Let me preface the following by saying that I initially wanted to title this post #YOLO. Hashtag and all. I then realized I’m no longer fifteen. Nonetheless, in my typical habit of crazy ideas and impulsive ambition, the following is very much an example of me YOLOing it up. And it all started at the beginning of August when, way out of left field, I got the idea to e-mail the UBC varsity field hockey coach; a last ditch effort to accomplish a goal nearly a decade in the making.
It was by complete accident that I even started playing field hockey. It all began in high school, when I was coerced by a couple older students to join the team. They knew I played goalie in roller hockey and assumed the skills were transferrable. (For the record, this is similar to thinking that a shrimp and a shark swim the same way because they both live in the ocean.) Anyway, from high school play I realized that I really liked the game, so I started playing for a Surrey club when I was in grade 11. From there I joined a BC Regional U-18 squad, and although this was by no means an elite level of play, I started thinking about what it would take to play for a varsity team when I went to university.
I know many people will think differently but, to me, representing your university is a huge honour, second only to representing your country. So when I chose to go back east to Guelph, I got in touch with their field hockey coach right away. I knew Guelph had a pretty good program, and after seeing me play and practice in the spring, the coach was quite interested in having me join their squad. I trained over the summer and felt ready to join the team when I headed back there in September. But then something in my outlook and confidence changed. I can still remember standing in my dorm room on the phone with the coach telling her I didn’t want to play. I was worried about the time it would take away from school. And, being only seventeen and away from home and in my first year of post-secondary, I had no idea what to expect academically, much less athletically. This is honestly one of the only times in my life when I’ve been afraid of failing. And so I chose not to play.
By the time I was in my third year at Guelph, I felt comfortable with the requirements of university; I knew how to balance both my studies and my social life. It was at this time that I wondered if maybe I could give varsity field hockey another shot. To the coaches’ credit, they invited me out to one of the Gryphons’ practices, but combined with nerves and borrowed equipment that didn’t fit properly, I was totally uncomfortable both physically and mentally. I felt then that it just wasn’t meant to be.
I do not and have never believed in regret. I think that even if you look back on a decision that was made in the past, and feel like it was the wrong one, as long as you were confident in the choice you made when you made it, then that’s all that matters. And so, with the exception of that one practice in Guelph, I didn’t even pick up a field hockey stick for five years.
When I came back to Vancouver in the fall of 2011, I was persuaded to join a Division Three North Vancouver women’s team by a fellow Fisheries Centre employee. I was happy to get back on the pitch and although my teammates were all over age 50 (seriously), I had a great time playing around and making some hockey friends. From there I was asked to play on the Division Two team of the same club, which is where I found myself last year. Still, I felt that although I was playing at a slightly higher level, the outlook of the team was not overly competitive and I didn’t feel like I was being forced to play at my best.
This most recent chapter all started one afternoon at Thunderbird Arena when I was chatting with the ice hockey pro-shop guys. Somehow we ended up talking about varsity sports and they told me that every team offers an open tryout at the start of the season. So, with this knowledge at hand, the ultimate dream of representing my school flickered on the horizon once again. Unfortunately, when I told my North Van club coaches that I wanted to try out for the UBC varsity team, they weren’t too impressed and they basically told me I didn’t have a hope in hell. (Not quite so blunt, but this was the take home message.) So, partly out of spite but mostly because I thought they were wrong, I found myself e-mailing the UBC varsity coach a month ago, explaining a bit of my situation and asking if I might be able to meet with him.
Although it was my first time on a field since my MCL tear in February, I was fairly confident in my ability to stop a ball when I met with the team at the start of August. Well, without going into detail, I’ll just say that my first practice with the varsity girls was a complete failure. In fact, it was quite possibly the most embarrassing afternoon I have ever spent on a field hockey pitch. To add insult to injury, I was getting my ass kicked by kids who were barely old enough to remember the Spice Girls and who had never heard of Doritos 3D. I knew I had to step it up. Exponentially.
I know that the coach was surprised that I came back the following week; I’m pretty sure he never expected to see me again. But even from that one miserable practice, I realized that my biggest problem is that although I’ve learned how to save a shot, I was never properly taught how to do it. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Unless you’re involved in high level field hockey, there isn’t a lot of quality keeper coaching available, and while I’m pretty agile when need-be, most of what I’ve learned in net is simply to stop the ball at all costs, rather than control the play through proper positioning and technique. When no one corrects you, how do you know you’re doing it wrong? Enter, Yoda. Well, Bea. Bea is the current keeper for the varsity team, and she also plays for the Canadian national team. Although I anticipated being a bit intimidated by someone with her resumé, I quickly learned that Bea is incredibly sweet, and probably the most helpful person I could have had working with me. And in addition to the general quirkiness associated with keepers, we actually have a good deal in common off the pitch.
So, for the last three weeks, Bea has been helping me get better at actually being a keeper, rather than flailing around like a squid in the net. And with her help, I’ve been improving. Sure there have been some low points (namely the constant aches in every muscle of my body that appear to be immune to every form of Tylenol available, reminding me that I am no longer 21), but overall I know I’m much better than I was a few weeks ago. I know what I need to do now, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable doing it.
When we went away for a team pre-season retreat to Tofino last weekend, I felt like I had a sincere shot at being a backup for the squad. I knew I couldn’t handle being a starter, and anyway, that’s a privilege that Bea has earned and that I wouldn’t feel right taking even if I was good enough. But my goal going into tryouts was to make the team such that our coach would feel comfortable putting me in net if necessary. Maybe it’s stilly, but I really just hoped I would be able to start one CIS game as a varsity athlete.
Yesterday afternoon, the team was announced. And, I have officially made it as a ‘red shirt’. This means that I’m not on the official starting line-up, but that I am a practicing member of the team with the potential to play. This is typically a status used for young first-year players to keep their varsity eligibility but since that’s not really an issue for me, it’s more because our coach doesn’t think I’m quite ready to play for the Thunderbirds in their inter-university games. Still, he said that if I keep getting better, I will get some playing time in the Vancouver league this spring. And, while I know it’s probably a pretty decent accomplishment, to be honest, I’m a bit disappointed to have not made the official roster. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, because I’ve never played at this level and I didn’t even expect to just walk onto the team, but some part of me hoped that it could happen. Of course, if I keep improving, there is a possibility that I might get a game in as a Thunderbird this fall. I know this is a pretty slim chance, but it’s a great challenge and something I am going to work my hardest to accomplish.
Ultimately, I’ve already learned a lot from this experience. I’ve gained an incredible amount of respect for the girls I’ve been playing with, and I’ve had a fantastic time practicing at a more competitive level. I’m excited to be a part of the team and I’m looking forward to sharing in whatever ups and downs may come.
Please forgive the scarcity of pictures in this post. Unfortunately, the only shots of me playing keeper are from high school and too embarrassing to share publicly. Your understanding is much appreciated.