Bulgarian pilot project bringing “magic of the stick” to new audience

Posted On 27/04/2023

The Bulgarian Hockey Federation are hugely encouraged the pilot Hockey2School project at the French Lycée Victor Hugo in Sofia could provide a real boost for the sport in the country.

Through the impetus of Dimitri Dubuisson and the Director of the Lycee, the project has introduced hockey to nearly 350 kids aged between six and 11 with weekly sessions since January at the school with a focus on the values of respect and gender equality.

The success of the project to date has 95% feedback that the kids have enjoyed it with 80% asking to continue taking part.

For Dubuisson, it is the combination of a latent passion which only came to the fore in recent times. Prior to moving to Bulgaria, he was a sports journalist who had commentated on Belgian hockey games in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games.

While it was not his primary sport, he enjoyed the outlook and attitude of the hockey-people but it was not until he picked up a stick over a decade later that a love for the game was forged.

Working as an activities manager in the French Lycée, he has been busy trying to find ways to engage the students in a variety of ways.

The school is located a stone’s throw from the Vasil Levski National Sports Academy where, through EHF Solidarity support, a batch of sticks were available to be used for development purposes.

“The real magic was when I picked up a stick,” Dubuisson said to the EHF website. “I always say ‘to make magic, we have to give them a stick’ so the kids see what it is all about.

“It’s what happened to me. I knew hockey from meeting the best players in the world but I didn’t have that magic until I got a stick. Then I understood how different it was as a sport and how I could teach the values through it. It is a wonderful tool.

“I started doing hockey workshops two years ago and there was more and more interest, more kids discovering it. It was working well with the kids and was wonderful for the girls to take up a sport.

“Hockey isn’t so famous in Bulgaria. I invited the federation to make some more presentations and events and, step by step, the school got more engaged. I proposed to them to make a full training programme with all of the primary school, all the classes from January to June.

“The school said yes so I created the project with a lot of values like respect for adults, equality, fairness – not competition but to work together, be inclusive – things which can be normal for western Europe but, for here, it is innovative.”

Dimitri Dubuisson speaking at the EHF Executive Leadership conference this year. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

With the increased programme, the Bulgarian federation helped out with coaches while, in addition to the EHF Solidarity equipment, the Belgian federation and the Ligue Francophone were also contacted and provided soft balls and soft sticks for the youngest participants.

In parallel, the next phase of the project already started with a five-versus-five mixed tournament during the lunch time break – called “Lets Play Together” – to be held in the school. It has “positive discrimination” rules with mimimum of 40% of players on field at all times required from either gender; girls are the captains and goals for girls count double.

“This tournament was created after my participation at the EHF Forum in Brussels in March [as a volunteer of Bulgarian hockey federation] and the ‘EquallyAmazing’ campaign.

“With those simple rules, the girls are able to participate fully in the tournament and are so happy to play in mixed teams, feeling Equally Amazing. For the region, it is an example. It gives them an equal chance to practice a team sport; their role is guaranteed in the game and they love it.”

This part of the project is crucial and helped define its success compared to a previous effort with football which did not have such strong results.

In Bulgaria, there are currently 2,000 active players but just 60 of them are female; the hope is projects like this can be replicated and developed in a wider realm. To this end, Dubuisson is now volunteering with the national federation as an activities manager.

“Soon, the Lycée will also have official teams at Under-10, 12 and 14 level and organise a school championship.

“We want this example to be followed. It’s important for the children, especially the girls, but also for children with different profiles who don’t want to only do the ‘classical’ team sports like football or basketball.”

He is aware it is very much a starting point with Bulgaria currently having just three full-size pitches and limited goalkeeping equipment available.

“It is important for Bulgarian hockey also to promote this sport in schools and have more players and teams coming to their attention. We are coming from almost scratch so it is not easy but we want to develop more teams, more competitions and more pitches.

At the moment, as a small federation with only a few teams, we have to start small with 5s. If we get more, we will be able to play more easily 11s. We need to develop step by step, from the basis, so that’s why we want to repeat this project in the rest of the country and in our neighbouring countries in the Balkans.”

** To find out more about EHF Solidarity, click here: https://eurohockey.org/ehf-solidarity/

** To find out more about hockey in Bulgaria, click here: https://bit.ly/3VfSeDh

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