Field hockey requires grit, endurance and quick decision-making

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Photo: Emily Latham

Juniors Paige Johnson and Courtney Carpenter practice drives at field hockey practice.

Just for the record, they don’t wear roller skates. The girls who play field hockey at Fairmont say that’s just one of the wacky ideas people have about their sport.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, that people are uneducated about field hockey. Fairmont and Oakwood are the only schools in the MiamiValley that have field hockey teams; Centerville ended its program a few years back. And because of the small number of teams, the Fairmont girls don’t play in the Greater Western Ohio Conference (GWOC) like everyone else. They’re in the Southwest Ohio Field Hockey League. Sometimes the girls have to travel to Cincinnati or Columbus just to be able to play a game with another school.

The simplest way to explain field hockey is to think of it as ice hockey on grass. It has also been compared to chess because it involves a lot of strategy and the ability to make quick decisions.

Fairmont field hockey players say the sport can be difficult for beginners. “I feel like it’s harder to learn as a kid because there are so many rules that change,” said Mary Shampton, a senior at Fairmont and one of the two field hockey team captains.

However, the basic rules are easily comprehensible. “The most basic rule is you can’t use your feet,” said Shampton, explaining that players can’t use their feet to move the ball. In fact, if the ball even touches a player’s foot, it’s a penalty.

Beyond the rules, however, field hockey requires many quick-thinking skills and the ability to run for 30 minutes at a time; the game is 60 minutes total. Being able to keep up a fast pace is a very important attribute of a team player, especially for this sport.

“Field hockey is definitely hard because you have to have good endurance. It’s really an athletic sport,” said Olivia Davis, a junior and the other captain of the field hockey team.

“There are a lot of skills that have to be mastered,” added Head Coach Patty Baird.

Injuries are common occurrences in field hockey. The knees are a place often hit; the more uncommon places are the upper body (stomach and chest) because the ball is supposed to stay near the ground. However, this doesn’t mean that injuries to the upper body don’t occur.

This fall, Davis took a ball to the face and received 200 stitches from a plastic surgeon. “A few of weeks ago, I got a black eye from a girl head-butting me,” said Davis.

Shampton also has had her share of injuries. “I got a concussion my freshman year and I was out for a week,” she said. “When you get hit, it hurts.” In Shampton’s junior year alone, she was hit in the knee, cleated in the ankle, hit in the shin, and had to be carried off the field all three times.

Field hockey teams put 11 players on the field at a time, and they have to keep the ball out of the way of their feet. The defensive team gets a free hit when the ball touches someone’s foot and that slows the game down. They can’t afford to lose time (and a shot) to the other team. The goals are called cages, and they’re a little smaller than soccer goals. They also are more like a fence instead of a net.

Most people believe that field hockey has always been a women’s sport. “A lot of people believe that,” said Davis. However, it originated as a men’s sport. The second most popular sport in Europe is field hockey, while the first is soccer.  Field hockey’s not well-known in America, but it’s definitely a bigger deal in other countries.

Because field hockey is a team sport that moves quickly, the most important aspect of being a team player is the ability to recognize when an opportunity arises and to act on it. “Good communication skills are important,” said Baird. Team players must be able to see what’s happening around them and know what it takes to get a win.

Shampton said she believes in being a team player and helping out the other players as much as possible. “You have to be able to make best decisions for the team.”