Then, for just one day, we were introduced to hockey. Suddenly, this girl – who always tried hard but rarely excelled with physical activity – was actually displaying some kind of sporting skill! For the first time I felt comfortable using my body – it somehow felt natural to chase a ball around with a hooked stick – and I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling.
Hockey was the first organised physical activity I did out of choice. It taught me how to move, revealed what it felt like to be strong and, perhaps most importantly, showed what it meant to be part of a team. But after playing through secondary school and the first year of university, the novelty had worn off and my eyes began to wonder...lacrosse, cheerleading, canoeing...I guess that's where Eclectic Cake really began.
Last week, almost a decade later, I was invited to pick up a stick again to experience a Back to Hockey session. The initiative by England Hockey and sponsored by Berlei Sports Bras has been created for women who, like me, enjoyed playing hockey at some point in their lives but abandoned the sport as they found jobs, had children, generally ran out of time. The sessions, run over the summer, are designed as a refresher course where you can re-learn the basics and brush up on your stick skills without the pressure of league games to prepare for. All abilities are welcome. And don't worry about digging out your old stick from the loft, the equipment you need is provided (although you may want to bring your own mouth guard).
I was warmly welcomed to a session with Hampstead & Westminister Hockey Club at Paddington Recreation Ground by plenty of keen players (old and new) and the promise of post-training brownies (apparently something to look forward to at each session). After discovering I could still at least hold a stick, we started with simply passing the ball between us before moving on to some slightly more complicated drills. One in particular was just as challenging for the brain as it was for the body but this was perfect for getting agile enough for a mini game later – I'd forgotten how quickly you have to think and move.
Of course, the aim of the game is to score goals, so we tested ourselves against a goalkeeper made of cones. Although she wasn't a great mover, I've never been great at scoring and she certainly kept my balls away from glory. I was even less successful in scoring after we added a real-life defender. I did finally score. It may have been in an empty goal but the thump of the ball hitting the backboard was hugely satisfying.
Finally, we put our refreshed skills to the test in a 5-a-side game. I thought I was fairly fit before agreeing to play midfield in the quarter-pitch mini match but the short sharp bursts in different directions were far more draining than a long plod. It will do wonders for your fitness! I mostly chased after the ball like a loon but the few touches I got made me realise just how much I miss hockey. I shall definitely return...
Over 200 clubs across the country are running sessions from 28th April. Check out the England Hockey site here to find your local participating club.