as they place a certain degree of trust in us.

The good times?
I have been to see them coming together playing as an 11-a-side team and winning!! Also to see some of them acting as Ball Patrol at the European Championships proudly representing the FRE Flyers.

Why are you still involved? Easy, the project is one that I firmly believe in and I feel that I am travelling on the journey with the youngsters. My aim is to be able teach the youngsters hockey and teamwork but also try and speak to them about getting work, how to present themselves. Also the pleasure of placing some of them with a local club (East London) and seeing them play regularly in League Hockey, and winning praise from club coaches and awards from their fellow players in their first season.
What do you love about the Flyers? The unpredictability, you never know what is going to happen next!! 

Your best moment with the Flyers? The day they won their first eleven-a-side match. The elation and the realisation that they could win.


Flyers supporting GB hockey at the European Championships

Who are you?
Claire Wibberley-Young

Whats’s your day job? I have just resigned from the Metropolitan police after 14 years to re-train as a secondary school Biology teacher.

How did you get involved with the Flyers? I was coaching at Stevenage HC setting up their Flyerz section and had met Andy Halliday a few times via various channels. I found myself stuck at a bit of a crossroads with hockey and Andy (and the FRE Flyers) helped to guide me back in the right direction. 

What’s been the biggest challenge? My first session I had to coach alone as all the other coaches were away. I was terrified, but the kids were so supportive and enthusiastic that I didn’t need to worry. The challenge was to kerb their recent increase in swearing during the sessions and we achieved it by working together. (And press-ups! They decided on that part themselves!) It was a massive boost that the kids asked if they could do some of the session again in later weeks!

What good times have you had?
Too many, but two that mainly stick in my mind. One was taking a team to Birmingham to play against Old Sihillians and a ‘Back to Hockey’ team at Orlton & West Warwick. My dad had been quite seriously ill and I hadn’t made training for about 6 weeks. When I saw the kids, they greeted me with massive hugs, and were so supportive! They played so well as a team that day too. It was the best I had seen them play together and they were so pleased, Mama Jo and I were so proud! 
Secondly, the training session and match against the Metropolitan Police ladies team in their training for the Police hockey finals tournament. A number of the flyers were a bit sceptical about playing a bunch of coppers, but after some solid defending denying Flyers goal scorer Jordan G from scoring and some tough game play, a small barrier was broken down in Newham that evening. And the Met girls went on to win their final! 

Why are you still involved?
I couldn’t imagine not volunteering to be involved. This project is so important to the local community and sport has shown to have a real influence. I have personally witnessed the Flyers grow, not only as players, but as people. Taking life by the horns, finding a new direction. Like Roger and the other coaches, I see this project as a journey of life, meaning and changing the future of the younger generation. 

What one thing do you love about the Flyers? That they can rock up in jeans and still pull of the most masterful moves on pitch. 

For more information about the FRE Flyers: 

Website :
Twitter: @FREFlyers 

Facebook: FRE Flyers Club

Virgin Money Giving: FRE Flyers Fundraising

Posted in Field Hockey, FRE Flyers, Hockey, sport, Women in Sport

A few Flyers more…

Tell me a little bit about yourself?  My name is Rickiah and I’m 14 years old. I live in Stratford, Newham in East London. I started playing hockey when I was near the end of Year 5. I’ve been playing hockey for 4 years. My first ever hockey event was Hockey Nation 2013. In the future I would like to be a nurse or have some profession in a career around medicine. 

What was life like before the FRE Flyers?  Before I joined the FRE flyers I just never really did events and things on a Friday. I just went out sometimes with friends to the park to play football,the regular stuff. 

I got involved with the FRE Flyers when I was 10 and it was around December time in 2012.  It was through a family friend called Stevie who is one of the original FRE Flyers. She told my mum about the age I could start playing hockey, and my mum asked me about it so I said I’d give it a try, later knowing it was one of my favourite sports. 

What does the FRE Flyers mean to you?   The FRE Flyers means something great to me. Its like I’m part of a family and I love it! I’ve made so many new friends and have become close to so many people from it. It is really an amazing thing and if I lost it I wouldn’t be me, because I’m comfortable around all the people here and I love them greatly.

The best thing about the FRE Flyers is I get to meet new people and make new friends and travel to different places with them, its honestly a great experience. It helps me when I’m facing problems I have people to turn to and I have a place to escape too, its almost like a relaxant. 

If I didn’t have the FRE Flyers I think I would probably play football a lot and more regularly but other than that, I would most likely have nothing to do. 

Do you play any other sports?  I play other sport sometimes, like football but I’ve never played in a league or anything. I think sport is important because it plays a huge part of who you are, and what you do in life. Its also important for your mentality and your health.  

What are you looking forward to with the FRE Flyers?  I’m looking most forward to traveling to Holland with everyone because it will be a great experience and will be fun.

I think other people should join because they are missing out on a good experience and also having a great amount of friends. 

I wish people from the days when we played at King’s Ford would come back, just to see how everyone is and have a great catch up.


Ewan is 16 years old and has been playing hockey for two years. Before the FRE Flyers he spent time with mates or watched TV. 

Ewan joined around Christmas time after some of the FRE Flyers went to East London hockey club to play and they encouraged him to join. 

Ewan says the best thing about the FRE Flyers is I have met many new young people in my area. And the coaching. The coaches help people, individuals if they want to try new things.”

Ewan likes other sports such as rock climbing and thinks sport is important because, “It is hard work”

Withoutthe FRE Flyers Ewan thinks he would just be sleeping. His future plans include to get involved in any opportunities he is offered, travel to other countries and wishes for more funding for the Flyers in order to achieve his plans. 

When asked why other people should join, Ewan answers, “They (FRE flyers) provide many opportunities outside hockey.”

The FRE Flyers train at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre Friday’s, 6pm – 8pm. For more information about the FRE Flyers: 

Website :

Twitter: @FREFlyers 

Facebook: FRE Flyers Club

Virgin Money GivingFRE Flyers Fundraising


Posted in Field Hockey, FRE Flyers, Hockey, Inclusive sport, sport

The Tale of Two Jordan’s…..

So far we’ve spoken to Chris Grant about the Origins and Chapter One, ‘Mama Jo’ Melchior, the all important cog in the wheel that keeps turning, now it’s the turn of some of the FRE Flyers themselves. Meet the two Jordan’s, who tell their tale of life on the Olympic Park. 

Tell me a bit about yourself?  My name is  Jordan, I’m 17 years old. I was  born and raised in Stratford, upbringing was really good and have a supportive family.

How did you get involved with the FRE Flyers?  I used to play some sports such as football and basketball. I heard about FRE Flyers by a close and personal worker from community links who told me try out hockey, as the new sport was growing, and I have now been with the club for 5 years. I believe it was a great thing to do.

Tell me what FRE Flyers means to you? Friendship is very important. Respect is important towards the coaches and players. Excellence is also important to always try your best and leave 100% on the pitch. 

The best thing about the FRE Flyers is how everyone is close and we are like a family which is a great thing. It helps me with training & gaining experience from matches and also experience training with GB players.

Do you play for another club? Yeah, I play for East London.

How did you get to play for that club?
 One of the FRE Flyers coaches recommended to join them and I believe it was a great thing for me to do.

Do you play any other sport?
Yes, I play football sometimes and tennis. 

Why do you think sport is important?
Sport is important because it develops your skill, helps you gain confidence in the sport and in yourself. Also sport is important because it keeps you fit.

What would you be doing now if you didn’t have the FRE Flyers? I believe I would be playing a different sport instead of hockey, most likely football.

What would you like to do in the future?
I would like to be a professional hockey player and also a fitness instructor by not only keeping myself fit but by helping others. 

Do you have anything you would like to do whilst at the Flyers? I would like to do some coaching to help develop my coaching skills.

What are you most looking forward to with the FRE Flyers?
Helping younger players by giving them advice and helping them settle in. Another thing I’m also looking forward to is going to Holland again and beating the Dutch players. I’ve always dreamed of doing it as we lost last time and because everyone’s skill has developed I believe we can win. 

Tell me why you think other people should join in with the FRE Flyers? I believe others should join in with the FRE Flyers to keep fit, meet new people and have the experience to try a new sport.

What is the one thing you would wish for the FRE Flyers? One thing I would wish for the FRE Flyers is to try and bring more players in.

 What is your name? Jordan

How old are you? 18 years old

Tell me a little bit about your background? I have a disability called Autism but this does not disable me.

What did you do before the FRE Flyers?Before I did FRE Flyers I have been involved with athletics and also swimming. I enjoy a challenge and love all sports.

When and how did you get involved in the FRE Flyers? There was this person that introduced me to FRE Flyers which was Paula Blake and also a guy called Jason because they saw potential in me to be part of the FRE Flyers team. When I got to know about FRE Flyers I started to go to hockey training sessions every Friday. From there as soon as my training was developing I was then completing in a premier league against teams in Tower Hamlets that’s how it all happened.

Tell me what FRE Flyers means to you. FRE Flyers are inspiring and enthusiastic. With FRE Flyers you get to make new friends, participate in a lot of opportunities like trips, competitions and activities etc. also, hockey is very physical and keeps you fit, it is also lots of fun. 

How does the FRE Flyers help you? FRE Flyers have driven me to be a better person. From over the past years to now I have progressed very well whilst training with the FRE Flyers, my skills, speed, ability, strength and endurance has enhanced my hockey techniques all thanks to my team and coaches.

Do you play for another club? No! I don’t represent any other club only FRE Flyers.

Do you play any other sport? Yes! Athletics. It’s good to have more than one sport because it helps with your endurance and pace and helps me to maintain my stamina and strength when the game is very physical and fast paced.

Why do you think sport is important? Sport is about having the determination and love in everything you do in that sport. When you begin to learn about hockey as a sport it is not easy to take in and work out, but taking time and learning the ropes, this will help you to achieve your goals, remember practice is key to making everything perfect. It’s important that as a FRE Flyers team that we continue to achieve our goals and show other teams what we are made of and how we have heart, spirit, determination and drive to be the best.

What would you be doing now if you didn’t have the FRE Flyers? I have other activities that I am involved in apart from hockey but I would be very sad because I enjoy it so much.

What would you like to do in the future? I would maybe like to join the England hockey team and become an Olympian at some stage that would be my dream.

What are you most looking forward to with the FRE Flyers? Having a bright future and successful life progressing and carry on learning about this great sport.

Tell me why you think other people should join in with the FRE Flyers? From my experience it gives you new opportunities and skills that are fun and also improves your fitness and it is very competitive.  

What is the one thing you would wish for the FRE Flyers? That they continue to do the best they can and never give up.

Tomorrow we will catch up with two of the current quarter of coaches.

For more information about the FRE Flyers: 

Website :
Twitter: @FREFlyers 
Facebook: FRE Flyers Club

Virgin Money GivingFRE Flyers Fundraising


Posted in Coaching, Field Hockey, Fitness, Hockey, Pre-season, sport, St Ives Hockey Club

30 Fitties, One Pregnant Lady and a Baby….

An odd combination you may think, but this was the eclectic turnout at St Ives fitness training last night….

Harley, our newest recruit at five weeks old was cradled in his front carrier as mum Jules negotiated the zig zag cones and demonstrated a new meaning to weighted squats. Obviously all exercise is carried out in moderation and at the discretion of all participants in relation to their own ability and capability. 

Week four pre-season training continues with strength and conditioning as below:

1. Zig-Zag cones and ladders:

(Set up a channel of 8 cones, approximately 10 yards apart at 45 degree angle, followed by a set of two ladders, staggered side by side with two single boxes at each end. Have an additional single ladder at the end.) 

Repeat all cycles x 2 

A: Cones: Touch every cone.

  • High knees forward/backward  
  • Heel kicks forward/backward
  • Sprint forward, jog backwards

B: Waiting area:

  • Star jumps
  • Spotty dogs
  • Squat jumps

C: Ladders: Two feet in each single box, one foot in each single box (as diagram).

  • Face forward 
  • Left leg lead
  • Right leg lead

D: Return to start : 

  • Warrior Lunges
  • Sumo squat kicks
  • Jog back

2. Abs of Steel:

  • 10 x sit-up
  • 10 x bicycle crunch
  • 10 x crocodile walk
  • 10 x scissor crunch

Rest 1 minute 

  • 10 x duck walk
  • 10 x oblique crunches
  • 50m bear crawl
  • 10 x V-crunches

Rest 1 minute

  • 10 x squat thrusts
  • 10 x dorsal raises
  • 10 x burpees
  • 10 x Bastards (burpee with press-up)

Rest 1 minute

3. Conditioning & Tabata Circuit:

1 x conditioning circuit, 1 x Tabata Hub, 1 x conditioning circuit (without planks!) 

Conditioning Circuit: 

  • 50m skip (concentrate on height)
  • 30 sec plank
  • 10 x squat jumps
  • 30 sec right side plank
  • 25m plyometric lunge (drive knee to chest) 
  • 30 sec left side plank
  • 10 x split jumps
  • 6 x clap press-ups (10x press-ups)
  • 30 sec plank
  • 10 x leg raises
  • 30 sec T-plank
  • 30 sec ankle jumps, side to side, front to back
  • 10 x dorsal raise
  • 30 sec commandos (elbows to hands)
  • 10 x crunches 

Tabata Hub: 20 second exercise, 10 second rest – 12 cycles. Always return to the centre (hub) exercise. 

As always, ensure a thorough warm up, warm down and stretch session. We move from grass to pitch next week. 

Posted in Field Hockey, Fitness, Fixtures, FRE Flyers, Hockey, Inclusive sport, Role model, sport, Women in Sport

Mama Jo…

Following on from yesterday’s post from Chris Grant, one of the founders of the FRE Flyers, I caught up with Jo Melchior to find out more about her and her role with the FRE Flyers. 

“I think back to the 6th of August 2012 and smile to myself, as that was the first day I took up the role of Club Development Manager for the FRE Flyers. I have never really been sure of that title, as someone who isn’t impressed with the name on the badge, but rather is a woman whose opinion is formed through the actions of an individual,” Jo explains. 

It’s hard to define a single role for Jo, as she seems to be there for everything, from organising pitches, kit and satellite clubs to social media, crisis management and morale. She commands respect without demand and provides the support the club needs.

“I suppose my remit is to ensure the smooth running of the project, the provision of training, the management of relationships and partnerships, day to day logistics and inevitably the pursuit of funding.

I come from a background in Sport, first as a competitor and subsequently as a teacher / coach / team manager. I have managed large leisure facilities in challenging environments and spent time working in the legal system specialising in child protection. I suppose some of this has prepared me for my most privileged role yet, that of ‘Mama Jo’ to the FRE Flyers a name bestowed on me by the kids themselves.

This entails, providing support of every kind imaginable, sourcing opportunities for training & qualifications, routes to employment, all the regular stuff, but mostly a listening ear, an honest opinion, hopefully some sound advice and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.” 

And that support is not just exclusive to the Flyers themselves, many a time has Jo extended that support. A lynch pin in the network of coaches, a link between the realms. So why does she continue to do her role?  

“Its 4 years on and I am still here, yes its part time in respect of employment, which works for me and the finances of the project, but it’s a full time commitment that I am happy to make, because the personal pride and satisfaction from being around the kids, the coaches and the supporters is immense. I never tire of telling people about what I do for a living and without exception people always react in the same way “wow, that sounds like an amazing job” ….and it is.

Young people often get a ‘bad press’ and sometimes that is the reality of the tiny minority that deserve it. However FRE Flyers has shown me that when given focus and purpose and most of all consistency, even those who might have been at risk of making bad choices in life, make a string of good choices. Our young people have become healthier, happier, smarter, more ambitious and determined and in short are a credit to themselves and their families.”

What’s so good about working with the FRE Flyers? 

“I am lucky to work alongside a terrific team of coaches who all bring a unique flavour to training. They have embraced my philosophy of “challenging, challenging kids”. We expect the core values of FRIENDSHIP, RESPECT & EXCELLENCE to underpin everything we do and have taken what was essentially a ‘vision’ based on Olympic values and created a healthy, vibrant and safe place for those who choose to come along on the journey.”

What should people know about the FRE Flyers? Why does this group continue? 

“We have inevitably lost some along the journey, life and family issues have got in the way, education and work have taken a priority over sport (not the worst thing to happen) and a few have fallen out of love with FRE Flyers, but that’s teenagers for you. The one thing that always remains is that the door never closes, the ‘family ties’ created by the young people may stretch but NEVER break. Once a FRE Flyer, ALWAYS a FRE Flyer.”

Tomorrow we shall be speaking to a couple of the FRE Flyers themselves, so they can tell you why they love hockey and what the FRE Flyers means to them. 

For more information about the FRE Flyers: 

Website :
Twitter: @FREFlyers 
Facebook: FRE Flyers Club
Virgin Money Giving: FRE Flyers Fundraising

Posted in Coaching, Field Hockey, FRE Flyers, Hockey, Inclusive sport, sport

The FRE Flyers: Origins and Chapter One

The memorable thing about meeting Chris Grant, one of the founders of the FRE Flyers, was his complete passion and enthusiasm when sharing the story of the birth of the FRE Flyers during a sunny evening stroll through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I asked him to share his story….

 “6th July 2005 was one of the best days that this country has had in my lifetime. It was the day that London swayed the IOC
[International Olympic Committee]
into rejecting the charms of runaway favourite, Paris, and embracing our “Singapore Promise” that – if the 2012 Games came to Stratford – we would use them to inspire and engage with young people facing immense challenges around the world.

Five years later, I had been inspired to become a volunteer Board Member of the International Inspiration Foundation: a collaborative effort involving the British Council, UNICEF, UK Sport, the Youth Sport Trust and others – which had set itself the target of fulfilling that Singapore promise by using sport to work in a meaningful way with 12 million children in 20 countries: a target which was ultimately blown away as more than 20 million children and young people were engaged, and 250,000 coaches, teachers and young leaders were trained.

The direct stimulus for the FRE Flyers had nothing to do with sport. It came about when I read a devastating statistic about my home city: the journey from Westminster, the seat of our democracy, to Stratford, our Olympic and Paralympic Park, is 10 stops on the Jubilee Line. In 2010, for each stop along the way, the average life expectancy of a baby born in that neighbourhood went down by just over a year. This felt inexcusable to me, and exacerbated my one real fear about physical legacy of the Games: that we might simply create a new tourist destination in the East of London, which offered nothing to young people who were growing up there, who had very real and immediate needs.

 In May 2010, a small group convened at the Commonwealth Club in Northumberland Avenue to consider the question: “If you were planning to approach a group of young people in the East End of London in 2014 and ask what the Games had done for them, and wanted a positive answer, what would you do?” The group, which included Debbie Lye, the Director of International Inspiration, Steve Grainger, then CEO of the Youth Sport Trust, Geraldine Blake, CEO of Community Links in Newham and Jason Lee, Head Coach GB and England men’s hockey (at that point the reigning European Champions) came up with a clear answer: “You would reinvent the multisports club on the Olympic Park”.

We put some detail behind this, and I turned it into a document with which I then spent a few months trailing around to different funders and organisations trying to gather support. It soon became apparent that people had other priorities, or didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. But in 2011, when Jason Lee wanted to do some work with his squad to ensure that they really felt the benefits of being “at home” when they played in the London Games, and also to develop them as individuals and a team, the idea came about of creating a project in conjunction with Community Links, which could become a prototype for the club.

Quickly, we made arrangements to recruit 30 young people – boys and girls – through Community Links. We specifically avoided going through PE Departments – or schools at all, as we didn’t think they would be able to resist the temptation to send their “goodies” or their sporty pupils. Community Links ran programmes for young people facing all kinds of challenges, and they succeeded in bringing together a group who looked as far away from a classic junior hockey squad in this country as you can imagine.

Things moved quickly, and on 5th March 2011 the GB players met the group who would later name themselves the FRE Flyers for the first time. The deal with the youngsters was simple: show up to all the sessions and behave yourself well enough, and in just 12 weeks you’ll get on a bus with the GB squad and go to Holland and play a hockey match against a Dutch Club side.

 What happened next could fill a book let alone a blog. For now, I’ll just say that the prototype was a huge success, and became the foundation for what has become a genuinely life-changing experience for a number of the young people. I’ll also say that – as the boys lost their game 4-1, and the girls 1-0 – the Dutch parents at Union Hockey Club simply refused to believe that the vast majority of the youngsters had never played the game three months earlier.

 In the five years since then, a remarkable number of the original youngsters have continued to play and love hockey. They’ve been joined by new arrivals although, to be honest, the original vision of a thriving, large-scale multisports club on the Olympic Park remains elusive.

We’ve learned an immense amount and, with the new priorities of Government and Sport England, maybe the landscape will be more conducive to building the FRE Flyers and similar initiatives. I’m certainly going to take some of that learning in the Boardroom of Sport England, when I take up my place in September of this year.

Maybe most important, what has become clear is that hockey is too shining an asset to be confined to the leafy suburbs and lucky few. The qualities and skills developed by the FRE Flyers have made them more employable; healthier; more resilient and better at forming strong relationships – all things which contribute to a longer and happier life. Those Jubilee Line statistics on life expectancy at birth have actually got worse since 2010, as our country has seen inequality and unfairness grow. Wouldn’t it be great if hockey could be part of the solution to that glaring set of problems?”

 Chris Grant – July 2016

Tomorrow we will catch up with Mama Jo to learn about her important role within the FRE Flyers.

For more information about the FRE Flyers: 


Twitter: @FREFlyers 

Facebook: FRE Flyers Club

Virgin Money Giving:  FRE Flyers Fundraising