The Astroturf

Small feet flexed delicately in neon-colored turf trainers that had been mine since a year ago. Time was spent practicing on drills and hits in my green uniformed skirts and shirts.

My back stretched languidly from the audience vision, flexing down towards my tiny feet. Then I stood up, stretched for the last time and tiptoed the carpeted "dense" floor. Dancing images occurred to me as I thought of those women dancing expertly on stilettos.

The verses above are from a poem that I had written when I was ten, in the year of 1999. I wanted to give a picture of what a kid growing up in Somerset, south west of England had been able to do as she hone her skills as a field hockey player. Underneath all the sweat, bravery, and tears as a ten year old, I learn to play a sport that not only I began to love but also hoped to see again as I came to the United States.

Field hockey is defined with instruments like solid-plastic spherical balls with circumferences of 8.8–9.3 inches and weighs 156–163 grams, and long sticks that ranges from 31-38 inches long. A novice player like a ten year old kid whose first time is in awe with the sport has a clumsy hold on a long 32 inches wooden stick. Nevertheless, the kid persevered with the training of a woman coach named Mrs. Manson. Mrs. Manson is another reason why she liked the sport more. She delicately allows the 10-year old girl to make more aggressive moves as she learned to hold a wooden stick and whack a rock-solid ball.

Simple enough for the mind to grasp at the first sign of a positive result, "I can whack that ball." Well, let us continue to the next task, whack the ball to x, another player who is ready to receive your ball. I remember as I continue to labor on acquiring knowledge of the game, I had become faster and more aggressive with my body. I tried a swinging hit. That was when I realized that my body was not ready to make a swinging hit. Like any novice player on the field, I was booed upon and the opponent team took my ball away from me.

Continuing the poem that I wrote at ten, the next verse gave way to this:

I thought that for once, I am comfortable enough to face my adversary. She jumps, she dives, and she spins so softly and delicately as one spins a rosy bud at the tip of one's fingers. Then the rosy bud withers down and opens up to reveal her delicate limbs, incandescent in the neon colors that were her second skin.

Field hockey rules are simple; formations of field players are the same as a regular soccer match with 11 or 7 players on each side depending on the field size. As a field player, I cannot wear equipments resembling the goalkeeper, no foot-to-ball contact during play, no high back swings like in golf, no third party involvement and no obstruction of opponents during play. The offense and midfield players have chances to hit, dribble, and possibly score, with minimal obstructions from the opponent team. However, as the opponent team, I have to get the ball back to my team as effectively as I could with minimal obstructions. I was proud that I was effective enough to be a midfield player, getting the ball to the offense players from the defense players is often challenging.

As a midfield player, I watched from afar, how a player takes on a swinging hit. I was in admiration that it was executed without anxiety or failing miserably. A player executing a swinging hit must stop running for a second, poise, and swing with absolute accuracy until you hear the thundering "whack!" and you knew the ball was hit with a powerful swing. With eyes that are not trained to follow such fast paced action, you could only cringe at the sight that such hits are taken at such close parameters from other players.

As I got back to Malaysia at 16 years of age, A friend once asked me this question as I reveled in a story of how field hockey found me in my early years in England;

Shafiqah Ismail asked, "When you were ten, what was the hardest and most aggressive move you have to make as a field hockey player?"

I answered, "Well. The swinging hit at top speed."

Rachel, Mrs. Manson's eldest daughter was two years ahead of me and she could make a really fast ball when she swung her stick. I thought I could do that someday, but then again I was not as fit as her in body weight and muscle mass.

For little girls to compare each other's body even in sports was indeed an issue. A common research of what constitutes as weight, height, and muscle mass quotient for any team sport took a regular beating in the selection of a team player. One study in field hockey suggests that although height was a flexible issue, there was a standard height measurement for an elite team.

With that being said, nothing stopped me from having valued the experience. After being based in Michigan where ice hockey is mostly the common sport, I was separated from field hockey that I so often neglect pursuing during my high school years. When I began to research for the sport I had expected nothing to come up in the Michigan area. I had welcomed a sense that no one appreciates field hockey more than I do and it was a passion for a sport that I knew so little about. Field Hockey is one of the least popular sports in the United States, an unalterable fact that I began to learn when I continued my studies here. The average collegiate field hockey player is mainly a woman and based solely in the south east region of North America. Arizona state universities has at least one team assembled and recognized by the federal hockey league and throughout the 19 century, when the sport was brought to North America, several tournaments are held in this region every year but only during the stretch of summer terms.

To become a member of a field hockey team, you must have an excitement for the fast paced game and no fear of danger. The recollection of cautions and warnings from parents flew out of the window the minute the stick is being placed on the synthetic field waiting for the first ball. Being a player for a team, is another way for me to release all my sufferings and burdens to the winds and let the adrenaline catch me. I have taught that to some of my players when they find that social norms distresses them.

Coaching is one thing that enables me to get to know my team players passion, issues and motivation. In my years of private school I coached on the sidelines during a recovery process from various injuries, but I dwelled on the issue of how support of parents, peers and other team players affect how a person plays the sport. I kept in mind how my father brought me back to field hockey, a sport that I had grown to love as an adolescent.

My father adores the art of field hockey, spent his leisure hours studying spectacular performances on the field. I happened to be the one enjoying the performances as of late because I had someone similar to me. A vision came to him one day when one of the high school players had lost her shin pads and garters. I volunteered and l searched for her lost equipment. She had lovely camel-colored shin pads that mold her calves. I looked at her feet adoringly as if I would own it. The woman was a young instructor and a shy player. Not for even a moment that I thought she would let me see her play. She decided to pull me on the cold ground that day and quickly decided that I was her only grownup student. My father was happy about the news and he gave me a new pair of equipment similar to what she owned. We quickly became twins on the girls' turf. Now, we reveled in the flexibility and the motion that carried us. We stretched our limbs over the floor. It didn't feel like the wind carried me, it was of my own hard earned effort that I can flex my body, as the speed of our own bodies no longer to be feared. We were learning to be a pair of wings flapping towards the same directions. Faster, sharper, turns, lean, pull, and stop.

In 1887, field hockey as a sport began to be taught in universities and schools in the U.K. Not long after that period, I remembered looking at dated pictures of older players with white uniforms standing in line for their photograph that hung gloriously at the back of the wall of fame of my private school. The earliest photos depicted were teams of women that pioneered the sport in 1890, 1893, 1898, etc. Their eyes burnt with aggressiveness, the hard look that you see sometimes of muscular athletes competing for their country. The solid mahogany wood frames mounted high on solid stained oak wall, pitches a dark and sooty atmosphere. The creaking steps I took to get closer to the frames made me aware that I wasn't supposed to walk in here with my mucky green sports uniform. I would be the last to change my uniform now, and the last to make way to class.

White women of England had their aggressive list of sports and games including field hockey and rounders, while the men had their polo and crickets. Nowadays, a field hockey enthusiast or a parent looking at equipment for field hockey could almost drown with the huge selection of equipment. Neon and contrasting colors was the way to go for the minimal equipments for field hockey. Even the synthetic fields are sometimes blue. I would then choose a neon pink ball to practice with, and my lovely pastel white and black stick. Looking at the websites and television for photographic journalism of field hockey in 80 countries around the world, the enthusiasts remain a quiet crowd; providing minimal details on how the game is played but more of the enthusiasm of fast paced team strategic actions with sticks.

At ten years of age, I managed to become involved with regional tournaments where I had dealt with our team's inadequacy and meeting people with different shapes and sizes. Though the whole idea was to access the team's skill and values, I can't help but recognize that losing was not my best adversary. I am a sore loser, something that has not faulted in my upbringing but should be better addressed by my coach. Perhaps I didn't understand what was said after the matches are done and the players meet again for practice. A characteristic of the girl in the poem that I wrote at ten was the effortless of not feeling the downfall of being the one to lose or not perfecting a technique. However, my father was there for me throughout my years in field hockey. He played a game with me and bought his own 36-inch stick. On the icy grounds of November, in the year 2000, we were happy to play such a game.

Stand up straight

do your trick.

Light up the crowd's spirit with your skill.

Bow your head, whistle a mark, and let the instructions carry you.

Push your nerves away, watch your touch, and watch the tip of your toes to the tip of your fingers.

We bend and never break.

My father never let me down as I began to be more aggressive with the game. Knee injuries, head and ankle injuries, cuts, and scrapes were always common in scientific journals and I had concussions as well. Nothing stopped me. What fired my passion as a player fired my skills too. I was always elected during the autumn semester. I never declined the offer of being a midfielder too.

Shining so bright you devoured my awe. You push so hard, you must have human limits. Till that cold world came crashing down, I will watch your every move my sweet.

So we're packing now. We have another competition to watch some other day.

Sometimes family are the ones we choose to spend time with.

We'll be driving now; saying goodbye was the hardest parting gift I had to live with.

Though your lessons proves worthwhile, I chose think of how you are going to win another competition another day.

Maybe you're too young to remember; perhaps I'm getting old and sentimental.

On this icy terrain, I drew circles and music notes that could be seen from the moon above.

You need to grow smart but speed is your key.

You should grow with the musical keys, but you refused such a thing.

So I drew the musical chords on the piano that I bought for you.

Funny thing, I thought you can never be safe on that cold ground. But you persevered. Guess you didn't learn it from me.

When we are together, I try to pretend you could just fly to heaven when you wish to. Then heaven would turn on the stars shaped like your moves, your twirls, and your daring eyes.

Stand up girl...

I want you to shine so bright when we are behind you.

My essay ended here. However, I continued my reporting of field hockey with the ease of a journalist working in the throes of constant action. My fire is lit, I am very much alive.