THINGS DONE IN BETWEEN GAMES CAN BE AS IMPORTANT AS IN GAMES
By Al Mattei
What accounts for the success of a field hockey program is not always determined in between the white lines on game days.
Indeed, those days in between games are often more important, especially in the ways things are done off of the field.
The first is tp understand the social network within your team. If you do, you will know exactly which two or three players in your lineup you can motivate, so that the rest of the team can follow their example.
The reason for this way of thinking is that it is incredibly difficult for a coach to get her entire roster to buy into a way of thinking or playing. It is much easier, however, to work on a small group of players, who will often do the rest.
The second thing to do in between games is to remember your conduct after every game. You best serve the field hockey community, as a coach, if you are gracious in both victory and defeat. Field hockey has been bereft of the trash-talking winners and sore losers found in many athletic endeavors. It is a trend which should continue.
The third in-between-games activity has to do with your actions with the local media. Make yourself available to journalists whose beat is the game of field hockey. Sure, many of them are low-paid and often are denied basic benefits and health coverage as a condition of employment, but they are often enthusiasic and impressionable. The right relationship, struck up with the right journalist, can result in a lifelong advocate for the game.
Too, if your local newspaper does not cover field hockey, push your sports editor into adding more game coverage. Newspapers are supposed to serve the community, rather than just be sounding boards for a few paid writers. Ideally, the local newspaper, radio or television station, listens to its viewers and listeners.
A fourth in-between games activity also requires some pushing: endeavor to get your local umpiring chapter to better itself. In truth, the quality of high school play is only as good as the quality of the area's umpiring.
However, the quality of umpires is the one thing which is in the greatest disrepair in domestic field hockey.
There have been so many rule changes in so few years that, at the turn of the 20th Century, there were no umpires who ever played scholastic field hockey with a liberalized obstruction rule and without offside.
To be sure, when today's field hockey players become umpires, that may change. However, not enough is done to replenish the supply of officials, meaning that in some places like Northern Virginia, the shortage has become critical.
Too often, there are former high-school or college players who don't take advantage of scholstic field hockey umpiring, even though their afternoons are free.
Field hockey coaches are stakeholders in this issue, and would do well to build better relations with the local umpires' group -- either through attending the interpretation meetings, making it known that umpiring is a viable post-career option, and by keeping up with every nuance of the rulebook.
Finally, your role as a coach will at times put you at odds with the very people who are supposed to help you: your school administration. In many places in the United States, the facilities given field hockey teams are shamefully substandard. In a game where the condition of the playing field is the paramount determinant of gameplay, there is no reason why a field should not be a 100-by-60 foot swath of short, flat grass.
If the conditions are short of this standard -- especially if the field hockey field is on a baseball outfield where part of the dirt cutout protrudes onto the playing surface -- there should be Title IX complaints flying all over the place.
And, for those schools who do have decent grass but are aspiring for something better, there is a trend that started in 2000 that could revolutionize the game of field hockey. The Field Turf Company has created a soft artificial turf that is being used for baseball (Tropicana Field in Tampa), pro soccer (Middlesborough, England), and American football (Husky Stadium, Seattle). Several multipurpose stadiums, including Villanova Stadium at Villanova University, have made plans to acquired the surface.
To compete with AstroTurf, the Field Turf folks have lowered their price to a point where even one community college has planned to get the surface. It might be something that high schools can get for their teams to make up for past Title IX disparities.