Leveling the Playing Field


Few sports are pigeonholed like field hockey. Most people think the game is played a) exclusively in the Northeastern United States and b) only by high school and college girls. So basically, it’s the female version of lacrosse, right?

Wrong. Exhibit A: the Bay Area Field Hockey Association, a San Francisco–based men’s club with five competing teams in the vicinity. Point being, field hockey isn’t just a sport for girls 22 and younger. If you’re a guy (or a woman older than 22, for that matter), you can most certainly participate. And if you’re looking to get into phenomenal cardiovascular shape, maybe you should.

“Field hockey is unique in that it requires a couple of different energy systems,” says Caroline Nichols, a member of the U.S. national field hockey team and participant in both the Beijing (2008) and London (2012) Olympics. “You actually spend a good amount of your time jogging, then you reach an upper-end sprint, but only for a couple of seconds at a time, and then you spend a decent amount of time walking in a recovery style. So it hits every single gate.”

Start Sprinting: To prepare yourself for the physical demands of a game, Nichols recommends HIIT-style running workouts in an open field. One basic routine she offers entails 10 seconds of all-out sprinting alternating with 10 seconds of rest for 10 to 12 intervals. Rest two to three minutes, then repeat for two more rounds. To mimic the start-and-stop and change-of-direction elements of field hockey, sprint 25 yards and back (“shuttle” style), then rest 10 seconds. 

Again sticking with the 1:1 work-to-rest ratio, another workout Nichols likes is running hard for three minutes (roughly 800 meters) and then resting for the same amount of time, five times through. You can do this workout on a track or a treadmill. 

Stay Low: “Another unique thing about field hockey is that the type of running you’re doing is most often bent over, so you’re running in more of a crouched or squatted position,” Nichols says. Because of this, she recommends doing medicine-ball “squat walks” in the gym. These involve holding the ball, squatting down as far as possible and walking for distance in this lowered position. Running “ladders” — 5 yards and back, 10 and back, 15 and back, up to 25 and back — is another way to train your body to stay low because making all those cuts forces you to. 

Get a Grip: Like soccer, field hockey demands a lot of your lower body. But handling the stick requires a high level of grip strength in addition to keen hand-eye coordination. “A lot of the training we do in the gym requires the stick, and we’ll even add extra weight, like a piece of rebar taped to the end of it,” Nichols says. “Most of our grip strength comes from the left hand, so we do a lot of left-hand grip work. And we do it with the stick because it’s a unique grip that you can’t really replicate with a dumbbell.”

Fully Equipped: To play a field hockey game, first you need a group to play with. USA Field Hockey’s website is a great place to start. Visit teamusa.org, choose “Field Hockey” under the sports menu, then, under the “Players” drop-down box, click on “Find a Club.” There, a map of the United States will direct you to existing clubs in your area for organized pickup games. 

You’ll also need some basic equipment: a stick, a ball, standard athletic apparel (shorts and a t-shirt), shoes (turf shoes or cleats, depending on whether you’ll be playing on turf or grass) and shinguards. AsicsAmerica.com is a good online store for clothes and shoes, and HarrowSports.com will have you covered on all sport-specific equipment. Next step? Start playing. 

“Field hockey can be a little frustrating when you first start,” Nichols says, “but if you just stick with it, you’re going to have that day when it’s going to click, and everything takes off from there. Once you really get the hang of it, field hockey is a truly rewarding sport.”