THE West Vancouver Field Hockey Club has taken on an interesting little project this fall: they're trying to change an entire continent's worth of preconceptions about their sport.
In September the club began the first ever session of the Wolves, a high performance program aimed specifically at elite boys. According to Steven Davis, the chairman of the club's boys' section, it's the first program of its kind in Canada.
The simple goal of the program is to give North Shore boys the ability to play the sport at a high level year-round, supplementing the short spring league season the club hosts every year.
"(It) moves field hockey from being a sport that they just do as a cross-training sport for soccer or ice hockey and is now allowing boys to make it their primary sport and to really get into it," said Davis.
The big-picture goal, however, is erasing a stigma that exists across North America that field hockey is a sport for girls only. It's a stigma that exists because of opportunity, optics and access, said Davis.
"Boys aren't exposed to the sport in high school, they only see girls playing it," he said. "So as a result they see it as a girls' sport. In order to change that perception we're going to start with the youngsters and as they grow we're going to grow the access to field hockey at all ages."
The stigma doesn't exist anywhere else in the world, said Davis, himself a former national team player who travelled overseas to play field hockey in semi-pro leagues in places like Holland, England and South Africa. There's a reason that the sport Wayne Gretzky played is called "ice hockey" while field hockey is known simply as "hockey" in most other countries around the world.
"When you leave Canada's shores you realize that ice hockey is really a very small sport and field hockey is a massive sport when you look at participation numbers and the number of countries that actually play it," said Davis. "When you go to Germany or Holland where they are Olympic or world champions and every boy has access to field hockey at the high school and club level, there is zero stigma around field hockey being a girls sport because boys and girls play it and some of their greatest national heroes in both countries are field hockey players."
Last week the Wolves completed their first 12-week training session - the plan is to hold three such sessions per year - with 43 boys in the 8-17 age range taking part. The next session is scheduled to begin in February and Davis said there are already more than 70 players signed up for that one. The program is taught by current and former Canadian national team players, including current team captain Scott Tupper.
"We kind of sat down and designed a program that takes the best elements from what is happening in some of these leading hockey nations and have put together a curriculum that allows local juniors to be training in the same training environment that they would if they were living in Europe or one of those other hockey countries," said Davis, adding the program will also include yearly trips to field hockey hotbeds around the world.
The West Van club is known for getting at least a handful of female players NCAA scholarships each year but there is also already a strong history of producing elite males. Since 1964, 11 men from the club have represented Canada at the Olympic Games. The Wolves program aims to expand on that history, said Davis.
"Wolves isn't about creating Olympians, necessarily, but it's about creating access. Through that, the players who want to take it more seriously will eventually rise to the top," he said, adding that the low profile the sport currently has in Canada actually is a benefit for players looking to reach the highest level.
"What are the chances you're going to go to the World Cup for soccer playing for Canada? It's very difficult," said Davis. "Whereas your access to potentially being an Olympian for field hockey is definitely within grasp if you're a talented athlete."
The Wolves are part of a larger strategy to get more boys playing the sport, said Davis, adding that the club is working to get boys field hockey introduced into North Shore elementary schools next fall with the long-term goal of getting the sport played at the high school level. The club's regular boys program has grown in recent years but with 300 players it still lags way behind the 1,800 girls who play every spring.
"Our goal for boys field hockey is to take that number and double it every year in the foreseeable future until we are looking at participation numbers that are rivaling the 1,800 girls that play at West Van," said Davis. "I don't know whether we'll ever get to be as big as the women's section but there's no reason why we can't continue this hyper growth that we've experienced over the last 18 months."
For more information on the club and its programs visit wvfhc.com.