As we continue to grow the game of field hockey here in the Midwest, especially in Michigan, we’re also trying to grow the game for a group that’s seen little growth in our area. Specifically, we’re talking about the boys’ game.
Andrea Shaner, head of the Michigan State Chapter Boys committee, recently had a chance to talk with U.S. Men’s National Team player and current Indiana University Assistant Coach, Will Holt, about how field hockey has changed his life, giving back to a sport he loves and what it will take to expand the boys’ game.
Andrea: How did you get into field hockey?
Will: When I was in elementary school we did mini courses for two weeks a year. The only sport that was there was field hockey. At first I thought it was the most ridiculous sport. You hold a stick shaped like a candy cane, you’re only allowed to use one side of it, and it was a bit difficult. But, I’m a bit competitive and I don’t like to be bad at things, so I practiced a bunch and at the end of the two weeks the instructor saw potential in me. She then wanted to put me on a club team, which so happened to be in a county with one of the biggest men’s leagues in the country.
Andrea: Did you play any other sports growing up?
Will: My first love was basketball. I was on a travel team for basketball, I ran cross country and track, I played soccer and I started Karate.
Andrea: How did you know field hockey was right for you?
Will: After the first season of playing club, my parents said I had to choose a sport because they couldn’t keep driving me all over the place and hockey was one of the sports that I picked. A couple years after I started I got asked to participate in the trial for the Under 16 national team. I was 12 at the time. And when I realized playing on a national team was within sights of achieving, it was fun and I wanted to try more.
Andrea: Here in the United States we’re seeing growth in the boys’ game in California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Florida, how do you think we can expand this growth in the Midwest?
Will: That’s a great question. I think the one thing that needs to happen sooner than later is to create superstars for these boys to look up to. I looked up to Pat Harris, who’s probably one of the best Americans that have ever played the sport. I think if kids knew him and could see him play, they’d be like wow, I can do some pretty cool tricks with the hockey stick. Also, USA Field Hockey is trying to provide more opportunities for boys to play in some of their major tournaments and give them more resources to see the game being played.
Andrea: At the high school level, field hockey is a game almost exclusively played by young ladies, what advice would you give a boy who wants to play at a higher level?
Will: I think people need to be open minded and see that if you’re actually trying to grow the sport, then you can’t exclude 50% of the population. I would say to these boys, if you have the drive and you want to compete make it happen. There’s a lot of things you can do individually to train and these skills will help you build good characteristics and habits that are going to help you for the rest of your life. Also, if that means driving a couple hours to practice or play in a tournament and meeting up with other players for small games, then do it.
Andrea: In the Midwest, we’re starting to see college field hockey teams allow men to join as ‘practice players’. What are your thoughts on that?
Will: It does give them a different experience in regards to following an elite-level performance model. Being able to go and at least train and play in scrimmages helps a ton. I’m sure if a boy player went to one of the male coaches, coaching at the college level they would go out of their way to help. Lucas Piccioli at the University of Louisville, helped me out while I was a volunteer there. I asked him if he would do private sessions with me, and he went out when he had 45 minutes and we worked on different receptions.
Andrea: Not only have you played, you’re also coaching. What is it like to give back to a sport you love?
Will: I’m very grateful to the sport. Coaching the U21 men’s team and then U16 and U18, it was great seeing them have so much fun playing and challenging themselves. I enjoy helping them understand the sport in a different way. I love when something registers with them and it clicks for these athletes. I remember very distinctly some guys doing that for me and now I can do that for others.
Andrea: Any final thoughts?
Will: I would also say to the boys, go online and watch men’s hockey. If you see something they’re doing, go out and practice it. You can learn a lot by watching someone. Also, make your own opportunities, like you would with anything else. If it means traveling overseas, to get a different experience, don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. Plenty of guys have gone out of their way to pave the path for future athletes and we want to continue that.