One of the greatest smells in the human smell bank. 7 am, the depths of winter, frost still on the ground. Shorts and shirt and a stick with no shock absorbers. I walk onto the hockey field naively unaware of the cold with a deep breath.
Freshly cut wet grass. It smells healthy. It smells natural. It was a smell synonymous with competition and a lack of improvement.
I played field hockey for 7 years. Starting when I was eleven with the dwarf version of the game – minkey. I was never good with my stick, fell over my feet a lot and had a lack of confidence in why I was even there. I remember one district competition that I somehow got into. I was playing left wing and not doing much of any consequence. Walking around as usual. Sort of watching the game but also sort of not. A mother on the side line yelled at me “what are you doing on the field mate? You don’t seem to be doing anything.” And I brazenly yelled back “I got a day off school!”
I didn’t know why I was there, I didn’t know my role on the field, and even if I did, I didn’t know how to be good at that role. This is how I played hockey. Aimlessly confused. I loved the finish of the game when I used to sit in the car with Dad and discuss what I did right and the positives of team sports. (I never saw my Dads competitive side until playing Scrabble one day with his brother at Christmas. He went out to instill in us teamwork, not competition)
Then the Cobras happened. The team was made up of 4 guys I had grown up with and 4 other friends who played representative hockey. Our uniform was just our school uniform – white and black. We didn’t have a coach and we would usually win games zero to double figures. I still didn’t know why I was there other than ‘knowing the right people’.
That was until one particular night. A bit of back story. Playing 4 years of hockey even when you’re no good teaches you about the game. Where you should be to get the ball, how hard you need to run, who to pass the ball to etc. So I was actually good at being in the right spot at the right time, I was relatively fit so I could run all game, but if I got the ball I would always get confused and stuff it up.
So we had won all 6 of our games so far and we walked on to the field to meet our regional rivals (whose coach would become our outdoor coach in the next season) They were down two players and we had four subs. So the decision was made that I would play for them because that wouldn’t affect our winning chances.
And then it happened.
Something snapped in me. A mixture of confidence and a little skill development I had never tapped into. And that night I was all over the field. My passes stuck, my defense stopped everything and I scored a goal. It shocked my team into silence. My team for the week still got thrashed but as we left the field my home team asked, “Jeremy why do you play good against us but not good for us?” some chuckles were had, but it was a good question. What happened?
I played well the rest of the season which we won undefeated. I may have scored once more, but it entered my head that if I confidently backed myself, my game improved.
Next outdoor season I walked on the field after fighting with my left wing counterpart (who I had fought for that position for three years) and realized I had been in the wrong spot on the field for 3 seasons. I wasn’t built for stick work and attacking. I was built for hooking up with the defense and getting the ball back to the forwards. Shocking Alistair as I gave him left wing I took up a defense position. I had found my place. Backing myself with confidence, being in the right place at the right time and during that season my coach taught me some amazing lessons, I became an amazing defense player. Teamed up with a man named Swifty who could hit a ball a kilometre away. I would stop balls, give them to him and he’d get it back to our forwards. Throw in a goalie that I would make many jokes with and add in my newly found encouraging yelling voice and I became the hockey puzzle piece I was designed to be.
Was I the best player on the field? Hells no. I would continue to ride the worst player award till I quit at 18 years old, blue hair and all. But I found my place.
On a hockey field, like most team sports, each member of the team has a position and role. When you watch under 6’s soccer, the game can be described as a bee hive. Every player on the field (except sometimes the goalies) just run around with the ball. Like a swarm. As they grow older they separate a little. Those that have a better shooting leg go forward. Those that can keep running all game usually flock to the middle and those who can stop the ball go to the back and the team learns to pass and use each other. Learning how to get around or over or past the other players on the field.
Each member of the team has a special relationship with the positions around them. They have a special language or set plays or default instincts that improve game play and the attacking and goal scoring possibilities of each team. The different combinations and flavours of team sports.
And managers will trade and train and buy and sell different players to get the flavour they want for the times they want, keeping some on the bench till half time. Others playing the whole game without breaking much of a sweat.
The team scores goals and cheer. The team gets a goal scored against them and the team regroups, sometimes apologizes and gets back to the business of winning. Each team has a colour or a mascot or a song or a way of celebrating. A history of strength and resilience or more so today a whole swagger of lies and sex scandals and drug dealing. Which are dealt swiftly through different means and channels.
Think about a community as a hockey team. We run a race towards a goal. And when you run you get better and train so that you can win. We get tired, we get frustrated, but we also win.
What position on the field are you?
What are the players that you link up with?
Who is coaching you through skills you need to learn and fitness you need to gain?
How do you celebrate your victories?