While hockey's popularity continues to grow across the the USA, members of their national men's team have been doing their part to inspire the next generation in areas new to the sport...
A ball is crossed just off the post and in a split second you have to make the decision, do you extend the reach and risk turf burn just to score a goal for your team? Without hesitation, absolutely. There are ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from youngsters watching from the stand. Before the game is over, some of the young audience might have already asked his or her parent if they can ‘have a go’.
Without knowing it, the athlete that scored that goal made an impact on a child’s perspective of sport. This athlete has now become an influential spark in the eyes of this child and possibly many more.
In recent years, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the USA men’s team to grow the sport in the local communities, as USA team member Alex Grassi explains: “With so many USA Men’s National Team (USMNT) athletes based in San Diego, we have a tremendous opportunity to work together to help grow the game.
“Unlike the East Coast where field hockey is well known, some people in San Diego don't even know what field hockey is,” he adds.
Each of the members of the USMNT have found different avenues to grow the game. Grassi is an assistant coach for the Poway Mystix, a club team based just north of San Diego with U-14, U-16 and U-19 age divisions.
Manny Martinez has dedicated time to building locally by coaching M&M Field Hockey, Coastal Clash and East County Gators, as well as umpiring high school leagues and tournaments.
He has even started to help coach for the Chula Vista Chupacabras, a club team comprised of fourth and fifth grade students from various Chula Vista elementary schools. This after-school program runs from late September up until the National Hockey Festival at the end of November.
With a view to growing the game in his area, USA hockey star Kevin Barber started a programme a few years ago. He traveled to local elementary schools in the Chula Vista area and gave free lessons to students during recess once a week. Other members of the USMNT joined in on Barber’s efforts to help the programme run smoothly.
At the end of autumn in the first year, all the young players gathered at the Olympic Training Centre (OTC) and the schools had a tournament.
Hundreds of boys and girls participated and had a great time. It was clear that by the efforts of Barber and members of the USMNT, field hockey was an up and coming sport in the Chula Vista/San Diego community.
Since then, an after school programme has been introduced for the children so they could practice more regularly. Barber has since moved from San Diego but members of the USMNT have continued his vision of growing the game in the local community.
“I took over the after school programme and with the help of my teammates have kept it going over the last year,” said Grassi. “This fall we will be doing introductory sessions at Olympic View Elementary School where there are over 400 students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. We aim to build interest and enroll students in the after school program, which runs twice a week for two-hour sessions on the turf at the OTC.”
“I think it's great to have the kids practice at the Olympic Training Centre because they get to see how far field hockey can take them,” continued Grassi. “Once they start playing, the kids truly enjoy hockey and as a coach it's an awesome feeling to share the sport I love with so many young athletes. Maybe a couple of the players we are coaching today will one day play on the USA men’s or women’s national teams.”
This is just one of several examples of development taking place across the USA. To find out more, visit US Field Hockey by clicking here.
Yet again this is further evidence of FIH National Associations and their athletes embracing the Hockey Revolution which aims to make hockey a global game that inspires the next generation.