An immensely popular game for youth, field hockey derives most of its players from youth and high school leagues across the country. With simple rules and straightforward, non-aggressive play, field hockey is a wonderful way to entertain youth while giving them important exercise and physical education.
The first step for any good coach is to choose a location. In practice, any good-sized flat field will do. While an actual sports arena or gym might be ideal for competitive play, a soccer pitch or park will do just fine for practice.
Avoid using a field with high grass or an uneven playing surface, as balls are likely to get lost and players are more likely to trip. Similarly, although artificial turf is the mandatory surface of all international field hockey games, beginning players often find it harder to learn on, and the rough surface can make falls and trips much more painful.
Next, mark out the basic size of the pitch, 60 yards by 100 yards. Feel free to make the field smaller, depending on the size and age of players. Plant cones or markers to show the boundaries, and mark goals at each end of the field. Goals should be about seven feet across, but for younger players the goals can be smaller and closer together.
Once you have the location set, you are ready to teach the basics of the game. Before beginning, however, it is always best to start with a low-impact exercise to warm up. Jogging around the field, running in place, and doing various stretches are important to loosen up players’ muscles and avoid injuries. It also gives players some time to get into the right mindset, focusing in on the game and their role as part of a team.
Now that the team has warmed up and gotten ready, it’s time to introduce the players to the equipment. Field Hockey equipment is fairly simple. Players use field hockey sticks to dribble, pass, and shoot the solid plastic ball. Each stick has a curved end for hitting the ball, with one flat side and one curved side.
Players are only allowed to hit the ball with the flat side of the stick. Young players often use shorter and lighter sticks than professionals, making it easier for them to learn the basics without the burden of a large, heavy stick. Make sure players have a stick that is comfortable for them, not too long or too heavy.
Once the players have received their equipment, be sure to emphasize safety, and enforce the no-hitting rule. Players may think the sport is more like ice hockey, where shoving and stick checking is allowed. In field hockey though, the only contact should be between the stick and the ball.
Once players have gotten used to the feel of the sticks it is time to show them how to accurately and effectively move the ball. The first few practices should concentrate on fairly simple hitting techniques, giving players the chance to practice passing and dribbling without the pressure of speed or scoring. Line players up facing each other, and have them pass the ball back and forth, or mix things up by having two players pass the ball between themselves while running towards the goal and back.
Now that players are more confident with passing and dribbling the ball, give them a chance to try shooting and scoring goals. Shooting on target is often more exciting than simple dribbling, and it gives player the excitement of scoring a point, even if it isn’t during a game. Have players organize and take shots, and give them feedback on their performance. Shots should be straight and fast, and players should continue running as they take the shot.
Although drills and practice time such as this are a good way to emphasize a certain aspect of game play, one of the best ways to get kids comfortable with the sport is to organize short scrimmage matches. Scrimmage play, in which teams are divided into two and play against each other in friendly matches, put the emphasized skills into practice in a game environment. Divide the team into two halves and have them play a short game, with 10 minute halves. At halftime, rearrange the team again so that more players get to play with and against each other.
Finally, there are many ways to organize drills or practices in addition to teaching basic skills. Here are some examples used by youth coaches across the nation:
Ball Handling/Passing: A good ball handling and passing drill involves lining the team up into two lines, spaced about five feet away from each other. The person on the right passes the ball to the person on the left, who passes it for the person on the right to shoot. Each time the players circle back and get back into line, but switch lines so that they each have a chance to shoot and to pass.
Dribbling: Arrange cones or markers in a line, spaced about five feet apart from each other, and have players dribble the ball while weaving in and out of the cones. Alternately, you can arrange the team into two lines, facing each other about 20 feet apart. The first person in one line starts dribbling the ball towards the other line, where the person in the front of that line takes it and dribbles it back to the next line. The ball continues back and forth with players cycling across and back.
Finally, once you’ve finished the scrimmaging and practice, it is always important to have an adequate cool-down. Make it low-impact, as the players will probably be fairly tired. A slow jog around the field once or twice, or a series of stretches and jumps should get everyone’s muscles stretched out and rested. Have a snack and drinks ready for the players. After a long practice, they’ll probably be thirsty and hungry, and it’s a great way to boost team spirit. Remember, field hockey should be fun!