By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The United States has some 300 collegiate and more than 1800 scholastic varsity field hockey programs. Some are more successful than others, whether by dint of hard work or talent, or by the misfortune of injury or tactical errors.

The very nature of sport is that, in any closed system -- a league, a tournament pool, a tournament -- every team cannot win every game. Not every team can attain perfection, not every team can walk away from every contest feeling good about the outcome. There are winners, there are losers.

In the long term, there are perennial winners whose programs nurture their players and give them every chance to succeed. There are also perennial losers whose programs can never seem to earn more than a couple of wins a season.

It is a mystery, in most every type of athletic endeavors, what makes a winner. It is an even greater mystery in field hockey, a game which requires so much of its players -- intense skill, determination, fearlessness.

In this series of essays, we attempt to dissect what an average field hockey program -- really, any sports program -- can do in order to put itself into a position to compete.

What follows is based on an essay The Founder wrote on a Internet chat board in response to a question as to what a field hockey program could do in order to succeed in the long term. The principles in the 10 paragraphs are presented in four major categories, applying real-life examples in order to explain what steps a field hockey team can take in order to achieve find success withih.

To be certain, many of you may have been exposed to these principles before. But a good many of you may not have, and this series of essays is mostly geared to coaches of teams who have been in mid-pack and are aching to improve.

* Preparation

* Approach to the season

* Game Day

* The "in-betweens"

* What's next? 1