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A Return to the High Level, High Priced, Must-Have, Summer Field Hockey Camp Experience: But this time as a college coach, not a player.

I never imagined I would begin coaching as a young high school player, before I even began to play during the off-season; naively, I thought that helping my coach out with a recreation department youth hockey program would be another opportunity for me to play.

Since I was a sophomore in high school I coached youth hockey all year round and when I went off to college I knew there would be a gap in my life. I knew that I would miss the exuberant joy on a kid's face as soon as they gripped elephants on their stick. I knew that I would miss the sighs of tired teenagers performing a penalty corner. I knew that I would miss the children that revolutionized my life. While I am jealous of every kid I coach I try to remember that maybe it was meant to be. Maybe some of my skills were sacrificed so that they could instill talent into many youth hockey players. I don’t know, but what I do know is that when the opportunity to coach at summer camps, I dreamed of and went to with my high school team, arose I took it.

It’s weird going back to an environment I thought I left for good as a high school junior. As soon as I arrived, I began to realize how much I had missed the team field hockey camp experience. At the same time, I started to feel like camp was the same, that I was a camper who needs to go to skill sessions, drink a lot of water, buy cool new hockey clothes, and laugh a lot with my teammates. Then I remembered-I have a new set of eyes-eyes of an experienced college player, eyes that attended similar summer camps all during high school, eyes that have now coached and umpired youth for years. Camp is not the same, but despite the fashion differences-excuse me but it is now 'in' to roll shorts that are already too small at least three times-the campers are mostly the same.

The campers are mostly the same-except for one thing-they are more experienced. An intermediate group now consists of 8th - 9th graders who have been playing for at least three years. In my day, one didn’t know what field hockey was until they got to high school in August. When these kids were asked what they wanted to work on, a handful replied 'a chip shot.' While it is astounding that kids so young even knew what a chip shot was, it was sad to see that they couldn’t even perform near flawless stationary dribbling. Basic skills are barely taught here in America. When basics are taught, it is usually rushed and focus is lost towards mastering simple techniques that will enable kids to perfect their game. Americans pride their selves on winning, on game performance, on pushing youth development a step ahead.

Coaching these young kids made me realize how much of a problem a coach’s desire--to turn their youth team into a team of prodigies-can be a problem for hockey development in the U.S. While the kids had excellent game sense for being so young, they had improper form and technique. As soon as I stepped on to the plush grass I felt like I had split personality disorder. Was I unbelievably happy because the kids drive and scrimmage with a beautiful ability that was foreign to me when I was their age? Or was I unbelievably frustrated at their inability to drop their left hand below the knee, squat like they’re on the toilet, and get their power from shifting their weight? As a coach, I had to constantly remind myself how I could barely drive my first summer at team camp and that the best way I learned was hands on. As a college coach, I was in a unique relationship with the campers. Unlike at home, where I instructed groups of kids on my own, at camp I was an extra set of eyes and hands. I was the hands-on assistance. So from day one I set out with two main goals: one-to rid the girls of bad habits due to incorrect technique and two-to get them to love hockey just a little bit more.

To correct bad habits I mainly tried to make the kids understand what they were doing wrong and then make them feel how to do it right. I emphasized that the kids felt how to correct their bad habit because it is hard for kids to physically take a verbal or visual correction from a coach and translate it into the physical correction between their hands, brain, and stick. I dropped their left hand with them. I made them squat. I stood behind them, so they wouldn’t high stick; if they high-sticked they were going to hit me, and I stood for a long time--if you leave a kids side too quick, what is taught is soon forgotten, the bad habit soon continued. I held the toe of their stick in a semi-circle motion (in back and then in front of them) while they learned that the drive is not a golf swing; that you are so off balance when you finish because all your weight has been transferred to the other foot. I made them dribble with only their left hand. And as I continued to stand by them, to tell them again and again and again to correct them selves, I realized these kids lacked the work ethic, intensity, and desire that is too often absent in the world of youth athletics. This is why I tried to get every kid I coached to love hockey just a little bit more.

I believe that if every camper can come away from camp with even a little bit more desire and aspiration to go home and dribble in front of the TV, then youth hockey development will be that much better. You can’t teach work ethic by yelling at kids to run faster or to stop being lazy, but you can encourage work ethic by motivating youth to have fun and to enjoy the moment. Kids who come pouring down in tears because they believe their skill level and years of playing experience merits their transition to a higher group need help realizing that by being at the lowest group they have the opportunity be better then any older, more advanced players. Perfection of basics will lead to futures with great happiness and opportunity. Oh how I wish that these campers who want so much just to socialize and drink water under the sun would realize how lucky they are to be at camp. That most of the U.S. does not have youth field hockey and that most kids cannot afford to go to a hockey camp. But rather then telling them how lucky they are, how they need to stop their petty conversations, how they should act like the love hockey more than they display through their laziness, I try to show them what hockey has done for me. Obviously, I would not be there hounding these kids about basics if it wasn’t for my strong passion towards hockey. However, I think it is more important to show these kids how much fun I have coaching them, how I love to hit stroke after stroke into the goal while they are taking their water break, how they are able to stay fit in a society where youth obesity is developing into a major problem. And by making the campers realize that I would not be here today if it wasn’t for my coaches when I was a camper in their shoes, with their eyes. Do they love hockey just a little bit more when they leave camp, it’s hard to tell, but I can dream. Dream that even if they just learned to wrap all their fingers around their stick, they at least improved something because of hockey players trying to say thank you.

Rebecca Kanter,

Youth Panel Promoter - USA

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