Column: Behind the lines: It takes a real man to wear a kilt

Column: Behind the lines: It takes a real man to wear a kilt

It was me and 30 girls, all of us sweating and gasping for air. We were tired and worn out from the day. And boy, did my back hurt.

But dudes, it’s not at all what you think.

The ladies in question were the Northeastern field hockey team, the most successful team on campus for the past few seasons. I had the chance few guys get in America: the opportunity to strap on my shin guards and play field hockey. And I have to tell you – it was a ton of fun.

The players were in groups of two when I arrived late (it took a while to collect my old shin guards) warming up, passing back and forth. I began warming up amongst the semi-confused and wary looks of a few players and felt a twinge of remorse for invading their practice.

But I was wrong. Very wrong. They didn’t care that I was there. They were friendly from the get-go, and from the stretching to the drills, I felt welcome at their practice. I was hesitant at first to participate, and how could I not be; it was field hockey and I’m a dude. The two don’t mix in America.

But what I could understand was the team’s attitude: try hard and then try harder. After stretching, the team huddled and senior captain Whitney Shean discussed “second efforts” and keeping up the intensity.

It has been years since I practiced with a team and I was psyched, but unfortunately my only “second effort” would consist of making a fool of myself not once, but twice.

The team split into two drills, in which the players would spend about 25 minutes at each drill. Half the field was a five-on-five scrimmage, the other half a passing drill. If you’re jonesing for some seriously cool and fast sports action, walk by Sweeney Field during these drills. Field hockey is fast and dangerous, but also stresses precision, fundamentals, and (when the time calls for it) a little flash. The players whack at the little ball so hard that any contact between either stick or ball to your face could cause some serious damage (but field hockey players are tough – someone laughed when I asked about possible bone breakage). The passes need to be precise and shots need to be on target. Any sloppy play, I learned, and the ball will easily be turned over to the opponent.

But I was astounded by the play of these Huskies – fast and intense. They never give up on a play. And for the fans who appreciate a nice, fundamentally sound pass, they can just check out Shean, who multiple times attempted a between-the-legs shot with her back to the goal in the midst of four defenders.

After time elapsed and we had a short water break, everyone was divided into groups of three for separate drills. The first was a ball control drill, in which the coaches set up an obstacle course for the players to dribble through. It was more than a line of cones, however, as large blocks of wood were in the way to dribble over and not around. My turn came and I reluctantly dribbled around the wooden blocks (there’s no way I could get that ball in the air without hitting it 50 feet) around the cones and back to the line. I then learned from assistant coach Scott Smith that you can only use one side of a field hockey stick and I had used both.

A word on coach Smith – he’s cool. A Winnipeg, Canada native, he told me it was common there for boys to play field hockey. It’s only here, in the United States, that field hockey is a women’s sport. For all you failed athletes out there, next stop: U.S. Men’s Field Hockey team tryouts.

The other coaches, head coach Cheryl Murtagh and assistant coach Zowie Tucker, were as cool as Smith. Murtagh presides over practice like a professional, asking her players what could be better while pushing everyone to their potential. All the coaches had a sense of calm about them, but Tucker’s was most apparent. They were far from being aloof, but seemed to be an involved and caring coaching staff who wanted the best for their players.

But to make it in this sport you need to be fit, something I admittedly am not. This was most apparent during the next session: a full-field passing drill that involved, for me, a lot of running. This was my favorite drill despite the difficulties; I quickly got better at simple tasks. I learned to stop the ball with the entire stick, not just the club end of it. I also learned field hockey requires a lot of communication. The players were constantly screaming each other’s names to inform them of where they were. I also picked up my new favorite sports phrase: “Pass with love” was what one player said to the group, and they really meant it. I dug the heartfelt approach to pumping up a teammate, which I had never encountered as a guy.

At this point I needed a break – desperately. My back hurt, my mouth was dry, and my legs were so tired it felt they would give out, and I would come tumbling down like a clumsy giant. It turns out that I need to get better to avoid back pain, and when I asked a player about it, they told me that it’s the knees, not the back. Not only was field hockey hard for me at this point, but any advice the players were trying to give me was surely discarded, as the only thing on my mind was how to get water into my body.

There was more after the break, a short set of drills involving three offensive players and two defenders. I managed to play some more, but it wasn’t the water that allowed me to continue. It was the players, who were still shouting words of encouragement. I was a stranger to them and the game, but they believed I would contribute the same thing they do: my best. And if it’s that easy for them, it should be even easier for this campus to believe in them. They do their best at a sport that isn’t easy, and we should all support them for it.

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