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Aug. 13, 2017 — How to fix women’s field hockey in the United States

This afternoon, it took a pair of second-half goals for the U.S. women’s field hockey team to take the bronze medal at the Pan American Cup with a 2-1 win over Canada. The third-place finish at Spooky Nook was the worst showing for the American women in a continental qualifying tournament since 1991, when the States took bronze at the Pan American Games in Havana.

That’s hard to fathom, given the fact that the product on the field is basically the same team that won its World League semifinal a month ago in South Africa. It should be said that the States were, at times, unlucky in the Pan Am Cup, with chances that yielded yawning goal cages and with injuries befalling key team members.

While the United States has already qualified for the World League final later this year as well as the 2018 FIH World Cup, the result was costly when it comes to world rankings points. If the United States had beaten Chile last Friday, the States would have been guaranteed 700 points. However, playing in the bronze medal match only yields a maximum of 390 points. Such a drop would put the United States somewhere around seventh in world rankings, albeit we don’t know what the Applebees’ points haul will be at the World League final.

In recent years, the U.S. field hockey team has proven itself to be a regional and world powerhouse. But the results of this past week’s tournament shows that there is room for improvement when it comes to how the sport is administered and played nationwide.

Think of this: two of the Americans’ toughest games were against Canada, a nation which has barely a dozen collegiate programs and plays scholastic field hockey in only four provinces.

It is possible to right the ship. If two subtle moves are made, the field hockey culture could be improved significantly.

The first is to have a national professional league. If two pro women’s lacrosse leagues can be envisioned to come out of a girls’ and women’s lacrosse infrastructure that is dwarfed by that of field hockey, there is no excuse for there to not support a field hockey league.

Now, I’m not talking about the single-entity group of eight teams that play a single tournament at Spooky Nook in the summertime. I’m envisioning a trade league, one which has hockey-related sponsors whose players wear and/or use the actual product on the front of their jerseys. The products could be sticks (Dita, Harrow, STX), athletic wear (Under Armour, Nike), or sports drinks (Gatorade, Advocare). The league, like United Women’s Lacrosse, would be a movable feast, playing their games at the same location as summer tournaments and/or camps around the nation.

The second change is that USA Field Hockey should take charge of all U-21 (college) and U-17 (high school) competition with as much dispatch as it can. I’m not necessarily saying that there should be a water-based turf pitch at every high school and college in the United States, but there should be a push towards transforming the game to the way the rest of the world plays it.

There are plenty of reasons, and they go beyond the dreaded mandated goggles. I believe that there is no reason for young players to have to navigate three sets of rules in their developmental years, and having one rulebook would help in our nation’s development.

Also, I’d like to see college-level programs playing Test rules — that is, a team would have to declare a roster of 18 (16 outfielders, two goalkeepers) for use during a game. This would, I think, spread talent around the country and allow more colleges to adopt the sport instead of having a small number of teams with bloated rosters.

At the same time, sanctioning field hockey at colleges and schools could also give an opportunity to mandate men’s and boys’ programs. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be right away, but could be made into a goal to be attained within five to 10 years.

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