Man for the job: Willis gets state youth acceleration role

HOCKEY

HE’S been integral in turning Tamworth into the hockey force it is, and now Richard Willis has been enlisted to do the same statewide.

The former state junior and senior player and state coach has been appointed as the Hockey NSW 

Athlete Acceleration Program manager.

The position has been newly-created and will see Willis “looking after 120 of the top players between 16 and 18”.

“I’m really excited,” Willis said.

“I know it will be a huge challenge.” It will be a major career change after working for the past 25 years at South Tamworth Bowling Club and a big change for the “Willis family”, but it’s something of a dream job.

He’s basically getting paid to do what he has been doing in a volunteer capacity in Tamworth on a wider scale.

“There’s not many jobs you can do and get paid to do, and love,” he said. In this case work with and foster the best young hockey talent in the state.  

Hockey NSW operations manager Lauren Woods was in Tamworth this week holding workshops and helping Willis institute the actual athletic program around NSW.

She said the new program wouldhelp young players find a pathway to the higher levels.

She is also in awe of Willis’s long history with the game at the local level, through his NSW representative perfroamnces as a younger man and his coching successes with NSW junior teams in recent years.

The AAP program has been designed to comply with the Australian Sports Commission’s AWE (Australian Winning Edge) program, and is the flagship of Hockey NSW’s high performance 

development. 

“In theory it’s replacing the Emerging Talent Program, which was run by NSWIS,” Willis said.

Hockey NSW previously supported that program but has decided to establish one of its own.

The basic principal will be the same as the NSWIS concept, and the program will still be linked with NSWIS. It will operate slightly differently.

“It’s (AAP) a broader base,” Willis said.

“There’s more athletes than the ETS and it has a more regionally-based focus.”

Instead of all the training being in Sydney, there’ll only be three sessions. The rest will be held regionally.

“It’s exciting times for the whole of the state,” Willis said with the recent appointment also of six Regional Coaching Coordinators (RCC).

The program has been set up to target the 16-18 age bracket for a reason. There is a percieved drop off in talent after that.

NSW hasn’t had the same success at U21 and Australian Hockey League (AHL) level as it has in the U13s, U15s, and to a degree U18s.

The job will mean Willis will have to take a step back from his involvement with Tamworth hockey, but he knows there’s plenty of good coaches to take over.

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