Youth Hockey Development in America:
What is being done and what’s going to be done.
Currently, the only grassroots hockey program by the US Field Hockey Association (USFHA) is the Futures program. Futures aims to evaluate and identify youth, through USFHA sponsored clinics, which are capable of developing into elite athletes for the US National and Olympic teams. Through selective regional trials, under sixteen and under nineteen youth, are placed into a Futures program. Once selected to Futures, players attend about one USFHA Futures clinic per month, a clinic being one day of six to eight hours of hockey; however, this is dependent upon the region. The players that attend learn a lot about their game and how to improve their skills, and have subsequent opportunities to attend Futures Tournaments and other USFHA sponsored events, as well as, have a chance to become selected to the Futures elite program.
In hopes of spreading field hockey throughout the country the USFHA has created regional coordinators for each region. Regional coordinators are responsible for organizing all the different youth programs in their region, so that all grassroots initiatives will be unified; as a result, all grassroots programs can help each other grow and develop, while, maintaining the central goal of USFHA youth development-to increase youth field hockey awareness. The role of the regional coordinators is important to grassroots development because they serve to interconnect all these programs and initiate grassroots programs, other than Futures, that will lead to the improvement of all youth hockey in a given state. These efforts, along with the current grassroots programs in the United States, will provide US field hockey with a bright future and will bring much happiness to those previously unfamiliar with the sport.
There are many talented hockey players throughout the United States that are not easily able to improve their skills on a constant basis because there are no youth programs to support this development. The more grassroots programs, the more the youth hockey population will grow; and the more the US will improve its National talent pool, as the skill level of those being selected to Futures will be of a much higher level. In states that have very little field hockey, regional coordinators should seek to use successful high school programs in the state to develop youth hockey across the rest of the state. The best way that grassroots programming will be successful, in states with no field hockey, is if players and other aficionados use their passion for the sport to introduce the sport to others. For example, this can be done in states like Iowa and Kentucky where strong college programs can be used to establish youth field hockey across the state, if the players and coaches are willing to take initiative to do so. The establishment of youth clinics by schools such as the University of Iowa is necessary to the development of youth hockey in the United States if field hockey is to grow into a universal sport, like soccer. There are some states that are completely ignorant to field hockey, so the US field hockey community should take it upon themselves to introduce this wonderful sport to areas in which hockey is unheard of. The USFHA strives to support this development by conducting programs similar to the National Team Clinics, and through their equipment grants.
Despite the sporadic prevalence of field hockey in the United States and the need for grassroots programs across the country, the USFHA has many future plans to encourage youth field hockey development at a national level. Publications are being planned, which will include a learn to play series, a learn to umpire series, and a learn to coach series. These articles will serve as a simple way for anyone to become educated about some aspect of the game. Hopefully, they will inspire people to coach or umpire youth programs, if not, encourage youth unfamiliar with the sport to try it. A further effort to develop the field hockey coaching population, with emphasis on youth coaches, is the implementation of the Foundation Level Coaching Clinic in 2003. The Foundation Level Coaching Clinics will, essentially, teach coaches how to coach in a more effective manner. This includes motivating coaches how to encourage their players to become future coaches of the game. Soon after the program is established, the goal is to train 300 Foundation Level Coaches, which in turn will foster the development of USFHA efforts to develop grassroots programs across the country. Each year, the USFHA seeks to host at least ten opportunities for athletes or potential athletes, at least ten opportunities for coaches and potential coaches, and at least ten opportunities for potential umpires, across the United States. Ideas for these events include clinics, tournaments, and play days. Finally, steps are being taken to implement a National Youth Forum in the United States, which will enable youth state-representatives to encourage and inspire youth field hockey awareness and development throughout the country. With the National Youth Forum, the USFHA hopes to make field hockey more popular among American youth, especially with their creation of a brand name for youth hockey; by attaching a to-be-determined name, the USFHA wants to give field hockey a fun twist, while at the same time, making it more recognizable to youth.
However, one cannot become too dependent on the USFHA because the USFHA needs the support of the US field hockey community in order to make their plans a reality. Supporters of US field hockey development need to take more initiative, trust their instinct, and give back to the sport they love, so that more and more youth can take part in the sport that brings so much happiness to others.
By Rebecca Kanters
Youth Panel Promoter - USA