Come rain or shine, you’ll find Nikki Upton at Risca Hockey Club coaching around 30 juniors. And when the session’s finished, it’s time for the seniors:
“Yes, sometimes the weather is horrendous,” she laughs. “Once it was hailing, so we all hid in the dugouts until it passed and then it was, Right, back to it!”
But even if it is ‘hammering down’ as it so often does in South Wales, Nikki says she could ‘never not turn up’:
“Sometimes, you get home from work and you feel exhausted – all you want to do is sit down. But once you get to training, you find the energy. Anyway, you can’t let them down can you?”
Nikki started playing for the club after her daughter was born six years ago. Having previously coached other hockey clubs it of course wasn’t long before she was nurturing the talent at Risca.
Back then the club was called Risca Ladies Senior Hockey Team. A lot’s changed since Nikki’s jumped on board. Just over 12 months ago, she created a brand new pathway from junior to senior hockey:
“To recruit junior members, we put on six week blocks of taster sessions at a local primary school. Pupils were all then given a free session voucher to come along to the club. We live in a pretty deprived area so we have kept sessions at just £1.
“That’s partly why we’ve been successful. We haven’t complicated things. There’s no commitment, it is pay as you play. We’ve offered incentives of free sessions if you bring a friend along. And we are giving players ownership of the team too, they’ve been fundraising for new kit so now they are picking which they like best.”
And her efforts are paying off:
“There’s one child in particular. He’s had a tough upbringing and he wasn’t very strong socially or academically. He was argumentative and would swear. But he has excelled on the pitch and is learning to be part of the team. He’s always the one that will be there ten minutes early and the one who helps out ten minutes after everyone has left. His concentration levels have soared and he just seems to have grown up.”
Now she has set her sights on starting a youth section so she can separate out some of the older age groups. And she is working with other local clubs of a similar standard to set up a mini league.
Rest assured that hockey in Risca, whatever the weather, will continue to prosper.