The United States has seen a significant boom in the number of Americans who play hockey, or as they call it, field hockey. According to statistica.com, over 1.5 million people now participate in the sport, which is a figure that has nearly doubled from polls taken ten years ago. But this increase didn’t happen on its own; rather, the national field hockey program has been implementing creative initiatives to get young athletes active and engaged with the sport!
For example, last year, USA Field Hockey pledged to involve 20,000 youths with field hockey through the FUNdemental Field Hockey Program, which works to increase athletic opportunities for low-income and underserved children. National Development Director for USA Field Hockey Sally Goggin was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying, “We try very hard to support all organizations — members or not — exposing the different levels of programs we offer. Our goal is for field hockey to be open to everyone, everywhere.” Previously, field hockey in America was stereotypically a sport played by upper-class, East Coast Americans. Now, it’s spreading quickly throughout the country, making its way to Texas, Colorado, and all the throughout the west. This, among countless other game-growing initiatives, has sparked the fire for hockey in the United States.
Plus, in recent years the Women’s National Team has been experiencing some great progress gaining worldwide attention. Flashback to the 2012 Olympics in London, the women’s hockey squad took last place. Four years later in 2016, Team USA fought hard in the bronze medal match in Rio. The global hype around the team during the Olympics was exciting. Supporters started rallying and the media took notice. For example, this article was featured in “8 reasons to get behind Team USA Field hockey.” Credited for the many of the strides taken during these four years was Head Coach Craig Farnham of England, whom was brought in following the Games in London and was awarded National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2016. Parnham, who is a two-time Olympian himself, was joined by Assistant Coach was Janneke Schopman, who has a Silver and Gold Medal from her Olympic games while representing Holland. This coaching team brought a great deal of international experience to the USA Field Hockey Program. Schopman was named Head Coach last year after Parnham stepped down, and there she remains, currently doing all in her power to best prepare her team for international competition.
The hockey program has improved to say the least, and now American players and coaches are putting in the work to be a true powerhouse come the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. And this isn’t just true for the American women! The men’s hockey program is also finding success; they have been moving up in the world rankings, and are identified as an international ranking “climber” by fij.com. This past week, they’ve won the bronze medal in World League Round 2 in Trinidad and Tobago!
One of the key pieces to sustaining this success is through introducing the new U.S. Development Team. Previously, there were two levels at which players could pursue competitive hockey: at the college NCAA level, and then with the U.S. National Team. This left what Rio Captain Rachel Dawson called a significant gap in the USA hockey program. Most of the country’s that are considered hockey powerhouses already have established development teams, and now Team USA is following suit! So to Australia, England, Holland, New Zealand, Argentina…the Stars and Stripes are coming for you! Click the video below and hear more from Rachel, who with 298 international caps, knows better than anyone the steps necessary to be game-ready on a global scale.
And no one is more passionate about the mission of the Development Team than Head Coach Jun Kentwell. This is the first year that the development team has been competing, so it is an exciting time for Jun and the development squad to shape just how their team will function. They are figuring out just how best to prepare themselves to challenge the current national team players, elevating the competition, and heightening the performance necessary to represent Team USA.
Jun has a rich history in hockey; she was selected to play for the senior National Team in China, her home country, when she was just 17 years old. Following her playing career, Jun began developing other players into being the best athletes possible, primarily through a large club in PA, called WC Eagles, and through coaching the USA Indoor Squad. Now as the Head Coach for the U.S. Development Team, Jun recognizes this program as giving American hockey players an opportunity to grow that was not available before. Click the next video to hear more from Jun as she highlights the importance of the work being done with the U.S. Development Team.
It is quite clear that the United States is all in for global hockey. The sport’s popularity is on the rise domestically, which only means even more efforts are being focused on developing the national squads that represent the U.S. across the world. America has its’ sights set on Tokyo 2020, and players and coaches are grinding to make their mark on the international stage. Time to start the countdown for the next Olympic Games!
Thank you to Rachel and Jun for sharing their insights on the U.S. hockey development program! The LEAP team is excited to continue to assist with fostering the growth of hockey by connecting players with countless opportunities available to play. To stay up to date with more USA Hockey developments, and to learn more about taking your own LEAP, connect with us a LEAP Worldwide. Click below and become a part of the always growing international community!
Feature image: Dario Lopez-Mills