FOR more than 24 years Craig Johnston has been involved with the Dubbo City Hockey Club and later on with the local association - just two of the reasons why he has been honoured with Dubbo's Australian Day Service to Sport Award.
Johnston was at Victoria Park with wife Lisa and friends on Saturday morning to receive the honour in front of Australia Day Ambassador Larry Corowa and mayor Mathew Dickerson.
While the Dubbo City club has thrived under the direction of stalwarts like Johnston, the same man had a bigger vision for the game in this city.
He wanted a new centre with lights and synthetic surface to take the game away from the grass that was previously provided at Barden Park in North Dubbo.
So Johnston worked with his association, former State member Dawn Fardell, Dubbo City Council - mainly former general manager Tony Kelly and senior director Ken Rogers - and that centre came to reality.
But that didn't mean the end of the job for Johnston who is currently serving another term as association president.
There are a number of areas of expansion, particularly with his juniors.
His own children are now young adults but he and Lisa recently became grandparents for the first time. he would like to see the game nicely placed when that little fellow is old enough to grab a hockey stick.
"We in hockey have a real struggle attracting juniors to the game, in fact I think that could be said for most Dubbo sports, especially in the teenage years," Johnston said.
"They don't seem to have that commitment that we had years ago, but there are also other choices for the kids these days in multiple sports and also part-time jobs when they're old enough.
"Once upon a time we had businesses closing on Saturdays at lunchtime and people could go to sport, but now we have seven day trading and a lot of families have parents working weekends.
"So having their children engaged in club or representative sport is not all that easy."
Johnston said the hockey association has a game plan that he hopes will work in the future.
“We in hockey have to take up the challenge and make changes to the way we organise our sport and if it means taking the game away from the traditional Saturdays then we have to do it,” he said.
“With our hockey facility at West Dubbo and the lights that we have, we are able to do that and stagger competitions for juniors and seniors.
“If we can do that then the kids can continue to play hockey, and also be involved in say soccer, netball or rugby league as well. Last year we had a small program for juniors during the week and our junior committee is going to go with that again, and also make some expansion that we hope will improve our numbers.
“This will of course mean that we’re not competing against the other sports who are locked in to Saturdays.”
Having been a representative player and coach, Johnston also sees the need for the juniors to progress to senior competition.
So what can he do with the youth players who we need to keep in hockey and make a gradual progression to Western Premier Hockey League competitions for men and women?
“I’d like to think that even if the kids have jobs, other interests and even study, then sport should have some priority in their lives,” he said.
“I also see a lot of pressure going on the kids to get jobs and sport can provide some balance in their lives.
“The same can be said when they get into their 20s and 30s and even later on. You have to have a lifestyle balance.
“Sure, it is possible for the kids to have jobs at McDonald’s and Woolworths, that’s fine, but we don’t want them sitting on the lounge and or in front of computers. We want them on the sporting fields mixing with other kids and playing team sport - as it is in our case.
“It’s character building and we as administrators and coaches are duty bound to provide that healthy atmosphere - in mind and body.
“Kids who play team sports are learning skills all the time. They learn to communicate and mix with other kids and later on when they make rep teams they get to travel away and live with other kids with same interests.
“They get to meet new friends - at home and away and we’ve got hockey players who later in life have made rep teams (and Masters) and travelled overseas and made lifetime friends. It’s all character building and it has been proved time and time again that kids involved in sport are less likely to finish in trouble and in the courts. We don’t want to see that happen.”