2001: Year of the Youth


By Rebecca Kanter

At the beginning of my senior season, the last season of playing for my high school team, I was told that I did not have the ability to play at the varsity level.

I was devastated. I had been improving from, as my coach said, "tripping over lines, to starting in every game."

When my coach told me that I might be cut, I asked myself if I was responsible, since I spent time and effort introducing field hockey to the younger players in my community.

Coaching elementary and middle school field hockey has been the most rewarding experience. I gave kids something I wish I had been given at their age: the game of field hockey.

When I started, no one played field hockey in my town before ninth grade. My freshman year, we learned how to play field hockey through observation, not being taught by anyone -- not even the coaches. By sophomore year, I was given the Most Improved Player award -- though, it probably could have been the "I-Found-My-Passion" award.

Later that year, my neighborhood recreational department started a kid's field hockey program; I was elated! I lived in a neighborhood that had very little in terms of youth sports -- not even pee-wee football. I decided to volunteer.

Since my varsity coach was directing the program, I thought that volunteering would be another chance for me to play. Little did I know what I was getting into; these kids have touched me forever.

A handful of kids that showed up at the gym the first day, and the reactions were predictable: "Oh, manyou can only use one side of the stick," "What, you play this on graaaass?" "This looks weally weally dangerous because the stick and ball are very hard."

The kids were an assortment of stories. Gillian wore two mouthguards -- both designed to fit the top row of teeth, but she put one upside down on her bottom teeth. During the whole hour and a half she would wear these mouthguards religiously. "Gillian, we're sitting down and talking about hockey; you can take your mouthguards out," "Noh" she replied, "bethause younevwernohwhatpillhapppen."

And then there was Claire, who knew what to do, where to stand, even in the scrimmages which sounded like two humongous slabs of wood being turned into hamster shavings. While the rest of the players were crowding around the ball, she stood away from the mosh pit of people, ready to receive the ball when it crowd-surfed out. Claire had a natural talent, something I wish I had when I was her age.

It was amazing to watch these kids develop skills at such a young age, the kinds of skills that I have to spend so much time practicing. But what was even more incredible to see was the improvements in every other kid that wasn't a Claire. In six weeks, because of what you have taught them, they have the incentive to go home and practice field hockey during every TV commercial.

Unfortunately, this recreational program ended after my varsity coach decided to leave my team for another school. I didn't want to see it end; had I been 18, I would have run it myself.

Another organizational decided to start developmental programs in field hockey. Here, skill level varied; there were many Claires but also just as many Gillians, those who were just eager to try their very hardest to be just as good as their peers.

Teaching these kids how to hit the ball hard with a hockey stick on grass was the most gratifying to me. I was never taught this skill at school, and it took me a year to learn how to hit the ball more than a foot. But I was able to show these kids, in a few weeks, that they can drive the ball farther than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But there were also pre-teens, a situation which was the biggest challenge I faced in coaching. Some of the kids took Sunday field hockey to be their social event, rather than their place to discover sweat, hard work, and strength for the first time.

These girls seem to take field hockey for granted; it was given to them because their sister played it, because their parents had money to buy a stick and not wait for a school-issued one, because "Well, MandyandSarahandAmandandJenny are doing it too, so pleeeeease?"

Every time I saw them I told them how lucky they were, how I wish I could have been in their shoes, how if they even try, put their butt down, bend their knees, and shift their weight, they will be so good by the time they get to high school. To this day, they don't appear to understand field hockey; I wish they did.

Coaching has become much less an opportunity to improve my skills, but a place to spread my enthisuasm for field hockey. To help others learn, improve, love, challenge, (and sometimes even hate) field hockey. To give them what I was never given by anyone, but had to discover--a passion.

But how could I love field hockey so much when during my junior year my skillls were nonexistent and I was almost cut my senior year? Maybe field hockey means so much to me because I love the game; because I try to so hard to improve. Sometimes, I am driven by my frustration at the players that have natural athletic talent, yet they do not have the love of the game.

The fact that there were more players trying out who had previous field hockey experience -- some because of my efforts in increasing hockey awareness -- had made the team more competitive. How could I still love field hockey when, in a way, my passion had backfired on me?

My love for hockey and my motivation to improve proved to be enough for me to remain on varsity, and I played more than half of the games we played senior year.

I want to play field hockey, and spread this love, this passion, more than anything else in the world. Coaching field hockey is not about the money, but about one's love for the game and wanting to spread this love.

Rebecca Kanter is a senior at Silver Spring Montgomery Blair (Md.)