Along with being a national championship team and comprising a majority of the Canadian national team’s roster, the UBC men’s field hockey team runs a youth development program. Head coach Shiaz Virjee says that the program, sponsored by Gulf and Fraser financial group, is part of the team’s ongoing involvement in community outreach and relations.
“The program is great for community relationship, and it helps with recruiting,” said Virjee. “The players are from Lower Mainland high schools and many are recommended to the program by the Junior National Development program.”
The program is run by Virjee and is staffed by four to five players from the men’s field hockey squad. Lachlan Glen, a forward on the team and a member of the coaching staff for the program, sees it as a great opportunity for the high school youth. “Growing up, there were only so many of us that could play. It’s great to play with players five to six years older.”
Sterling Bickerstaff, a twelfth grade student at local secondary school St. George’s, has being training with the Thunderbirds for a year and a half.
“Being able to come out with my friends and practice is really sweet,” said Bickerstaff, who plays on the Thunderbird’s junior varsity team. “Having the varsity guys from the UBC team is really great, because they know what they are doing. Their experience is really helpful.”
Bickerstaff hopes to come to UBC next year and play with the Thunderbirds.
The boys, in matching Thunderbird uniforms, straggled into Wright Field as the sun set on a rare, non-rainy day, and geared up. They joked around with UBC players before running a few laps and warming up with a variety of drills led by ‘Birds. The goalies broke off into their own group and the players broke up into two groups based on their levels.
“We review the players each week to see which group they belong in,” said Virjee. He hopes the players will continue field hockey in university, possibly with his very team.
Joshua White, a secondary school player who travels from West Vancouver to attend the twice-weekly sessions, is excited to play with university level players.
“I'm looking to improve in field hockey. This is a source of coaching for me. It’s good to work with the UBC team, people who know what they’re doing. They have good tips as well,” he said.
The Thunderbirds, with four games left in their regular season, have a .500 record. The upcoming match against UVic will be a challenge, with many UBC players currently in Chile with the national team. Glen, Virjee and the team remain hopeful and plan to do well in this year’s championship.