Alongside continuing to represent his country on the international stage, Rhys Smith has another burning desire – to make hockey accessible to as many people as possible.
That’s why in 2019 he founded Hockey Inner City in order to take our sport into areas where it traditionally isn’t played, areas where Smith himself grew up not that long ago.
Less than a year later he has already run an after school club at his old primary school (Immanuel and St Andrew CE in Streatham), formed a relationship with Spencer Lynx HC and got a major hockey brand on board to provide kit for the children.
“There was no one specific moment where Hockey Inner City formed,” the 22-year-old explained during the latest episode of Inside The Circle: The Podcast.
“The main inspiration for it was my experience at university and seeing a lack of people from my background; inner city areas. That frustrated me because it wasn’t down to lack of ability, it was all down to lack of opportunity. That represented hockey. All of those thoughts coming into one formed Hockey Inner City.
“The main thing was making hockey more accessible. Giving people the chance to experience it, to play it, to find the love, to experience a sport I’ve loved playing ever since I started it. A lot of my friends who went to Whitgift from inner city areas we all love hockey, we play it on the street and it’s something I wanted everyone to be able to do.”
Smith never played hockey himself during his time at Immanuel and St Andrew – it was only when he went to Whitgift School, having received a bursary, that he was first introduced to the game.
After rapidly rising through the ranks to make his senior international debut aged just 21, his initial plans for Hockey Inner City were to give children from inner city areas the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.
But as time has gone on he’s realised that actually for some just being able to play a fun sport with their friends is the most important thing that Hockey Inner City can offer.
“When I first started it, I was under the impression that I wanted to try and make everyone as good as they can be, get them representing their county and region; that was my ambition,” the Wimbledon HC midfielder said.
“But what’s been really great is that understanding that some people just love playing hockey because it gives them the opportunity to be outside playing sport with their friends.
“I’ve loved experiencing the different reasons as to why people play hockey which I kind of forgot. Doing it full-time as a professional you forget that people just play hockey because they love the sport.
“They’re not trying to be a professional, they just love playing it with their friends and it’s something they look forward to at the end of the day, especially in school.”
As Hockey Inner City approaches it’s one year anniversary, it’s fantastic to see what Smith has already achieved having started it from scratch.
With the current global situation he’s unsure as to how the project will develop but he knows that, whatever happens and whichever route they take, Hockey Inner City will have one focus at the core of every decision.
“Whatever direction we choose to go in, whether that be partnerships with other clubs or running community sessions, at the heart of everything we do will be wanting to make hockey more accessible for children, giving that equal opportunity for people from inner city areas to play hockey because it’s not a sport that’s very popular within those areas.”
You can find out more about Hockey Inner City by clicking here to visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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