22nd June 2017.
For children and adults alike, field hockey is a fun, exciting, and physically demanding sport. As a game with small periods of inactivity punctuated by rapid bursts, it's not unlike football or even its cousin, ice hockey, in some respects. However, field hockey is a unique pastime, and it brings with it many similarly unique challenges. Whether you enjoy playing the game yourself or you have a child who wants to practice the sport, you'll always need to start with the basics: equipment. The good news is that unless you intend to play the goalie, there isn't much special gear you need.
You will need a stick, though ? and that's the most important part. A professional field hockey player can feel as though the stick is merely an extension of their body. Anyone who has watched a practised drag flick or a goal scored with finesse knows that good stick control is essential. With the wrong stick, you can feel awkward or even unable to control the ball. So, what should you look for next time you head to the athletics store? Let's break down the various components of the field hockey stick and discuss what you should know. By the end, you should have a good sense of which stick will be right for you.
Know the jargon before you go shopping
Before we start, do you understand the names of the various parts of the stick? There can be a lot of technical terminology thrown around, especially by veteran players. A quick refresher on what's what can help you understand what to look for as we discuss sticks. For example, the wrapped upper portion of the stick is often called the grip or handle by players. It can also be called the shaft, however, and shaft length
is critical for how much control you have on the stick.
The bottom of the stick is known collectively as the "head," while the portion between it and the shaft is called the "bend." The name comes from the fact that every field hockey stick features a slight natural curve in this section. Next, comes the "heel," which is where the stick stops being straight and begins to curve upward sharply. This angle is relatively standard across all sticks. However, the curved protrusion called the "toe" is where things can change.
Toes can be short or long, and it all depends on the type of player you are. We'll touch on those more in a moment. Behind the toe is the scoop, a small groove used to catch and handle the ball with greater ease. Knowing what each part is and what it does helps focus your attention when choosing a stick. As you begin to look, the first thing you'll notice is a difference in available materials. Which one is best?
What material is best for your level of play?
There are three main types of material used in field hockey sticks: wood, reinforced fibreglass, and a modern composite material. The latter two are the most common, especially in competitive play. Wooden sticks offer a more traditional feel, but you wouldn?t often use them outside of friendly games or practise. Why? The high-impact nature of some field hockey shots can put enormous stress on the material.
Wood, as strong as it can be, often splinters or even breaks under these stresses. As a result, it's only suitable for very young players and beginners ? those who won't strike hard enough to break a stick. It's ideal for developing the initial sense of how to move and control the ball. So, what about fibreglass? This lightweight material makes for sticks which are quite easy to handle. They infrequently break, so they are a good long-term choice.
Most players will want to choose a fibreglass stick. Not only is it the most common in competition, but it is often the most affordable as well. As you might expect, composite sticks are more expensive. They contain fibreglass, carbon fibre, and often a material like Kevlar for strength. Varying the composition of the material can deliver a lighter or more flexible stick. Added flexibility means a larger bend, which in turn makes it easier to achieve lifted shots.
Some players prefer a very rigid and hard stick instead, which delivers expanded power and keeps the ball closer to the ground. The weight can also vary; you may not always want a lightweight stick. If you like to defend, choose a heavier stick to conserve momentum for blocks. Due to the expense, composite sticks often aren't ideal for casual players. They do offer an excellent choice for players who are particular about how the stick handles, though.
Determining stick length: a simple test
Besides choosing the material best for you, you'll also need a stick of the appropriate length. If your stick is too long, controlling it will be awkward; too short and you won't have enough reach to make plays. How do you find a happy middle ground? There are a few methods you can try. We suggest using both when you are shopping for a stick
. A thorough approach will ensure you choose the most comfortable stick.
After selecting a stick that interests you, place the heel on the ground. Then place your fingers on the very top of the shaft to hold it in place next to your body. When you do this, the top of the stick should be roughly even with your hips. You can choose to go slightly shorter or longer based on personal taste. If this seems like a good fit, pick it up and flip it around. Tuck the head of the stick under your arm, as you would do with a pair of crutches. Look to see where the end of the stick is now.
If it is a proper size, the shaft should end somewhere near your knee. Do not let the stick extend more than a few inches past the bottom of your kneecap; this indicates a stick that is too long. It should also not rise above the mid-line of the kneecap. By following these two methods, you can guarantee you never end up with a stick that's not the perfect size for your body.
Choosing a stick based on your position
The final major component to consider in a stick is the toe design, which is where the most variation occurs. Toes range from very short protrusions off the heel to much larger J-like shapes. The type of toe you want your stick to possess will depend almost solely on the position you play. What are the different toe styles?
First: the "shorti." As the name indicates, this stick has a very short toe. That makes it easy to flip the stick back and forth and to handle the ball very rapidly. This sort of fine control is valuable to offensive players such as aggressive forwards. If you're a beginner, steer clear; it can be tough to learn ball control if you begin with a shorti.
The "midi" is naturally next in line. Midfielders favour this stick because it offers a balance between quick movements and a larger control surface, making stopping and catching the ball on the stick less difficult. For team players who do a lot of passing, this is the ideal stick. Beginners will thrive with a midi too.
The "maxi" is the last most common style. Goalies and other defensive players favour the maxi due to the very large toe. It's perfect for stopping a ball that's about to score or for stealing the ball from an offensive player. Some toes exceed this size, but these are rarer and less useful for regular play. With so much variation, you might find just one stick isn't enough!
Experiment, and discover the stick that suits you
Many matters surrounding choosing a field hockey stick will come down to personal preference. Once you know the length of stick most appropriate for your body, you can begin experimenting with other styles. Perhaps you even enjoy a slightly longer or shorter stick than the normal tests might indicate. Don't worry ? as long as you feel capable and comfortable on the field, that's all that matters. Maybe you'll even become adept with several different styles of stick as you refine your gameplay. Whether it's a friendly or competitive game, your success depends on your stick. Keep these tips and tricks in mind next time you shop for athletic gear.