In the last few months, the world of sports has seen several world championships at the youth level. In early December, the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup took place. In late December and early January, the IIHF World Junior Championships were held in Canada. And in Chile, the FIH Junior World Cup was held.
In field hockey and lacrosse, age-group World Cups are held only every four years, meaning that there are a number of 17-year-olds (in field hockey) and 15-year-olds (in lacrosse) who completely miss out on the competition because of the accident of birth.
Of course, given the immense exposure afforded athletes at the junior levels in ice hockey and soccer, it’s a given that the organizers made their respective World Cups much more frequent. The World Junior Hockey Championships have been an annual event since 1977.
Because field hockey has only one junior field hockey World Cup every four years, this has led to announcements such as today’s by USA Field Hockey. Periodically, the United States has maintained a pool of players to train on their own or alongside the senior national side.
On the face of it, having a U-23, or “reserve,” or “developmental” team seems like a good idea. Many professional soccer clubs around the world maintain reserve teams, some of which play in lower divisions, but some of which play in a parallel competition alongside their reserve counterparts from other pro clubs in their country.
Unlike soccer, however, there are not many opportunities for U-23 or reserve national field hockey teams to meet regularly in timed, scored, and umpired games.
If I were in charge of FIL or FIH, I think a top opportunity for growth and exposure of the sport is having the primary age-group World Cup (U-19 for lacrosse, U-21 for field hockey) a biennial event.