Sport can have many barriers — cost, transportation, equipment — but through the Vancouver Hawks School Program, elementary school-aged kids around Vancouver are learning field hockey barrier free.
The Vancouver Hawks had informally brought field hockey to schools in the past whenever they could. This would be in the form of an impromptu session and leveraging personal connections to get hockey into a PE class from time to time. With the support of the Community Sport for All Initiative, Hawks have been able to level-up their school programming.
According to the School Programs Manager, Stephanie Nesbitt, the secured funding allowed them to hire quality coaches, plan months in advance and get access to more schools than before. As a result, the 2022-2023 Schools Program was an incredible success.
“Overall, the kids just loved it,” Nesbitt said. “There’s no extra place they need to be, there’s no registration fee. It’s all right at school. Just making it accessible was huge. Every child has the opportunity to try field hockey.”
Nesbitt played field hockey at UBC and with the senior national team. Her career spanned from 2002 to 2010, when she retired with 105 international caps to her name. She said she’s been lucky to be surrounded by quality coaches and support to make this program work.
“Most of the coaches are current or past men’s and women’s national team players or UBC players,” Nesbitt said. “So, they’d talk about their experience with the kids too. Sometimes we’d even get to host an assembly where we did demos in front of the whole school. We’d bring kids up for dribbling or one on ones. It was really, really fun.”
Vancouver Hawks Schools Programs ran in 14 schools in Metro Vancouver. Photos/Provided.
The Hawks coaches would bring all the equipment and a lesson plan and work with each class at an elementary school during the PE blocks of the week. The instruction ranged from standard physical literacy for the younger groups to game play and more technical stuff with the older groups. The Hawks School Program successfully ran at 14 schools in Metro Vancouver and introduced field hockey to an estimated 6000 students between the age of five and 12. According to Nesbitt, the program was incredibly popular with kids, teachers and administrators alike.
“We couldn’t always really get to enough schools to make it into a full program. We would be in about three schools per year and usually ones that had a connection to field hockey,” she said. “But with the funding, we were able to actually target schools, more east side schools with less connection to field hockey. We went from about three schools per year to 14 schools in just this year. We were fully booked for every week that we could do.”
Looking forward, Nesbitt wants to continue the program and get hockey into even more schools in the Vancouver area. There is an appetite for sport-specific instructions as well as getting field hockey included in professional development days for teachers. Nesbitt is looking forward to the next steps.
“The fact that we were able to run this program with organized marketing and materials and resources and good coaching shows that we could continue to do this, that there is an appetite,” Nesbitt said. “We definitely want to continue. I’ve put together a schedule. And now it’s just about figuring out funding and those items. We want to keep it free for the school, because then it’s an especially easy ‘yes’ from their administration.”
From here, Nesbitt hopes they can continue to pursue introducing field hockey to elementary and even high schools. This first year was an overwhelming success and she anticipates more success in the future.
The Stick Together grant supports the creation or continuing progress of projects that specifically target these equity-deserving groups. Any one project can receive up to a maximum of $15,000 (depending on the total number of final applicants) to a total amount of $65,000 will be disbursed in year one of Stick Together.
In the fall of 2022, Field Hockey Canada, in conjunction with Canada Sport for All (CSAI), launched the Stick Together initiative. The Stick Together project seeks to remove barriers and increase sport participation rates for underrepresented groups in field hockey. Equity-deserving groups include Indigenous peoples, People of Colour, 2SLGBTQQIA+, people with low income and newcomers. The purpose of Stick Together is simple: to increase participation and retention in field hockey.