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Archive for November 21, 2018

Nov. 21, 2018 — Is men’s field hockey in the United States being consumed from the inside?

About two months ago, a letter from a member of the U.S. men’s junior national field hockey team was shared with members of USA Field Hockey’s brass and board of directors. It was posted on social media a week ago.

The letter says a lot about the lack of strategic management of how young men are trained up to play at a high level of the game in the United States, and the level of dysfunction of men’s field hockey in the U.S. is laid open for all to see. Here is that letter:

… I am a long-time member of the USA Men’s Junior National Field Hockey team. I am writing this letter to bring to light some issues within the program that I and a number of other players have agreed are too significant to ignore. There are several other members of the JNT that have assisted me in writing this letter, however, they have chosen to remain anonymous due to a rational fear of retaliation from the coaching staff. First I’d like to bring attention to USA Field Hockey’s current mission statement. The elements of the statement are as follows:

  • Grow the Game by promoting and continuing to develop the sport for future generations to enjoy.
  • Serve Members by helping them achieve their field hockey ambition and creating value for continued membership.
  • Succeed Internationally with competitive success and enhanced performance programming.
  • Be an Effective Sport Leader by allocating its resources efficiently to Grow the Game, Serve Members and Succeed Internationally.

Our grievances begin at the fundamental level of communication between coaching staff and players. Many players, including myself, have been subject to a ludicrous lack of communication between ourselves and our coaching staff. Training session after training session we have been promised exclusive “one on one” meetings with the coaching staff to receive a more specific breakdown of our strengths and weaknesses on the field.

After almost 2 full years of player paid training as this team prepares for the 2020 Pan American Games, we have received no player-specific information of any kind. In addition to this, players who go out of their way to reach out to Rutger [Hauer, the team’s head coach] only get as far as his voicemail. The only players who are communicated with are those who are transitioning to the Men’s National Team. From our point of view, it is questionable whether or not the coaching staff is helping us achieve our field hockey ambitions and assisting us in developing our skills to become better players and, by extension, a better team.

In addition to this, the team chemistry has declined substantially as a result of the behaviors of the coaching staff. On the field, players as young as 15 years old are subjected to obscenities shouted at them, and this does nothing to guide or develop young players who have no other motivation to play field hockey than for the love of the game.

These mean and belittling comments are in direct contravention of the USOC SafeSport guidelines (which USA Field Hockey adheres to). During games, the coaching staff will punish those who make mistakes by benching them for the remainder of the match, and we receive no feedback or in-game opportunities to correct our mistakes.

However, not all players are treated this way. There are a select few who are given more breathing room and are communicated with on a level wildly disproportionate to the rest of the team. This only serves to split the team up and breed distrust and resentment towards other players and the coaching staff.

Lastly, I’d like to address what we have witnessed as a team in comparison to other national programs. We have had the opportunity to experience the team atmosphere around other successful national team programs throughout our time on the USAJNT.

For example, during the Three Nations Tournament that took place in May 2018, we had the opportunity to play against Japan and Ireland’s Junior National Teams. On the FIH world rankings they are ranked #16 and #10 respectively. After speaking with the members of Team Ireland and witnessing their and Japan’s demeanors around training and games, it became clearer that there are things we lack as a junior national team that we believe the coaching staff is responsible for: things such as communication, development of players, and creating a positive atmosphere to play hockey in are all on the list.

In our last series against Chile in August 2018, we had just lost a hard fought match 2-1. After the final whistle the members of our team and Team Chile came together to shake hands as usual after competition. Our head coach Rutger Wiese was so infuriated by the loss of a friendly match, that we were yelled at to come off the field and we were not allowed to shake hands with the Chileans. This blatant disregard for respect and sportsmanship from an international coach is frankly unacceptable and reflects badly on USA Field Hockey as a whole.

As young men playing field hockey in the USA, we want nothing more than a program that helps us maximize our playing potential, and allows us to enjoy playing the game at a high level. We’re hoping this letter can bring in a coaching staff that is willing to teach and develop players in a sport we are all passionate about.

After the sign-off block, the letter ends there.

Boys and young men have enough to worry about when it comes to the obstacles placed in their patch. Young men playing on scholastic teams are vilified for succeeding in their sport, such as what happened when Dennis-Yarmouth (Mass.) won the MIAA Division 1 field hockey title last weekend with two male players on the roster. No scholarships are available for male players in North America, and players often have to go live in Europe in order to pursue their national-team dream.

The last thing they need is resistance from the very sports federation that is tasked with helping them.