Right now Field Hockey as a sport is not available in many schools; many parents/kids don’t even know that such sport does exist. Schools that offer this sport, do it from High School; IMHO by then, it’s a bit late for a person to grow the game on them. For two reasons:
High School Studies take precedence over sport (and maybe for the right reasons). Kids are more busy with their homework, securing better grades and getting ready for college, naturally, sports become a lower priority and hence though player starts playing, they are not totally into it!
It requires time and energy to acquire good skills in any sports. If the new player has different sports background, then they catch up fast. But if a player is just starting to play their first sport at this age, then it becomes a struggle. Because not only you have to learn the skills of the game, you also need to have speed and stamina. And unfortunately, time is the only answer to that.
Many professional clubs here are offer game starting U14 or U16 age group on wards. Since these clubs are affiliated with High Schools, getting new players is somewhat easy for them. But as I mentioned earlier, honing new skills into these players takes time and that makes a big difference as they move into upper age groups!
Catch them young! – As a small hockey club without any school affiliation is very hard to survive! We as a club offer training starting age group U8. There are only very few other clubs who offer Field Hockey at such age. Hence it’s constant struggle to keep the team together as we are always short on players. And that doesn’t motivate parents whose kids are enrolled in the program to continue with this sport when they can easily find established Basket Ball, Baseball or Volleyball clubs within their town. Clubs that are driven by volunteers can’t do recruitment as one driven by professional clubs. I think this is where the US Field Hockey organization can be a big help.
Around the age of 8, parents are trying different sports and see what suits/motivate their kids. Hence it’s very important for Field Hockey to one of the choices that these parents aware of!
US Field Hockey officials putting booth camps in different festivities, events; showcasing them game; allowing them to interact with current US Field Hockey players will be very beneficial. And when parents show interest at these events, we can introduce them to local clubs in their neighborhood where they can take the kids to tryouts.
We should also encourage clubs to put special efforts on new members; show them path as an athlete their kid can have. It will go a long way to help parents to understand clubs are passionate about this sport and not just about fees and tournaments!
Turf Fields (and finding better alternatives)
When my daughter went to Nationals as part of U14; we finally understood when someone says East Coast teams are good at field hockey. Players over there were very good runners; ready to do more hustles. Definitely they have better good coaching and a much bigger pool of players who compete with each other to raise the overall game. But IMHO another important reason East Coast Players are better because they are fortunate to have better infrastructure.
For all clubs here in the Bay Area as I know, everyone practices on local football fields which is not an ideal environment. Same for tournaments. Every year when we go to Calcup, it’s always very annoying to see our young players playing on thick grass fields where the ball doesn’t move at all. Also, many of these fields are not well maintained. We need to have better fields if we want to raise the level of our players.
While it’s very easy to ask for Astro-turf fields, I’ve been told it’s very costly and difficult due to the cost of land and the turf itself. We all talked very passionately about setting up a community driven Astro-turf field when we heard the University of Pacific shutting down their program due to budget reasons. But these talks lead no-where as it requires substantial planning, money and time commitment.
Does this mean, we can’t do anything about it and give up hope! No way! There is a better way and that’s too without zero cost on the Infrastructure side! Remember we have Indoor Basketball courts everywhere right? So why not use them? We need to promote Indoor Field Hockey more and more. This will help players to play the game on a fast surface and help them to get acquainted with speed (which our players really need to do especially at a young age!).
Challenge is Commercial Indoor Sports complexes are very costly and small clubs can’t afford them. This is where US Field Hockey can play a key role. US Field Hockey should work with local middle school/High Schools and provide school facilities to clubs at a much-discounted price!
US Field Hockey blessed Regional Tournaments
The only major event that US Field Hockey approved is CalCup otherwise mostly we are figuring it out ourselves; setting up local tournaments, participating in tournaments organized by local universities. (Yes, we are really lucky to have Stanford and Cal in our backyard; coaches here are very helpful. Staff is always ready to find time and energy to train youngsters! Thank you, folks!)
We really need to have more tournaments that will encourage East Coast Teams to travel on this side of the world to play. This will help our young players (U8-14) to compete with better players and have constant checks/reminders that we need to improve even further.
Also having local US Field Hockey leagues that can allow competing within local teams and then with top teams across other regional leagues will be a good idea.
Social Media Awareness (Twitter / Instagram / Facebook)
All being said, if we can’t share success stories of different players, how they getting accepted into different Colleges on their sports merit, showcasing different clubs, individuals; their dedication; innovative ways to make sports to go; celebrating the success of local clubs at National level is a must.
We need to talk about what everyone is doing to take us to the next level. And nothing better than US Field Hockey doing it from their own official handle!