Feature Article - October 2009
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At the Forefront of Fun

Up-and-Coming Sports to Expand Your Offerings

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Field Hockey

What is it? Field hockey is "a fast attacking game" with 11 players on a team when played outdoors and six players per team when played indoors, said Jun Kentwell, coach of the WC Eagles, a competitive youth field hockey club in Spring City, Penn. Each player has a stick that is flat on one side and curved on the other (only the flat side may be used to hit the ball), which is used to dribble a solid plastic ball, slightly larger than a baseball, down the field to try to shoot a goal. Goals can only be scored when a shot is taken from within the striking circle, which is a semicircle extending 16 yards from the goal, according to the official USA Field Hockey rules. The SGMA report reveals that regular participation in field hockey was up 166.3 percent in 2008 over the previous year!

Who will love it? Although there are certainly those out there playing just for fun, field hockey players are largely a competitive bunch, in some cases with national team and Olympic aspirations on their mind. "The most popular area for women's field hockey is the northeast, particularly eastern and central Pennsylvania, and New Jersey," noted Jeff Gamza, director of media & communications for USA Field Hockey. "The majority of the Women's National Team is from Pennsylvania. There is a hotbed of men's field hockey activity near Los Angeles, California." So, if you're located in or near these areas, or if your city includes some transplants from these parts of the country, you may have a field hockey team forming before you know it.

"Field hockey is a major women's college sport, particularly on the East Coast, and as such these programs are fully funded and offer a full quota of scholarships," Kentwell noted. In each of the past two years the WC Eagles have sent 20 players to Division I colleges on field hockey scholarships, including Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, William & Mary, Ohio University and Old Dominion. "Field hockey has opened doors for these young ladies and given them the opportunity to get an outstanding education," she added.

Essentials for getting started? Field hockey is played on a field the same size as an indoor or outdoor soccer field, Kentwell explained. Other key items include sticks and balls and goal cages, as well as a means of marking the striking circle and other boundaries.

Story of success: Jun Kentwell played for the China's national women's field hockey team for eight years, and then went on to coach and serve as an international umpire. She settled in Pennsylvania, and "four years ago I was asked to fill in and help at a local summer hockey camp," she said. "About a month later a parent called and asked if I could give her daughter private lessons. Within a couple of weeks there were four girls having private lessons."

By October Kentwell had assembled enough players for a team, which entered the U16 Division of the National Hockey Festival—and won their pool championship. "That was the start of the club, and we have subsequently won the U16 Pool at the National Hockey Festival for the last four years," she said.

The WC Eagles began with one team, but in four years has grown to have one U12, four U14, six U16 and six U19 teams. "Our goal is to develop young players' skills, tactical awareness, vision and psychological aspects [of the game] to prepare them to play Division I college field hockey," Kentwell explained. "While we are so proud of our teams' successes, they are a byproduct of the club's philosophy, which is to develop each player to be the best they can be; to take them out of their comfort zone; give them the courage to try new things; take their skills, awareness, vision and decision-making to a new level; and give them an understanding of what it takes to be a good player…. Our satisfaction comes from seeing each player developing and growing and on the path to becoming the best she can be."

Players as young as 8 years old (all girls except for three boys) travel as far as an hour and a half to train one evening a week with the WC Eagles. Kentwell said some players are referred to them by high school coaches, and others learn about the program from players' parents or become interested after seeing the Eagles in action at a tournament.

The WC Eagles are preparing to build a new facility of their own, which will include three full-sized indoor hockey courts and an outdoor turf field and allow them to expand their programming to include coaching for even younger players and some less-competitive league alternatives for middle school and high school students in partnership with local schools.

Resources? Check out the WC Eagles' Web site (www.wcfieldhockey.com) for more details about their amazing program and many, many national championship wins. "The USA Field Hockey Association offers starter kits to groups who would like to start programs," noted Kentwell. Visit them at www.usfieldhockey.com. Kentwell also suggests high school coaches as good potential resources for starting a field hockey program. And don't feel as if you'll have to challenge the WC Eagles right off the bat. "Purely recreational groups, such as local youth leagues and park district [leagues] are not USA Field Hockey members or affiliates," Kentwell explained. But players who learn the game and refine their skills in these programs may then move into the competitive club environment.