It has always struck me as strange that alongside people who are not sports-orientated and are constantly searching for ways to avoid participating in any sports, there exists a completely different breed: the sports fanatics. They describe themselves as "mighty hunters of sheer tension, excitement and emotion." And among these so-called "mighty hunters" are those who see field hockey not only as a mere game, but a lifestyle.
Sadly enough, a lot of people totally underestimate the skills required to play field hockey - it ranks up there with reading the Dead Sea Scrolls. The amazing popularity of this sport has many grounds, and one is absolutely undeniable: It's a tense drama, in which some regard scoring the winning goal as one of the defining moments of their whole lives. Perhaps the lure of this game is that it offers you a one-shot chance to be either a champ or a flop.
Field hockey culture has taken a while to catch on here in Moscow. There's a good hockey field in Sokolniki that works on a "match-by-match" basis - it can be rented per game. Every Saturday at 2:30 p.m., a group of Americans, Austrians, Dutch, Chinese and some Russians meet at the Spartak Indoor Stadium to boost their adrenaline in a friendly hockey game which lasts 70 minutes and consists of 22 players organized into even teams of 11. Each player pays 250 rubles to play, a sum that includes complimentary cold beers.
If you are new to the game and yet uninitiated in the intricacies of the rules, just go and get the feeling of watching the impossible happen. The key to increasing the intensity in field hockey is to get involved. Veterans who play field hockey at the top level say it's the kind of sport where there is always another skill to master, and that can be achieved in lots of different competitive ways.
The game involves two teams opposing each other and attempting to get a small solid plastic ball into one of the goals at either end of a 100-meter field. They hit the balls using a stick made of wood, which has been reinforced with plastic, carbon fiber, fiberglass and other kinds of solid stuff to help you hit the ball harder. The stick is costly and could be an entry on a wish list of things to buy.
My theory is that if you part with a substantial amount of cash, you're also buying into the sense factor: Who, let's face it, is going to spend $200 on a stick and then leave it to get dusty in a dark attic? The truth is, however, a hockey player's favorite tool is not his magic stick but his quick thinking the field. According to Alexander Leikin, the field hockey coach at Sokolniki, it's a sport with a high mental and physical impact, much like ice hockey or basketball.
It's a game with lots of action and short sprints, so make sure you have sneakers with cushioned insoles and are a flexible, agile person. "When playing field hockey, you shouldn't act like a babe in the woods, but like a wolf in the woods, and even if you get punched to the ground, morally you can still win," Coach Leikin insists.
Field hockey rules tend to be quite complicated. There are rules concerning the time you are allowed to lift the ball off the ground, rules concerning obstructing people and running into them, concerning the part of the stick you can use and also kicking the ball. There are rules about how you treat other players on the field. And don't question the umpire, whose decisions and arguments are cast-iron - your disobedience could earn you a penalty card.
You'll soon realize there are certain things that are forgivable to an amateur that will not fly with a professional player. If you have to make a split-second choice whether to attack your opponent, remember that the person you are going to insult has three feet of reinforced wood at his disposal.
Field Hockey Club
Spartak Indoor Stadium
3 Oleiny Val, Bldg. 3
Tel: Call Vineet Arora at 208-6995/7335
Brateyevo Sports Complex
20 Borisovskiye Prudy Ul., Bldg. 3
CSKA Sports Complex
39a Leningradsky Prospekt
Krylya Sovetov Sports Palace
24a Leningradsky Prospekt
Metro: Belorusskaya, Dynamo
Circus On Tsvetnoi Bulvar
13 Tsvetnoi Blvd.
Metro: Tsvetnoi Bulvar
Moskvich Ice Palace
46 Volgogradsky Prospekt
Dynamo Sports Complex
31 Lavochkina Ul.
Metro: Rechnoi Vokzal
36 Leningradsky Prospekt
4 Vostochnaya Ul.
125a Bol. Cherkizovskaya Ul.