Hockey is a hit for Recorder reporter joining free sessions for Redbridge ladies

Hockey was always something I avoided at school, associating it with cold, rain and being hit on the shins.

But when I watched the women’s matches at the Olympics, I wondered how I had missed out on such a fast, social, fun-looking sport.

So when I heard that free women’s back to hockey sessions were being offered by Redbridge and Ilford Hockey Club, I jumped at the chance.

The weekly one-hour sessions are for women wanting to get back into the game after a break, no matter how long.

In my case it was nearly 10 years, and I knew I was going to feel it.

I turned up to the session characteristically late and already panting from the exertion of jogging from Fairlop tube station.

But no one seemed to mind and in seconds I was given a stick, a fluorescent ball, and joined the group of around 20 women, who ranged between their teens and mid 50s.

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Coach Vicki Burrill was starting the players on passing exercises and came over to be my practice partner.

Vicki has been playing hockey for 20 years and works as a P.E teacher so I knew I was in safe hands.

When I admitted how long it had been since I played, she reassured me that hockey was “like riding a bike”.

Picking up the stick felt a little awkward but after a couple of hits I felt myself relax and get into the rhythm.

Soon we were onto dribbling, which mostly involved me chasing the ball as it somehow managed to escape in all directions apart from the one I was running in.

But towards the end it clicked and I was feeling quite cool zooming around the field until Vicki called for us to switch to “10 seconds of keepy-uppys”.

I didn’t have time to contemplate what that meant before I saw the group scoop the balls onto the end of the sticks, hold them horizontally in mid air and bounce the balls as fast as possible.

This was the one part of the class I miserably failed at.

Even after Vicky sympathetically showed me an easier way of holding the ball on I was hopeless, and carried on running around in the hope that no one would notice.

If they did, they didn’t show it and regardless, I was starting to have a lot of fun honing my new-found skills and chatting with the other ladies.

The next lesson was “elimination moves”.

As intimidating as that sounds, it was actually a surprisingly easy bit of deception called a “v drag”, where you fool a defender by hitting the ball to the left, catching it before they can get it and sprinting away to the right.

We practised first with imaginary people, then with some very passive cones, and finally in groups with other players.

Then it was tackling time. Tip: if you’ve got any pent-up aggression, hockey is a good way to spend it.

We were taught how to track another player and take the ball before going one-on-one against each other.

As a relaxed beginners group, it was very friendly, but I started to understand why hockey is notorious for injuries.

Then finally, we played a five-a-side game. Panicking, I realised I’d forgotten to Google hockey positions, but luckily we were playing without them.

So I had no idea what I was doing but I had a great time running around and even made a couple of tackles, to cheers from my teammates.

In the end the score was 2-1 to my victorious team, the non-bibs (none scored by me).

And all too soon the session was over.

I was shattered, sweating and had that burning, sick, puffed-out sensation I vaguely remembered from cross-country running, but I felt great.

And when I looked around, all the other ladies had big smiles on their faces and were arranging next week.

Vicki, 27, said that in four weeks, numbers had gone from six to 20.

She added: “For me, hockey stands out from other sports because it’s a mixed sport and men and women play in fairly equal numbers.

“Clubs are really social and it’s so fun to play.”

Vicky said she thinks the Olympics helped raise the profile of the sport, along with Kate Middleton’s games with Team GB.

She added: “The ladies winning the bronze got it on the news and there was a lot more coverage than usual.

“The more people are playing hockey, the better.”

Back to Hockey runs every Wednesday from 7-8pm at Redbridge Sports and Leisure Centre, Forest Road, Barkingside.

All sessions are free, women only.

Email for information.