The field hockey program at Little Flower Academy is one of the biggest in B.C. The teenage girls at the private Catholic school play on bantam and junior teams and when they reach the senior grades, can try-out for the competitive A team or play recreationally on the B team.
We started as one team in 1987 and 10 years later, we had 10, said Ali McGillivray, who founded the Little Flower field hockey program 25 years ago.
The school graduates players to Canadian and American college teams four alumnae dressed this season for the UBC T-birds and Little Flower has competed in the AA B.C. championship finals four times in the past five years. They last won in 2007.
The program draws elite players form the citys hockey clubs but also introduces players to a sport theyve never in their lives played. People always say there are so many whistles, McGillivray said, pleased that many parents learn new skills along with their daughters.
This was the case for McGillivray, who first picked up a hockey stick in her early 20s for the Meralomas. Elite sport is important and rewarding, she said, but forcing children and teens to specialize and commit to just one can backfire. We remember the old-school way: when the season changed, your uniform changed. Its nice that kids can pick up a new sport partway through school, just like I did at age 23.
McGillivray, who coaches the junior team at Little Flower, is married to John McGillivray, another influential coach in the Vancouver field hockey community who runs the Churchill senior team with Andrea May.
Little Flower is hosting the AA senior girls field hockey provincials this week in Burnaby. McGillivray was on the sidelines, watching Little Flower, Wednesday afternoon when the Courier caught up with her.
Courier: What makes the field hockey program so popular with Little Flower students?
McGillivray: Weve got great consistency with the people who have been coaching enthusiastic coaches and kids. We dont even have a full field. Our custodian, he manicures that lawn for us. Its something that the school has embraced.
Courier: Youve built a tradition at Little Flower.
McGillivray: We had our first alumnae game [Sept. 21] and we had kids who are mothers now. People come up to me now and say, Oh, my mom played. Its really fun.
A lot of kids have never played before but they come out, and that to me is the exiting part. Most elementary schools dont play hockey so youre taking a bunch of kids who have never played before. Thats the neat thing, exposing them to a sport that hopefully they can play for as long as Im playing it. When youre playing on the weekend with somebody that you coached 15 years ago and now theyre playing fourth division or second division, thats the really rewarding thing. Theyve picked up a sport theyre going top play for many, many years.
Courier: Do examples of that success inspire younger players?
McGillivray: I think so. Kids just like to play sport, thats the fun part. Sometimes when you come back from a game and theyve lost, as a coach, you think, What did you do wrong? Could you have changed the line-up? Should you have changed what you were doing? What should you have instructed? But theyre talking and enjoying just being with each other. Thats one of the reasons the kids play, for the fun of the sport. Kids want to be successful but they also want to be out there having fun and playing with their friends.
Courier: Should more elementary schools teach field hockey?
McGillivray: We remember the old school way where you play all sorts of sports when you were going through high school. When the season changed, your uniform changed. Its nice that the kids, maybe they havent been exposed to it, but its nice they can pick up a new sport part way through school, just like I did at age 23. Id never played before and its been a life-long interest. I dont think we have to take them when theyre really young and tell them: this is what you want to do.
Have you heard about Maos Last Dancer? Its about a Chinese ballet dancer and Im reading it right now. They come to his village and test them for their physique and flexibility and they send him off on his own to Beijing to become a ballet dancer.
We dont do that with these kids. They pick up a stick and its so fun to see. By the end theyve learned a new skill.
Courier: Youve work with hundreds of teenage girls, how does sport help influence a positive body image?
McGillivray: As a coach, I think were emphasizing fitness but also the lifelong enjoyment of sport. Its really nice in that usually with hockey its a big roster and everybody gets to play, everybody gets to have success and everybody gets out there.
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