THE OLYMPIC legacy is certainly leaving its mark with more people than ever playing hockey in Berkshire, according to official England Hockey figures.

Since 2011 there has been a concerted effort by hockey's governing body - England Hockey Board - to increase participation in the sport and, following the success of the Great Britain's women's hockey team in 2012, it seems the fruits of their labours are bearing rewards.

At Tilehurst's Phoenix & Ranelagh hockey club, there has been a 30.36% increase from 112 to 146 players since last year - the biggest growth in the county and a trend that can be seen across Berkshire.

In West Berkshire, Newbury & Thatcham saw their club achieve the second highest increase among data from eight clubs, rising from 245 to 303 players.

In addition, Windsor has set up a new senior men's vets team after seeing a 21% increase, with a similar gain in players at Wokingham (19%).

The figures are taken from the latest data submitted by clubs for the 2012-13 season as part of their annual affiliation.

The upsurge follows a national trend which saw 30,000 more people playing hockey last year, making it the team sport with the largest participation growth in 2012, according to the Active People Survey findings released by Sport England last month.

Much of the increase can be attributed to the first full year of Rush Hockey and Back to Hockey, two new forms of the sport specifically developed for more casual participation.

In August last year, Bracknell Hockey Club hosted a highly successful Back To Hockey programme, which had the backing of GB Olympians Kate Walsh and Helen Richardson.

The sessions are designed to encourage newcomers and entice those who have taken a break to return to the sport.

The sessions at Bracknell drew in 25 new participants, which suggests there is an appetite for the informal part of the sport as opposed to competitive club hockey.

Speaking in response to the figures, Walsh said: "Our sport really relies on the goodwill of people in the sport volunteering their time.

"At Bracknell I'm sure there's lots of coaches who have given an extra evening on top of their training to run a back to hockey session. It's a real testament to these people." Walsh offered an explanation for such a marked increase in numbers, saying: "There's always somewhere for people to go and that's been the real bonus.

"We're trying to expand the hockey family because it's such a special sport." Similarly the sessions at Easthampstead Park in Bracknell, Slough hockey club, Riverside Community Centre in Reading, Maidenhead hockey club and Newbury & Thatcham hockey club all saw new participants, leading to a total of 87 new players across the county.

England Hockey, based at Bisham Abbey, are not resting on their laurels though, as they seek to capitalise on the interest hockey has generated since London 2012.

New back to hockey session will be running in Reading, Maidenhead and Newbury.

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