Not-So-Jolly Hockey Sticks

A girl’s hockey career is helped on, whether she likes it or not. By a new writer to us

By Sarah Jaynes

“Training is next Tuesday night on the Astro-turf, same time, same place.”

A flurry of movement and muted murmurings could be heard as the players began to disperse.

“Katie Allen, please wait behind to see me.”

I froze; a rabbit well and truly caught in the headlights, eyes wide with baited breath held. What this time? What could I have possibly done to warrant yet another one-to-one with my newly found nemesis, Mr Shanks?

It’d been only two weeks since our regular coach, Mrs McGinnis, had left the county scene on maternity leave and a better hockey coach one could never have asked for. She was firm but always fair, we used to call her the ‘witch in the wardrobe’, an affectionate name that reflected her no nonsense attitude to players who missed practise or who were found to be lacking in application.

(The wardrobe part referred to the size of the office that she used to have).

Shanks was her replacement. We had yet to name him; words, frankly, could not express the level of repression experienced by the year thirteen team under his infantile leadership.

“Good luck with that, mate,” jolted me back into my present predicament. It was my best mate, Jenny Wilson. We had first been selected for Cheshire Hockey together back in 1995, when we were in our first year at the same high school and had been in both the school and county teams pretty much ever present since then. Jenny grasped her kit and departed in slow motion with a look of knowing apprehension on her face; a phone conversation later, the silent departing agreement.

It took me a few seconds to realise that nobody else was actually paying too much attention to me and my cherry-red ears, now burning with embarrassment at being singled out in front of the whole squad like this. Thankfully, everyone was far too busy collecting their things to worry what the coach had in store for me. This was my second showdown in as many weeks and, for a conscientious player such as myself, it was a source of real concern. Mrs McGinnis had only ever really laid into me once in the past 6 and a bit seasons and in all honesty I’d deserved every last ounce of the rollicking I’d received for my tardy, ignominious performance that day in a 5-1 thrashing by Warwickshire. I had been known to wake up in the night with a cold sweat, reliving each agonising second of the dressing down I’d earned after that match, such was my mortification at having performing so badly.

‘Am I really the sort of player who needs this kind of abuse?’  I asked myself as I crossed what seemed like an ocean of kitbags and balls to join Shanks for the face to face. My legs were trembling somewhat from the exertion of the night’s training, or was it something else? I arrived in front of him, standing neatly with my hockey stick held close to my head with the handle pointing at the floor, head bowed, waiting.

“Could you please explain to me what on earth you were thinking in that last practise game?”  He asked as I felt my head begin to swim.

Caught woefully off balance by the technicality of the assault, I stalled for time.

“Sir?”

I raised my sparkling blue eyes to meet his cold, detached, green ones. He paused for a second, every millisecond a blow to my false confidence, before he raised his eyebrows and repeated the question. I looked down at my Astro’s, battered from the pre-season training regime and the past two weeks extras, courtesy of Shanks’ apparent dislike of me. Having used all of my borrowed time, recent experience had taught me that I had to come up with something to avoid further penalties incurred for failure to answer the question.

So I took a very deep breath and stuttered out a pathetic excuse/apology which went: “Sir, I’m afraid I really struggled with the new formation tonight. It’s difficult in central midfield to know when and where to go at the best of times, without having a new system around you to contend with, sir.” I trailed off, bottled it; and worst of all he knew it.

“Allen, don’t prevaricate. When I ask you a simple question I expect an honest answer. You struggled tonight, did you not, because of your poor attitude, resistance to change and negligible fitness?”

In my head the sentence ended with a question mark, but this kind of question, I knew, was a rhetorical one at best.

“Yes sir,” I said, hanging my head with as much reverence as I could muster.

Negligible fitness, resistance to change, poor attitude? Each of these accusations fell like the blows of a heavyweight champ on my already battered ego. Poor attitude and resistance to change, I supposed, at a stretch, could be levied against me by someone who didn’t know me at all, but Mr Shanks was my English teacher and, for the time being, Mrs McGinnis’ replacement as both school team and county team coach. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I was bloody good at English. Where had all this animosity come from?

As for negligible fitness, now come on, that I just couldn’t take. Okay, so my hockey skirt was now cutting me in half, but so it was for more than half of the squad. Most of us had indulged over the summer months and had arrived more than a little heavier to training. But pre-season had sheared most of the excess away and the vast majority of us were now beginning to look like the athletes who had taken the Regional County Cup last season, if slightly pudgier ones. To be fair, we were still two weeks away from our first county fixture and one week away from the first school’s clash of the season versus The Grange School; always a fraught affair. Flab or no flab, I certainly hadn’t been flagging more than anyone else during the fitness elements of the evening’s session. On the contrary, I had been busting a gut so as not to give him an excuse to punish me.

Shanks had a reputation for running players into the ground. Rumour had it that he used to be in charge of the lad’s upper-sixth form team at our school until he was removed from his position for being too hard on them. He would single players out for special treatment and make sure they suffered the most, giving them extra laps of the pitch, push ups and suicide runs at the end of normal training. It was even suggested the captain of that team used to be summoned into school on a Sunday for extra training if the team had lost that Saturday.

True or not, none of this sounded good to me and I couldn’t help but tremor ever so slightly as I looked up to meet his steely gaze once more.

“Allen, do you wish to continue as captain of your county side?”

“Yes, of course I do,” I answered angrily, vexed at this ridiculous question. I honestly believe that I would have died for Cheshire Hockey had it come to that; cut me in half and I was Cheshire through and through and terribly proud to represent them at Under 19’s level.

He raised his eyebrows dangerously.

“Sir!” I finished.

“Good, because Mrs McGinnis wishes you to continue in the role after your success last season. However, I will not have your complacency jeopardize this team’s chances of making the National Final this year. You will buck your ideas up and you will attain the fitness required of a county captain. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir. But…”

“No, Allen. There will be no buts, only a ‘yes sir’.” He waited.

I waited. Well, as long as I dared.

“Yes sir,” I eked out, between clenched teeth.

“Splendid, I knew you’d come around. So shall we say 07:30 tomorrow morning to begin our session?”

Again the command disguised as a question.

“Yes sir,” I cringed.

“Bring plenty of water and a change of kit. Oh, and don’t make any plans for the rest of the day. We have much work to do.”

I closed my eyes and prayed it would go away; I opened them to find the quizzical eyebrows of probably the most evil coach on the planet, imposing on me, searching for something he was missing. I looked at him blankly and saw a flicker of disgust in his face.

“What do you say, Allen?”

I had no idea. “Err, thank you, sir?” I squawked, desperate to escape.

“Better. Now there’s the small matter of your punishment for this evening’s failings.”

“But sir, I thought tomorrow…”

“Tomorrow is to help you improve your fitness, but first you must atone for your errors. Go straight inside to my office, stand in the corner, behind the desk facing the wall, and wait for me.”

I wanted to speak, to retaliate, to rebuff, but the words caught in my throat. I had NEVER been sent to stand in the corner in my life. I could not comprehend what I had been asked to do. I’m eighteen, an adult. Standing in the corner is for errant eleven-year olds who want to play the class clown. Sorry, but I certainly felt that I was way above this and I planned to tell him so too, once we were inside.

My legs felt unsteady as I made my way along the corridor to his office in the now deserted school building. County training was always at our school as we had the best Astroturf and the coach was almost always a teacher from our school. My feet shuffled along the corridor at a pace a snail would have been ashamed of, so little control did I now have over my bodily movements. I arrived outside his door, reached for the brass knob and turned it slowly anti-clockwise, the feel of it cool against my warm, sweaty palm.

The door swung open and I reached for the light switch. The room was immaculate, save for some notes on the desk and a rather messy notice board behind. To the left was a huge cabinet with a built-in bookcase, on which I could see our folders which had only been taken in this morning for marking. They were essays on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. How ironic, I thought. The desk itself was at an angle facing the door, presumably so that Shanks could spy on miscreant students in the corridor when his door was open.

I quickly took up position to the right of the cabinet/bookcase and behind the desk facing the corner. What did he mean; punishment? Surely he wasn’t going to set the year thirteen, county hockey captain one hundred lines!

After what seemed an eternity I heard his slow, precise footsteps in the corridor, closing in on his target.

“Ah, Allen, excellent. I see you can manage to follow some simple instructions.”

Silently, I cursed him for this unnecessary gibe.

“Come out of there and bring my chair around and place it in front of the desk.”

I did as I was told, wanting to get whatever it was over with as soon as possible.

“Now then,” he said taking the seat, in an all too well-measured fashion. “I’m going to give you a damn good spanking, young lady.”

My mouth fell to my knees and my tongue lolled limply inside the base of my mouth. Facial cheeks crimson and my temperature rising, I could not utter a single sound; such was my indignation at this obscene suggestion. I was completely at a loss as to how to combat it; all of my thoughts as to my putting him straight deserted me. Mr Shanks helped me out.

“Are you wearing hockey shorts under your skirt, Allen?”

“Yes sir,” I found myself answering.

“Excellent! Remove your hockey skirt, fold it and place it on my desk.”

Now I really wasn’t computing. These instructions were so far from the norm that I had no chance of comprehending and then responding appropriately.

“Come and stand here,” he said, indicating his right hand side.

Meekly, I closed the space and took up position, still desperately trying to process this turn of events.

“Now then, over my knee and present yourself for your punishment.”

Although my head was screaming at me to rebel, my body relented and allowed itself to be spread across this powerful, if compact, man’s legs. I squirmed as he elevated his right knee to raise my backside higher and proffer the target.

“I am going to teach you to respect me, young lady. I will discipline you and you will learn both respect and humility.”

At this moment, and in such a precarious position, I didn’t doubt it. The first thing I felt was pure embarrassment. I was being treated like a 5 year old, in fact I probably hadn’t been tanned since I was actually five years old and at least back then; a) I surely had deserved it, and b) it was my mother administering it. The ignominy was almost too much to bear as he took aim at my slightly rotund, but nevertheless athletic, backside. I nearly cried out in shame, but managed to hold back at least until the spanking had begun.

The pain, at first, wasn’t as bad as I had feared; the really testing part of this punishment was the accompanying lecture and my burning desire to retaliate.

“Your attitude does you no favours, Katie,” WHACK!

“Resisting change is affecting your team mates negatively. You are supposed to set an example,” THWACK!

“Not,” WHACK.

“Be it,” CRACK.

“Ouch!”  I wailed, hating myself instantly for breaking my silence.

“You will improve, or else face the consequences. You are not too good to be replaced, and if you are dropped from the county side I shall certainly not select you for the school team. I will see it as an indication of your lack of desire to progress in the sport and once you are out, there is no way back, young lady.”

All the time his smacks were raining down on my defenceless backside. Gripping the legs of his chair, I prayed that it would soon be over as I fought to keep my yelps to a minimum. Humiliated was not the word; I couldn’t think of one to suffice, never had I imagined that this was what my coach would do to me, as a result of a bit of attitude shown at training. I was almost beginning to come around to the idea that maybe, just maybe, I had been in the wrong and, believe me, I do not think myself above having to be disciplined. I’m a sportswoman; discipline is given all of the time to improve both motivation and performance. In short, I could, when deserved, take it, but not like this. As a mature, young woman this was the absolute pits. I was literally not against being strapped or caned at this moment, but not punished like this. It was childish, embarrassing and totally out of order. I was beginning to compose, in my head, a complaint to the Principal.

Suddenly it stopped and I immediately began to feel a huge burning sensation in my posterior; it was building and rising and never before had I experienced such intense heat. I now knew where ‘Heat Spray’ got its idea from; everything was so hot that I certainly wouldn’t be feeling anything else anytime soon.

“Get up,” interrupted my musings and how I wish now that I had complied with this instruction much more slowly, but the truth is I would have done anything I was told at this moment. Pain is pain and I certainly did not want to receive any more. My ass was raw and it was all I could do to hold back the tears in an attempt to salvage a modicum of pride.

“Rearrange your clothing.”

I did. Taking my skirt and hurriedly wrapping it around and fixing it back in place.

“Report back here tomorrow at 07:30 sharp, as we agreed.”

“Yes sir.”

“Any questions?”

“No sir.”

“Good, now what do you say?”

I didn’t know that I knew the correct answer and yet it sprung forth from my lips without a moment’s hesitation: “Thank you, sir.”

“Better, Allen. Now go home and get some rest because by God girl you are going to need it.”

“Yes sir,” I whispered whilst making my way gingerly from his office.

I’d never really understood the goodie-two-shoes attitudes of kids whose parent’s spanked them before today. Why were they so afraid to put so much as a toe over the line? I now had my answer and I pondered, as I walked the two or so miles home, the awesome power of physical discipline and why on earth it had been phased out of schools. If I had even the threat of that earlier in my school career I would certainly have been even more successful and so would many, many other students. Now don’t get me wrong, I was still fuming about my individual treatment in this case, but even I could see that in the space of fifteen minutes I had gone from a curly lipped teenager with a huge ego to a simpering, compliant wimp, and all because of a few smacks on my bottom. I have to admit it made me question both my behaviour and my commitment, and even countenance the possibility that I was actually the one in the wrong.

As I came through the front door I contemplated telling my mother what had happened. She would be incandescent with rage, write several stinging letters and then insist on seeing the school Principal first thing Monday morning. She wouldn’t understand that my desire to represent at hockey was much greater than a borderline illegal act. I say borderline as I did sort-of consent to it, even if I was under some duress and there are those who frown upon coaches, teachers, superior officers etc. seemingly taking advantage of their rank with those in their care/under their charge. I quickly weighed up the potential costs involved and elected to keep schtum. This I would have to deal with on my own.

First I tried to call Jen, but thankfully there was no answer as I hadn’t really worked out what to tell her, so I gave up and instead, ate, showered and collapsed into bed exhausted and clearly not just from the testy training session. Surprisingly, given the special training scheduled for tomorrow, I slept like the dead. Clearly, emotional experiences can help with a good night’s sleep, and boy was I going to need it.

*          *          *

I was early, arriving a good thirty minutes or so before he even rocked up. I still hadn’t decided what to call him, so I went with ‘Fuck Face’ as it made me feel secretly smug. He had an impressed look on his face, or was it merely surprise, when he found me outside his office at 07:15 kitted up and looking ready for business?

He didn’t speak, merely unlocking his office and letting himself in, leaving me to stew outside. I more or less knew what was coming, but the waiting was most unpleasant. My desire to get the hell on with it was consuming me but I lectured myself to keep my cool and try to not allow myself to be provoked. Kicking off would surely lead back to a repeat of last night’s events in this very office.

Finally, he appeared at his door and silently bid me to follow, whistle around his neck, well-fitting and expensive fleece over tracksuit pants and very flashy trainers – Fuck Face!

Out on the Astroturf he had me do twenty laps of the whole pitch, which may sound terrible, but the pace required was very gentle and it seemed like a genuine attempt to warm up the body and to help avoid injury, and just to be fair he did do these laps with me. Next came the mobile stretching that’s all the rage these days (static stretching is now for after exertion, according to the sports-science boffins) and then some basic warm up drills; dribbling between cones, receiving a pass just inside the ‘D’ and then taking a shot. Each missed pass was rewarded with five press-ups and each missed shot into an open goal was worth ten. I couldn’t actually even do one full press-up back then. Mr Shanks was seriously unimpressed, but seeing that I really couldn’t he relented and allowed me to push up from my knees instead.

None of this was especially harsh or contrived for a county hockey player. I was quite taken aback by the lack of the power trip I was expecting from him; it was pretty out of character from what I had seen previously. Looking back, I swear it was calculated to get me to believe that it was I that had been totally out of order last night and not him. It nearly worked too, right up until I was ordered to do suicide runs (you run to one quarter of the pitch, then back to the base line, then to the half-way line and back to the base line, then 3/4 of the pitch and back to the baseline and, yep you guessed it, the whole pitch and back to the base line, all at maximal possible speed), until I puked.

This gave him great satisfaction. I hadn’t really comprehended the ‘cat that got the cream’ line before this incident but all of a sudden it made total sense to me. Once I’d finished hurling, I was allowed some water before we resumed the suicide runs. He told me I had three sets of ten left to do. Once I’d finished I had to complete fifty press ups from knees and one hundred sit-ups; for core strength, he said. Fuck Face.

A long stretching session followed and I made sure to work as hard as I could in spite of not being the most flexible player that ever lived. The last thing I could afford was more punishment of any kind so I was vigilant in the extreme at extinguishing possibilities for rebuke. This strategy was successful and to this point the session had been surprisingly lecture free; the odd barbed comment and criticism sure, but nothing too terrible. To my immense surprise he told me that I could have two hours off to shower and change into my spare kit and take some calories on board. He warned me sternly, though, to not be tempted to eat too much as he had a surprise for me this afternoon.

I’ve never really liked surprises and you can imagine my feelings about this one. He needn’t have worried about my over-eating during the mercy break though. I could barely force down a protein bar and some PowerAde, such was my tiredness from the training and anxiety about the impending afternoon session. I force-fed myself first, giving me as much time as possible to digest before the afternoon frolics began. The showers were lovely and warm, not at all like during the week when everyone is using them all at once. I stayed under the warm water forever, wishing that I never had to leave the shower.

The two hours passed very quickly indeed. After changing, I had taken a quick nap as this is definitely the best way for the body to recover quickly after a session and before another one that follows so soon after. I was, however, ready and waiting once more outside the office at the allotted time.

“Come in, Allen,” his voice sang from the office interior.

I turned the knob and pushed open the door with as much confidence as I could muster.

“Well done this morning; not a bad start to your new fitness programme. Have you anything to say?”

I certainly didn’t like the words ‘start’ and ‘programme’ in this sentence. It sounded very much to me like this was going to become a regular fixture, and I really wasn’t fancying my chances of sticking to it just now.

“Thank you, sir,” I elected to reply. This usually goes down fairly well with the megalomaniac type. He was seated in front of me and behind the desk as I stood to attention on the opposite side. He looked like a colonel at a court-martial; my goodness me how I wanted to bring him down.

“Right, collect your things; we are off to play a pre-season friendly for my mixed team.”

“Pardon?”

“A match; you know, forty minutes each way to show me what you have learned over the past twenty-four hours.”

He continued. “It’s alright, you will be playing in your usual position and our formation is identical to the one we were attempting last night. It’ll help you to get to grips with it before county training on Tuesday.”

“Great,” I replied, feeling anything but. True, I was recovered from the previous session, but playing in a team with my coach and a bunch of people I didn’t know could become embarrassing, especially if he goes into power-trip mode.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’d better call me ‘Shanksy’ at the club, and don’t worry, I play centre-forward, so I’ll be right there to coach you through the whole game.”

‘Oh goodie!’  I thought in my head. Could this day get any better?

*          *          *

His teammates were surprisingly nice and they all seemed to think a lot of ‘fuck face’. In any case, they put me at my ease and despite a slightly shaky start to the match, I hadn’t played often with guys before, and they are much quicker and they play more aerial balls, they were very complimentary at half time.

The second half went like a dream and, although I missed two chances to score from short-corners, I did manage to bag a goal late on from open play. Shanksy had two chances and scored both. I knew that he could play but I have to say I was really impressed at his standard. We won three-nil. I had thoroughly enjoyed the match, even if I did feel dead on my feet by the end. I made a mental note to get some new hockey shoes as the soles of my feet were now burning from all of the running, stopping, twisting and turning that is required during matches.

His debrief began in the car on the way home. I figured that it wasn’t going to be too bad because; a) I’d played bloody well, and b) he had offered to drive me home as opposed to just back to school.

“How do you think the match went, Allen?”

I hate being asked these open-ended, ‘hang yourself’ type questions. You know that you are being given just enough rope, but cannot quite figure a way out of it.

“Err, I think we gelled pretty well as a team and that my overall contribution was a positive one, sir.”

It sounded like one of those bullshit TV interviews that the footballers give post-match where they wriggle and wiggle, doing all kinds of verbal gymnastics to make sure they say nothing that could be interpreted as individual self-pride, even if their performance had been the dogs bollocks. Vomit.

“It’s okay, Allen, you are at liberty to say what you really think.”

“Well sir, I think I had a really good game. You had a faultless one but I thought our keeper was the man of the match overall.”

“Good, have you any more details on your own performance before I appraise it?”

Whether or not I physically squirmed, I cannot honestly say, but mentally I was feeling pretty nervous. I thought carefully for a moment before going for it.

“I made a large percentage of successful passes. I don’t think I missed a tackle but I did miss two chances to score out of three. Pretty happy with the goal though.”

“I’d say that was a fair reflection of your performance. Your goal was well taken, though you should be kicking yourself over the two missed chances. In games, goals make all the difference. I don’t remember a missed tackle and above all your commitment was in the right place. You were struggling towards the end, but I accept that that could be levelled at more than half of my team, the difference being that you represent the county and no one on my team can any longer.”

“Yes sir, I see that and thank you for being so complimentary.”

“You’re an outstanding player, Katie. Why else do you think I am spending all this time trying to ensure that you fulfil your potential?”

I didn’t know what to say to this, so I remained silent.

“If you knuckle down now, you have a realistic chance of making the Regional Team this year and from there it is England, and England players at least have a chance of representing Great Britain.”

“I didn’t realise…”

“No, I know you didn’t. Do you now understand?”

“Yes sir, thank you.”

We rolled up outside my house, the last cottage at the end of Edgerton Lane.

“Very good, then. I will see you on Tuesday after training so that we can atone for the two missed goals and any other infractions earned before then.”

“Yes sir.”

“As for Sundays, keep them free for the time being. Your extra fitness training is ongoing until further notice and you have already been selected for my team for the next game. It’s the last friendly before the season proper begins. If it goes well, the central-midfield position is yours. Your game will benefit hugely from playing mixed hockey, not to mention from my holding you to account for your errors. Clear?”

“Crystal, sir. Thank you, and I am sorry for yesterday’s training…”

“Forget it, just don’t ever do it again.”

“No sir.”

“See you Tuesday on the Astro after school.”

With that he spun away from the end of our drive. I simply could not fully comprehend what on earth had just happened. For a fairly long time I knew I had been a good player, but I hadn’t really thought I could make the North-West Squad, let alone the England one. Today had shown me that Shanks really does know his hockey and what if those that make it all have an extremely challenging coach behind them? Is it worth missing out on all of the opportunities for the sake of some rough training, an extra match per week and the, uh, other penalties? I suppose that depends on exactly what is dished out next Tuesday evening after practise!

The End

© Sarah Jaynes 2018


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