If a national survey was carried out today questioning the public about hockey, the vast proportion of people would probably agree that it is a girls sport. This stereotype is highly misconceived and based only on the fact that traditionally in most English schools it is the girls that will play hockey, while the boys play rugby or football. In my opinion, there are two faults with this stereotype; firstly, it is simply not true, and secondly, being labelled a “girls’” sport suggests that it is a sport unworthy of serious consideration.
Hockey, believe it or not, is incredibly similar to other team field sports, a fact I know to be true after playing hockey and football for many years, with the odd excursion into rugby. It requires a high level of fitness and agility, like other sports, but these traits have to be expressed whilst balancing and controlling a small ball on the end of a thin stick, making it a more skilful and disciplined sport than most. In fact, due to the new artificial Astroturf pitches, hockey can make football look pedestrian in terms of the speed of the match, which is also facilitated by, given the right persuasion, the speed and distance a hockey ball will travel; a distance much further than any football or rugby ball will go. Though like other team field sports, each player on the pitch still specialises in their certain positions, in hockey the whole team is expected to be able to tackle, pass, shoot or even produce some silky skill to beat a player or 2 anywhere on the pitch, and requires rounded players. In football and rugby, players (up to a certain level) are able to easily get away with simply being able to demonstrate a single aspect of the sport well, whilst not doing much else to help the side.
I can already hear the footballers and rugby players muttering to those around them now: “there is no contact in hockey, how can it not be a girls sport?” To some extent this is true, deliberate contact in hockey will result in the player getting carded. But just because the rules state this, it by no means cuts it out of the sport. I struggle to remember the last game I didn’t walk off the pitch bleeding after being wiped out by some disgruntled player, or even by being hit with the stick or ball accidentally (something I challenge any “manly” footballer to take and say doesn’t hurt). I am not trying to say that it is a highly lethal sport and, don’t get me wrong, it is safer than ice hockey or Gaelic football for instance, but from personal experience the damage and risk I have seen people take from hockey has been far greater than that of football. For instance, standing on the post in short corners, something I have experienced firsthand involves wearing a plastic mask that may as well be from the Halloween section in Poundland. Standing while someone flicks the ball at the area of the goal around your head, a situation likely to occur several times a game, is potentially severely harmful and much more dangerous than anything likely to occur in a typical football match.
Unknown to most, hockey is the second most played sport in the world, and in many Asian countries such as India it is in fact their national sport and has a vast history behind it. In Egypt, 4,000-year-old drawings showing a form of hockey being played have been discovered, compared to the mere centuries-old football. This insinuates that this “girls’ sport” stereotype held only by the British, where what I would call true knowledge of hockey is limited to only those who play and follow it. The general public rarely get the opportunity to see hockey, normally just every four years when the Olympics come about and even then due to the lack of publicity, few choose to watch it. Those who do however, I believe are often quite surprised and taken aback by the sheer speed, skill and danger involved with this “girls’ sport”.
I suppose it is the same old story of judging a book by its cover; the cover showing a few girls hitting a ball to each other with some wooden sticks, but the inside revealing an epic battle of 22 people running around with carbon reinforced weapons trying to hit a solid plastic ball, up to and pushing over 100mph, into two goals with a few rules thrown in, what is “girly” about that?