I am a hockey player.
I often say that when describing myself. Like action chick, feminist mother or problem solver they are terms I use to define me.
I woke this morning and wondered why I did that – say hockey player that is. In my early morning reflections I realised it relates mostly to how I learnt to play the game.
I’m from Adelaide. A city planned by Colonel William Light that sits neatly within a single square mile surrounded by a ring of neat parklands before the burbs sprawl along its lengthy plains between coast and hills. In many of these parklands are playing fields of every type – from netball to French cricket, tennis to footy, horse racing to croquet and a few hockey fields.
In 1981 on the South side of the parklands were some hockey fields with one of those ugly small besser block buildings that act as a clubhouse and changerooms. This was the home ground for a team of older women called The Inlanders. I was aged 10, so my recollection is that they were in their 50’s and 60’s. Grey hair and varicose veins were abundant.
These women decided they would start a junior team to teach some youngsters hockey. This initiative wasn’t for their children or grandchildren it was simply just because.
I’m guessing now it was thought up over a few wines at the end of a game when they were possibly lamenting the lack of young women taking to the game. Girls were playing, but the traditional pathway into hockey tended to come from those attending private schools and large community clubs. Neither of which these women had anything to do with.
The exception, of course, was the country where sport is big, a social currency and everyone plays everything. And country towns and the Northern Territory is where these women hailed from – all country girls that arrived in Adelaide at some point. Somehow they found each other and created a team called The Inlanders to acknowledge their rural roots.
So being country women – the most serious group of ‘doers’ that exists – after the wine wore off they actually put a plan together and made it happen. Their flyer reached my local primary school. I’m not sure if I read it and asked to go, a friend suggested it or my parents thought it was a good idea somehow I ended up on an autumn day on a muddy hockey field being given a stick and instructions on what to do with it.
For me, it was love at first hit. I have played ever since – wherever I have lived, through several pregnancies, often going but always coming back – every time. It has helped me be fearless.
I played on boys’ teams in high school and got a broken nose to prove it. No injury has ever deterred me. I have stories of dislocations, fractures, bumps and bruises that I’m proud of.
I plan to play until I can’t stand anymore, I always have. It was the model I was given by those wonderful older women – it doesn’t matter how old you are, how fit you are or even if you can run. If you can wield a stick, you can play. (In modern times, with the shift from grass fields to synthetic turf, being able to run may actually be a necessity but part of me is in denial about that bit.)
I now realise how amazing my experience is – to naturally think that older women are active, sporty and belong on the field. So when I say ‘I’m a hockey player’ its meaning has everything yet nothing to do with the sport.
This season I got to ‘pass it forward’. I was given the opportunity to introduce and mentor a young woman to the sport. We skipped the whole junior sport thing and went straight to the senior game. Our club is called The Dolphins. She is a natural and has loved it.
I think The Inlanders would approve.