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Hockey | Fitting out players| Different levels
September 2015

Kitting out different levels

of hockey players

The hockey market has undergone such changes over recent years that now, a high school player can easily be a beginner and a primary school pupil one with years’ of experience playing the sport. RHIANAH RHODE found out what the different product requirements are for school hockey players at different ages and levels and what retailers should pay attention to when recommending products

Hockey has undergone a transformation over the past few years with the game being introduced to first time players as young as five or six — but also older, high school players getting to know the game for the first time as hockey is sweeping into non-traditional school markets where learners didn’t have the opportunity to play in primary school.

This is especially happening in traditional Afrikaans schools where hockey is rapidly making gains on rugby as the winter sport for boys.

Level of play is therefore no longer related to an age group as 16 year olds may be just as clumsy with a stick as a six year old. But, a clumsy sixteen year old will be able to inflict much more damage than a six year old.

Therefore, because players will have different skill levels, the type of stick they use will differ in material, weight, size, etc. at different ages.

Sticks for beginners

Skill development and getting used to managing the stick are of key importance for beginners as they are still figuring out their abilities. They are also more affordable than composite sticks, which will appeal to parents who are not convinced that hockey will be their child’s chosen sport for many years to come.

Wood can be more forgiving and shock absorbent than composite materials and therefore it is the better option for young beginners who will not need the extra power generated by a composite hockey stick, says Nicola Ludlow of JRT Crampton, local distributor of Kookaburra.

Wood is also the least stiff material used in hockey sticks and it adds a degree of flexibility and forgiveness to compensate for lack of skills, agrees Patrick Franck of W.E.T. Sports, local distributor of Star, who believes entry level- or painted wooden sticks are great for learning the basic skills required to later play the game at a competitive level.

Therefore, a purely wooden stick with some benefits such as vibration dampening, cushioned grip, material wraps below the grip and under the sleeve that assist in dampening the shock and vibration on impact with the ball will assist young players at this level, explains Steve Gallienne of Brand ID, local distributor of Slazenger.

But, young players may have other ideas, cautions Charles Painter of Kevro, local distributor of Blackheath: “Even my kids playing at primary school level have composite sticks, same as 90% of their teammates.”

For the junior high school player who didn’t learn hockey skills at primary school, suppliers also recommend wood or more entry level composite sticks such as glass fibre, etc.

Beginner high school players should use longer wooden sticks, as required, and move on to glass fibre and graphite, as and when they can afford to and when they have developed the correct power and control, says Gallienne.

Recommending the correct size and weight are also most important at beginner level, adds Ludlow.

At beginner level one needs a stick that has a soft feel and a more conventional shape, which makes it easier to play with and master the basic skills of the game, says Shane Schonegevel of OBO SA, local distributor of Gryphon.

Beginners at primary and junior high school level should be offered a Maxi toe shape, which provides a large hood surface and long length for greater hitting and stopping, says Lauren McCleland of Orbit Sports Manufacturers, local distributor of Stormforce. A low bow provides better stick control and reduces lifts.

Hockey | Fitting out players| Different levels

High school player sticks

From high school upwards a player’s stick should be chosen on the basis of skill level, and what the priorities are, says Schonegevel. Players should really use composite sticks, which are much more durable and play much better than wood, he believes.

When recommending a stick for this player consider the power generated when hitting or slapping the ball. “This is dependent on the shaft stiffness and is main advantage you gain when moving up in a range of sticks,” Schonegevel advises. Another important feature to look at is the feel the stick generates when in contact with the ball. “Sticks with a harder feel are a bit more difficult to play with, especially for players with a lower skill level,” he says.

As high school level players’ strength and requirements for control, stiffness and power generation develops they should move onto graphite sticks, which have variable percentages of carbon, kevlar and glass fibre, says Gallienne.

A casual junior school player’s needs will be different to the player with aspirations of making the 1st team one day or aiming for provincial colours and his/her stick itself will have a different feel, flexibility, bow and weight to it, says Franck. He believes that most of the selection here will depend on personal preference, or the position you play.

Lastly, the shape of the stick is important to take into account. Sticks with a low bow (high point of the curve low down in the shaft) are useful at this level as they assist aerial skills.

In terms of the head shape of the stick, Schonegevel finds that modern players tend to prefer the new oversized head with a thin profile, which assists with general ball control and getting the stick’s head underneath the ball.

When fitting a stick for this level player, retailers should remember that the correct size and weight are most important, adds Ludlow.

First team/provincial level sticks

The content of carbon or graphite that will be required depends on the players’ skill level, style and position of play, say suppliers.

Carbon graphite sticks concentrate and improve performance through control and power generation, depending on the position and skill set required by the player, says Gallienne.

For more advanced players retailers should recommend a stick with high carbon content as it adds stiffness and power, but typically reduces stick weight, says McCleland. A stick made from this material will be less forgiving and therefore requires greater skill to manoeuvre.

When fitting a stick for this level player she would also recommend larger bows, which produce higher speeds from drag-flicks and offer more dynamic control. The stick weight for this level player should be determined by his/her position. Defence players usually favour heavier sticks for added power, whilst offense players will prefer a lighter stick for quick movement, she adds.

Although selection for this level player will mainly be based on personal preference, the stick’s stiffness, bow and head shape should be considered as well, adds Ludlow.

Measuring sticks

Players at school-level are from different age groups — from as young as six years old to U19 team players and because sticks are usually measured from the height of the hip bone, this will vary from player to player as two players on the same level may either be shorter or taller than one another.

There are different ways of measuring the correct stick for a player.

The Dutch method of measuring a stick to a player indicates that the player should hold the head of the stick under his armpit and the best suited size will end near the middle of his kneecap, says McCleland.

“For kids the stick can be around the hip height (when measured from the ground) as they are growing quickly and this size should cause no difficulty of use,” says Ludlow. For adults, on the other hand, a hockey stick should sit an inch or two below the hip bone when standing upright. The average adult hockey stick size would be about 37.5 inches, she says.

Hockey bags

The features the hockey bag requires will depend on the amount of gear the player wants to carry around, affordability, etc.

Generally, primary or junior high school players will require the least space and will usually only require a bag with capacity for one or two sticks, whereas a two to four stick capacity, which caters for personal belongings, will work better for a senior high school player, says Ludlow. Players at a higher level than this would require more space for equipment as the bag may be used for travel to matches and tournaments and therefore a bag that can hold more than four sticks would be best. Although bag selection will depend on the player’s needs, better players will normally have extra sticks, etc., says Schonegevel.

A combo type bag may be more desirable by competent school and club players, says Painter. He believes it offers enough space for equipment as well as apparel.

Goalie-specific products

Goalies at all levels will need a standard kit that includes a stick, kickers, pads, abdominal guard, padded shorts, chest guard, gloves, helmet, throat guard, hand protectors, leg guards and armguards, but senior and first team high school goalies should also invest in a neck guard and arm guards for ultimate protection, says McCleland.

Male and female keepers should also have box or groin protectors and pelvic guards, while junior and senior high school players would also benefit from body armour that will protect the shoulder and arm as well as the chest, says Schonegevel.

Safety accessories

With protective equipment, retailers need to ensure that fitments are personalised, says Gallienne, because one cannot sacrifice protection it is imperative that you gear up accordingly. Slazenger therefore offers retailers in store training on fitting their protective products to customers as part of their service all year round, he says.

Shin guards: “It is important to implement a rule that young players use shin guards from the very beginning of their hockey career,” says McCleland.

Shin guards should cover the shin and end just before the knee.

The shin guard should not impede your ability to run or make sudden changes of direction and therefore it should fit snugly and comfortably in your sock, cover your ankles and shin, says Franck.

Gloves are becoming more and more common at all levels of competition, says Ludlow. When fitting a junior or beginner’s glove, make sure it is comfortable and not bulky enough to limit hand movement on the stick. It will also only be used on the left hand, she says. When fitting a glove to any level player, he/she must be able to grip and control the stick with it on.

Hand gloves are a great benefit for players who need to protect their knuckles, adds McCleland.

While a glove is optional and dependent on the players preference it is recommended from high school upwards, says Schonegevel.

It is also useful when playing on astro turf, adds Franck.

Face masks: The use of masks are still rare at school level, but it will usually only be higher level team players who defend short corners that will ask for protective masks.

Protective eyewear: “To my knowledge it is only in the US where there are rules that require the use of eye protection,” says Ludlow. If a player is wearing eyewear, a retailer should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for fitting it and make sure his vision and comfort are not impeded on in any way, she says.

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