Back2Hockey by Kirstie McCrum

Back2Hockey1

Hockey for girls seems to be something that characterises their schooldays. My sister was captain of the B Team and it brought high social status at our school. Conversely, I spent my days hiding behind the bike sheds during Games and, as such, was something of an outcast.

What a lovely opportunity then, is afforded by Back2Hockey.

The scheme, currently being promoted by Hockey Wales, is a chance for women to get back into the sport that they loved in their youth - or even start from scratch, if, like me, you don't know your stick from your… err… ball.

Anyway, heading to the Cwmbran stadium, I met with Nick Suller, the coach who gets around 12-14 women running round the pitch every week.

Chatting with Nick and with the girls, my fears at being utterly inexperienced were allayed slightly. I attended week five of an eight week programme, but there were a couple of the other attendees who said that, before they came to Back2Hockey, they had never played.

Others had played in school but given up after that, with one saying she hadn't picked up a stick for 24 years.

I didn't care about being better than anyone, you understand, I just didn't want to shame myself.

Before the exercises started, I knocked the ball back and forth with a couple of the other girls.

Nick showed me how to position my hands on the stick - left at the top slightly turned, right lower down to give control - and I worked at sweeping the ball across the Astroturf to my fellow players.

When everyone had arrived, we did a few warm ups which did more to give me confidence, passing between players and working on both stopping the ball and sending it off again in an appropriate direction. I was starting to work up a bit of a sweat with the running around and could see how an actual game would be a workout and a half.

After getting the blood flowing a bit, we did some stretching and lunges, and then into a solo exercise - running with the ball and dribbling it through a series of 'gates', or sets of cones.

"Just keep the ball glued to the end of the stick," Nick advised, which would have been much easier with actual glue.

I got overexcited a number of times and my little ball went trickling off into the distance, so instead of going through a record number of gates, I pretty much just added to my pedometer steps for the day. But it was all cracking exercise.

Nick corrected my posture a couple of times - I found myself hunching over instead of squatting to the ball - and by the end I felt like I'd got it.

Sadly, all that confidence was pretty much shattered when it came to the final exercise. With three teams of three, we played an impromptu match - two teams on at any one time, goalscorers stay on and losers swap with those on the bench.

I must point out that it was on a reduced pitch, but I still didn't really get the hang of the intricacies, such as which goal were we aiming at. OK, that was a pretty rudimentary one, but in my defence, it changed every time someone swapped on!

During the game the floodlights came on and I had a real sense of the excitement of playing hockey, but the truth is, an hour wasn't really long enough to get to grips with it, and I sort of ended up hiding at the back which, when you're on a team of three, is quite an achievement in itself.

A cooldown later and the chat was just warming up. The ladies and Nick obviously have a fun relationship, and there was a lot of enthusiasm.

My apologies for perhaps slowing up the game - to put it kindly - were batted away, and they were all keen to ensure I'd be back the following week, which was heartening.

I felt like the team spirit of the sport was a real selling point, and the workout that I got from running around in the fresh air was much more enjoyable than pounding away along on a treadmill at the gym.

Sort of made me realise the camaraderie I'd been missing during my schooldays all those years ago.

Whether you want to try hockey for the first time or get back involved Back2Hockey is a great way to take part in a social and informal way, its great exercise and should involve plenty of laughs. Go to hockeywales.org.uk for more information.

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