Although this sport may be hundreds of years old, it first came to the United States early in the 20th century. It started out in women's schools colleges, but youth field hockey is now played by girls and boys in schools and clubs all over the country. It has soccer's hustle with the twist of a curved wooden stick used to control a small ball as it hurtles down the field.
The basics: Field hockey is most commonly played outdoors, on a turf field, although it can be played indoors with some modifications (a smaller field, sideboards, and a prohibition against aerial passes). In youth field hockey, two teams of 11 players each use a hockey stick to shoot a small, hard plastic ball into a goal. A goalie protects the goal and players advance the ball by dribbling and passing it with the flat side of their stick. Players may not use any part of their body to touch the ball and they may not block the ball from other players with their bodies or sticks.
Age kids can start: As early as kindergarten, for some developmental programs. More competitive play usually begins in middle school.
Skills needed/used: Endurance, agility, stick handling, team play.
Best for kids who are: High energy, with good hand-eye coordination.
Season/when played: Traditionally, in the fall, but many teams have spring and fall seasons, and/or play indoor field hockey year-round too.
Team or individual? Team. Field hockey was introduced and popularized in the U.S. as a women's sport, and is still usually perceived as such. But men and boys can and do play, and men's field hockey is popular outside the U.S.
Levels: Some school districts, parks and rec departments, and field hockey clubs have teams for elementary-school children, typically grouped by age. These are generally designed to teach skills; games are small-sided and low-pressure. Many middle schools, high schools, and colleges also sponsor teams. U.S.A. Field Hockey sends a men's and a women's team to the Summer Olympic Games, and also sponsors a selective talent development program called Futures, which has levels for kids under 14, under 16, and under 19.
Appropriate for kids with special needs: Field hockey programs dedicated to kids with developmental and/or physical disabilities are difficult to find. If your child is interested in youth field hockey, she may need to join a mainstream team. Or ask her therapists and teachers if they have any suggestions.
Fitness factor: High, since players are in almost constant motion and must use upper body, lower body, and trunk to power and coordinate their movements.
Equipment: Your youth field hockey player will need a stick (outdoor or indoor version, as appropriate); shoes/cleats; shin guards; protective eyewear; and a mouthguard. Goalies must have a helmet, leg pads, chest and throat protectors, and gloves or hand protectors.
Costs: Around $100 for a short season or series of lessons for younger children. You'll pay more for older kids (on club, not school teams) and travel teams. You may need to supply a field hockey stick, which can start at about $20 for a beginner and rise all the way into the hundreds of dollars.
Time commitment required: In kids' leagues, usually about one hour a week. Older or more elite players will spend more time in weekly practices and may travel regionally for games or tournaments.
Potential for injury: Fairly high. Although women's and youth field hockey is a non-contact sport, injuries can still result from collisions with other players, sticks, the ground, and the ball. Most common injuries include hand and finger fractures, facial injuries (usually, but not always, minor), ankle and knee injuries, and concussions. As always, wearing the proper safety equipment can help protect players. You can get a tip sheet on preventing field hockey injuries from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.
How to find a program: Check your parks and rec department, or try: