Channel-surfing to ESPN this summer may have had you tuned into a completely unexpected sport: field hockey. Although it’s new to American TVs, versions of field hockey have been around for more than 4,000 years.
It was the English who refined the sport into what it is today during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now, with the U.S. men’s and women’s teams gaining more clout, you might just want to know more about the sport you’re watching.
America’s 100-Year History of Field Hockey
Although modern field hockey has its origins in 18th-century England, it didn’t reach American soil until 1901. At that point, it was seen as a sport solely for men, because it was considered too dangerous for females to participate. However, once men and women realized the fun and skill the sport had to offer, it took off in popularity.
Today, both men’s and women’s teams compete in field hockey at an Olympic level. The women’s team practices in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, inside of a state-of-the-art facility built just for them. Other international teams have come to play on the same field — Japan, Ireland and Argentina, to name a few — and the facility also encompasses other outdoor activities for local families who want to stay active.
Both the men’s and women’s teams recently brought home bronze medals for team USA at the Pan American Cups, which took place in Lancaster in August 2017. They took on teams from Argentina, Canada, Chile and more in order to earn their hardware.
How Do I Play?
An important first step in becoming a field hockey player is making sure you have the proper equipment. Start by getting a field hockey stick, a task which may seem overwhelming when you see the different materials, weights and lengths that sticks come in. Beginners should choose wooden sticks, as they’re more flexible compared to the stronger composite sticks used by professionals to more strongly strike the ball.
Field hockey, as you can probably imagine, is basically a game of ice hockey played on turf. Your team’s main objective is to score goals and stop the other team from shooting the ball into your net. You’ll dribble and pass a ball up and down the field with sticks similar to those that work on ice.
To get a better idea of how to play, you’ll have to just try it and join a team to begin practicing. If you have a background in other field-based sports — especially if you’ve played soccer — you will have a good idea of which position will suit you best. You can fall into one of four main positions: goalie, defense, midfield or forward. The latter two focus on scoring goals, while the former two try to stop the other team from doing just that.
It will probably take quite a bit of practice to get your field hockey skills perfected. You’ll have to learn to use the stick to dribble the ball down the field, pass to your teammates and even take shots on goal. You can practice the latter, for example, by striking field hockey balls against a fence to improve your strength and precision.
Another great tool in learning to play field hockey? Online videos and forums, where your fellow players will give you their tricks of the trade. You can then put those suggestions into practice the next time — or the first time — you have a big match.
The best way of all to improve your understanding of the game is to get out there and try it. So, grab your stick, dribble the ball and take a few shots. You never know, field hockey may just be your new favorite sport.