Like many, my school hockey career ended quicker than Usain Bolt high on Skittles. As a teenager I preferred a sport I could play indoors, in the warm, without hard sticks and mud-splattered thighs.
Back to Hockey is on a mission to dispel shudder-inducing memories of school hockey
Turns out England Hockey launched their annual Back To Hockey campaign with bitter hockey-phobes like me in mind. Running since 2011, this year’s campaign is on a mission to dispel shudder-inducing memories of school hockey. It’s out to prove that, without bawling teachers and tiny skirts in snowy weather, hockey is actually fun.
From 11 May-15 June 2015, Back To Hockey is offering fun, informal, coached hockey sessions across the country for people to go along and see if it's the sport for them. 2,500 people attended sessions last year and interest in the sport has boomed of late, thanks in part to the London 2012 Olympics.
Participation in hockey clubs is up 25% since the Games, and one of those inspired by Team GB was Kirsty Dailly, who now captains the (recently promoted) Ladies 5s Team at Chelmsford Hockey Club.
She explains what all the fuss is about...
What was your first experience of hockey?
"I played it in games lessons at school on bumpy grass and I remember it being cold and miserable. It was muddy and I hated those pleated skirts. Nothing about it appealed to me. As I got older I got into running and did the London marathon a couple of times, but I never thought about hockey again."
So what inspired you to get back into hockey?
"I watched it at the 2012 Olympics and it was nothing like the game I played at school. When I thought of hockey I pictured my squat, rugged PE teacher, who looked more like a rugby player, but this was completely different.
"It was fast and the players were slim and fit; they were athletes. So I followed some of the Great Britain hockey players on Twitter.
"A few months later, in October, GB player Dan Fox retweeted Chelmsford Hockey Club’s tweet about Back To Hockey sessions. So I replied, saying: ‘I’m 38, is it too late to get back into hockey?’ He said no and tweeted: ‘If you’re still playing by Christmas I’ll give you a stick.’"
And were you?
"Yes! I went along to the club and after the first session I was asked if I could play that Saturday. I’d never played a match before, let alone knew the rules, but they were so desperate for players that I gave it a go.
"Although we lost about 20-0 I left the pitch having had so much fun. I’ve been playing ever since. So in the New Year I tweeted Dan again and, true to his word, he sent me a stick!"
The low position of the game means you work on your core, trunk and upper leg strength and stability
Doesn’t it give you a bad back, all that leaning over all the time?
"You’re supposed to bend your legs when you run with the ball so you’re almost in a squat position. Initially it used to really hurt the day after a match, but the low position of the game means you work on your core, trunk and upper leg-strength and stability – so it’s great for toning your bum!"
What are the health benefits of hockey?
Hockey is great for improving your all-round fitness as it involves repeated sprints and constant changes of direction
"Hockey is great for improving your all-round fitness as it involves repeated sprints and constant changes of direction, which build your agility as well as endurance.
"Just exercising outdoors is really enjoyable, rather than being stuck in a gym. And it’s a real escape from the daily grind."
Any nasty injuries you’d care to share?
"I’ve taken a few hits on my thighs, but not bad ones. On the whole, people aren’t too aggressive and the main priority of the umpire is safety. I wear shin pads, and I’ve had a gum shield made, just to give me peace of mind."
What is it about hockey that gets you going?
A few years ago I would never have even considered hockey, now I’m an addict
"Running is great, but I find it can be a bit solitary. Hockey doesn’t feel like a workout because you’re just having a laugh with your mates.
"It’s great having matching kit and we’re always comparing our hockey sticks – everyone carries two or three sticks with them now, it’s like our hockey bling. A few years ago I would never have even considered hockey, now I’m an addict!"
Hockey tips for beginners, from St Albans and England Forward, Hannah Macleod
1. "It’s important to master how to hold a hockey stick correctly. Once you’ve mastered a soft right hand on the stick and how to turn it over in your hands you will be ready to refine your dribbling, hitting and tackling skills".
2. "You need to have good hand-eye coordination in hockey, so practising your ball skills – dribbling, hitting and tackling – as much as you can during the early stages of learning will definitely boost your ability."
3. "Get involved in a Back To Hockey session. The training sessions are ideal for those who have never played or who haven’t played in years as the coaches take you through the basic skills, and from this you can apply these to drills and small-sided match play."