At the US Olympic Committee's 100 Day Countdown event in Times Square this April, First Lady Michelle Obama joined U.S. Olympians, Paralympians, and Rio hopefuls to announce nationwide commitments to get nearly two million American children active as part of her Let's Move! initiative.
"We want our young people to be inspired by the amazing stories of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "And we don't just want our young people to watch these Olympic sports -- we want them to get active and try these sports out for themselves."
"That's why I am so thrilled to announce that the USOC and 16 of its national governing bodies will be providing opportunities for nearly two million kids across America to participate in Olympic sports right in their own communities."
To honor their pledge, USA Field Hockey committed to getting 20,000 more children involved with field hockey through the FUNdamental Field Hockey Program. The program aims to increase opportunities for low income and under-served children to participate.
"One of my favorite parts about my job is I'm in charge of the FUNdamental Field Hockey Grant which has partnered with Citi and Harrow Sports to provide more than 1,000 sets of equipment to schools, clubs and other multi-sport organizations across the country," stated Sally Goggin, National Development Director for USA Field Hockey.
Since 2012 US Field Hockey has given out over 1,000 FUNdamental packages according to the organization's website.
"Targeted kids aged 5-15, the FUNdamental kit includes field hockey sticks, sized to fit your program's age group, balls, cones, curriculum guide and a carrying bag. Anyone can apply," Googin continued. "We're also excited about our new coaches training program that we'll launch soon."
According to Sports & Fitness Industry Association's 2015 Trends in U.S. Team Sports Report (2009 to 2014), field hockey experienced a decline of -15.5 percent in participation figures among 6-17 year old students.
In the USOC's Quadrennial Census Summary and Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives released in 2013, USA Field Hockey launched Fundamental Field Hockey the previous year, stating its Fundamental Field Hockey had over 19,000 participants (11,500 girls and 7,500 boys).
"We try very hard to support all organizations -- members or not -- exposing the different levels of programs we offer. Our goal is for field hockey to be open to everyone, everywhere."
Listed under the five programs offered bu USA Field Hockey is the RISE Instructional Clinics initiative. Geared to continue to invigorate the love of the game in the novice player, RISE focuses on students 11 years and under and ensures quality coaching. The clinics are awarded to enthusiastic and emerging areas that apply.
The hosting organization is responsible for providing a head coach and three assistants that are all members of USA Field Hockey, along with an athletic trainer. They are paid directly by USA Field Hockey. Students interested in participating must pay $75 per person.
For the RISE clinic fee the student becomes a USA Field Hockey U-12 member, receives coaching instruction, a t-shirt and field hockey stick.
Because USA Field Hockey is committed to the on and off field safety and the welfare of its members, with top priority given to its athlete members, one of the existing programs is Safe Sport: It begins with you -- Education; Prevention; Protection, and Enforcement. Designed to help members of the sport community recognize, respond, and reduce misconduct in sport, the program seeks to create a healthy, supportive environment for all participants.
Coming soon is the registration for the Citi Red, White, Blue & YOU Clinics sponsored by Teamzila. The three hour clinic includes developmental skills and drills activities overseen by five U.S. Women's National Team players, a t-shirt and autograph for a fee of $100 per athlete.
USA Field Hockey offers camp owners promotional and talent identification opportunities through the Partner Camp Program. Through its Partner Camp Program, USA Field Hockey and its partner camp owners provide athletes and their parents access to a quality registry of summer hockey camps. Those afforded the opportunity to attend participate in promotional and talent identification activities that lead to being considered for the Futures Program, the Olympic Development Program for the sport.
"So many communities are becoming play deserts, but in wealthy communities, there is a wealth of resources," stated Obama during the Aspen Institute's 2016 Project Play Summit. "You can be in field hockey, or you can learn how to swim. There are aquatic centers and -- I've seen the difference. The disparities are amazing to me," the First Lady said.
"So are we saying that some kids are worthy of that investment and physical activity, and then there are millions of others who aren't? And what's the role that we as a society have for making sure that kids have equal access?" she asked.
RACE/ETHNICITY | CURRENT MEMBERS
American Indian or Alaskan Native | 48
Asian | 688
Black, not of Hispanic Origin | 228
Hispanic or Latino | 640
I choose not to respond | 2455
Mixed Race | 614
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander | 46
No Response | 2779
Other Race/Ethnicity | 138
White, not of Hispanic Origin | 17207
TOTAL | 24,843
USA Field Hockey Membership: Figures provided by Caitie Tornes, USA Field Hockey Membership Manager and SafeSport Representative on August 25, 2016.
Googin spoke of her outreach efforts currently underway, aimed at fulfilling the organization's committed to Let's Move! and getting 20,000 more children involved in the game. Relatively new to the position, but not to the game, Googin has her hands full.
"We're communicating with Girls in the Game in Chicago, an inner city after school girls program. I just shipped off shipped off a package to After School All Stars in Philadelphia. We support Eyekonz Field Hockey and Lacrosse in Philadelphia as well. I think we've given them three field hockey grants to promote their program. We've also collaborated with the Lancaster Boys and Girls Club. They've been to our Olympic team training facility to see our Olympic team play and be exposed to the sport," said Googin.
Introducing the sport of field hockey in communities long neglected by USA Field Hockey leadership, dating back decades, may be a bit challenging and daunting when one digs deeper. Of the five programs offered by USA Field Hockey, three of them are fee based.
Under the National Governing Body with 95 percent female membership, FUNdamental Field Hockey aimed to introduce more girls, ages 5-12, to the sport. The second demographic USA Field Hockey looked to address in 2013 was young women, ages 10-18, residing in urban or non-traditional communities.
Subsequently, the development initiative You Go Girl was created in an attempt to introduce the sport and teach life skills to young women in the inner cities. You Go Girl used NCAA student-athletes as coaches and mentors to not only teach field hockey, but also the values of nutrition, self- esteem and higher education.
"The goal was to have a balanced spread, both geographically and through all three divisions of NCAA field hockey," said former You Go Girl Program Manager, Simone Attles in 2013. "If we could have awarded 25 locations, we surely would have. But that is part of the excitement of year one, there's always room to grow."
Yo Go Girl no longer exists.
"Sports is becoming an economic meritocracy. Once, it was how athletic the kid was or how much effort they put in, but now it's economic," Darryl Hill wrote in The Atlantic.
President and founder of Kids Play USA Foundation, Hill and his organization are dedicated to remove financial barriers to participation in youth sports, including field hockey, through advocacy and providing financial assistance.
"We want to make it so any kid can play. I strongly, strongly oppose the notion that African Americans or low-income kids don't play because they don't like it. I think children will play any game in any sport, given an opportunity to play. They don't play because they can't afford to play."
"It's about access to resources, consistent engagement with a purpose, and accountability," stated Jazmine Smith. "Seeing USA Field Hockey compete at the Olympics was eye opening and inspiring. Having experiences of being on the front line advocating for these kids, conducting outreach, and engaging parents and stakeholders, I'm hopeful that we'll continue to expand our sphere of influence through sport," said the owner of Eyekonz Field Hockey and Lacrosse.
Goggin was eager to share that "every year with Futures we offer scholarships, they're available to those that don't have the means. This year we have the most scholarship money available to distribute than we've had in the past. The application runs through November."
With Congressionally mandated diversity requirements, Ted Steven's Act requires submission of a report to the United States President and each House of Congress that "contains data concerning the participation of women, disabled individuals, and racial and ethnic minorities in the amateur athletic activities and administration of the [United States Olympic Committee] and national governing bodies, and a description of the steps taken to encourage the participation of women, disabled individuals, and racial minorities in amateur athletic activities."
As a National Governing Body, NGB, under the auspice of the USOC, USA Field Hockey must comply with the Ted Stevens Act which establishes a legal framework for protecting the participation opportunities of Olympic sport athletes. To be eligible to be recognized by the USOC as the NGB for field hockey, USA Field Hockey must provide all amateur athletes with an equal opportunity to participate "without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin. It is USA Field Hockey's affirmative duty to encourage and support athletic participation opportunities for all.
"I would really love for everyone to know that field hockey is a sport for all, a sport for life. There are playing opportunities to get the ball rolling in all areas across the nation," said Goggin. "I was at the Aspen Institute's Project Play Summit in May and presented our school starter program. We're hoping to expose the game through this program and through relationships with municipalities and school districts like we have with Loudon Country in Virginia. We have 15 high schools we're preparing to engage."
Perhaps USA Field Hockey's school starter kit program is a step in the right direction. Maybe the FUNdamental program will be marketed better with the quality sponsors of USA Field Hockey. May the participation figures will dramatically improve in the coming years. Will there be support for those leaders like Imani Ferguson's Sistas with Stix in South New Jersey, Smith in Philadelphia and the organizations like Jewish Community Center and the YMCA Goggin mentioned. Will those financial barriers to entry be removed?
As the First Lady stated when addressing Goggin and those that attended the Project Play Summit, "are we saying that some kids are worthy of that investment and physical activity, and then there are millions of others who aren't?"
If USA Field Hockey wants to be inclusive and truly grow the game, there are "millions" of youth ready to be introduced.