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Field Hockey Recruiting Guidelines: What Coaches Look For

What do college field hockey coaches look for in athletes? How hard is it to play field hockey in college? What field hockey skills are required to play college field hockey? Securing a roster spot for collegiate field hockey isn’t easy. College coaches look for position-specific skills, as well as a list of academic and personal criteria that every athlete needs to meet, regardless of position. This section aims to answer the questions above and help student-athletes understand what type of field hockey programs they are best suited for based on position-specific skills college coaches look for at each division level.

How hard is it to play field hockey in college?

There are 281 NCAA field hockey teams with an average roster size of 22 athletes. Student-athletes who want to play at the college level must keep their recruiting profile up-to-date, compete in tournaments where college coaches are present, communicate clearly and frequently with college coaches and make sure they meet NCAA eligibility requirements. With few scholarships available, remaining committed to the recruiting process and building strong relationships with college coaches is crucial. The process will not always be easy, but it can be rewarding for athletes who stick with it.

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What do college coaches look for in field hockey players?

While college coaches want to fill their roster with athletic field hockey players, there’s more to catching a coach’s attention than athleticism. Below is a look at eight things that college coaches look for in field hockey recruits. 

  1. Fundamentals: College coaches seek athletes who have mastered the fundamentals of ball control and accurate passing. These are simple skills, but they are the foundation needed to grow as an athlete.
  2. Communication: Field hockey requires a great deal of communication on the field. College coaches want leaders with strong communication skills. They also want a coachable athlete who knows when to speak up and when to listen and learn.
  3. Sportsmanship: Teamwork is critical to the success of a field hockey team. Student-athletes must be encouraging on and off the field and trust their teammates.
  4. Versatility: Multi-dimensional athletes that can play multiple positions at the college level are more valuable to a college program.
  5. Field Hockey IQ: Student-athletes need to have good vision and the ability to make quick decisions. The more experience an athlete has and the better they know the games, the more likely they are to evaluate a situation and think on their feet in high-pressure competition.
  6. Confidence: Strong athletes are not just talented; they are also mentally tough and confident in themselves. College coaches want an athlete who has the confidence to lead a team on the field and the ability to address failure with persistence. 
  7. Athleticism: Field hockey is demanding on the body. Athletes need to be physically fit, athletic in their movements and fast.
  8. Consistency: The more consistent an athlete is across game performances, the more reliable they are in the eyes of a college coach. College coaches look for student-athletes who bring the same level of strong competition to the field at every game.

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What field hockey skills are required to play college field hockey?

All five field hockey positions are unique, and college coaches have different expectations of each position. While all field hockey players need to possess the eight qualities above, college coaches at each division are looking for different experience levels and skills in recruits. Below we breakdown the skills and recruiting guidelines by tier level for goalies, field players, midfielders, sweepers and forwards.

Tier 1 athletes have the skills and experience to play at NCAA Division 1 programs. Tier 2 athletes are slightly less experienced and skilled, making them a better fit for lower-end Division 1 programs and top-end Division 2 programs. Tier 3 athletes are best suited for Division 2 and 3 programs, as they have the least experience and less refined skills.

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Field hockey goalie skills and recruiting guidelines

  Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Description Division 1 Low Division 1/Top Division 2 Division 2 / Division 3
Club Experience Attended major tournament: Festival, AAU, Junior Olympics, National Futures Program Attended major tournament: Festival Disney Showcase Travel team
High School Experience All-State, All-American All-State, All-Region/-Conference All-Region, All-Conference

Tier 1 field hockey goalie expert notes

Tier 1 goalkeepers command control of the defense and coordinate the team to maintain a strong line of defense. They are unfazed in high-pressure situations and can make smart, split-second decisions. Their agility and athleticism allow them to make strong, consistent saves. They have excellent hand-eye coordination and the ability to clear the ball with a strong kick.

Tier 2 field hockey goalie expert notes

Tier 2 goalkeepers are great communicators that can clearly organize and lead the defensive team. During high-pressure situations, they can remain calm and make quick decisions with few errors. They rely on their agility and athleticism to make stops with their hands and clear the ball with a good kick.

Tier 3 field hockey goalie expert notes

Tier 3 goalkeepers have good communication skills but struggle to organize the entire team of defenders to create and maintain a strong line of defense. Their nerves can get the best of them in high-pressure situations, resulting in poor game decisions. They have decent hand-eye coordination and are both agile and athletic, which allows them to make the occasional save. After making a save, they can clear the ball with a good kick.

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Field hockey defense player skills and recruiting guidelines

  Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Description Division 1 Low Division 1/Top Division 2 Division 2 / Division 3
Club Experience Attended major tournament: Festival, AAU, Junior Olympics, National Futures Program Attended major tournament: Festival Disney Showcase Travel team
High School Experience All-State, All-American All-State, All-Region/-Conference All-Region, All-Conference

Tier 1 field hockey defense player expert notes

Tier 1 defenders take control on the field and consistently win one-on-one battles with the attackers. Their upper body strength and ability to time strong tackles make them very successful defenders. When presented with a scoring threat, they can quickly prevent scoring opportunities and regain and maintain possession of the ball in high-pressure situations. They are also great communicators that work well with other defenders to protect the goalkeeper.

Tier 2 field hockey defense player expert notes

Tier 2 defenders are strong both individually and as a unit with other defenders. As part of a defensive unit, they are good communicators that work together to prevent scoring opportunities. Individually, they win most one-on-one battles with the attackers. They are disciplined enough to react to scoring threats, time tackles and regain possession of the ball, which they are usually able to maintain without a problem.

Tier 3 field hockey defense player expert notes

Tier 3 midfielders understand their role as protectors of the goalkeeper, but they are not as confident as tier 1 and 2 athletes. They are also not as quick to react to scoring threats and make mistakes in one-on-one battles, which allows the opposition to create and carry out scoring opportunities. They occasionally regain possession of the ball but struggle to maintain possession in high-pressure situations. Their good communication skills allow them to work efficiently with other defenders.

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Field hockey midfield skills and recruiting guidelines

  Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Description Division 1 Low Division 1/Top Division 2 Division 2 / Division 3
Club Experience Attended major tournament: Festival, AAU, Junior Olympics, National Futures Program Attended major tournament: Festival Disney Showcase Travel team
High School Experience All-State, All-American All-State, All-Region/Conference All-Region, All-Conference

Tier 1 field hockey midfield expert notes

Midfielders have two responsibilities, attack and defend, and tier 1 athletes are extremely good at both. Tier 1 midfielders can effectively support the attack team on offense, as well as fall back to assist the defense team to protect the goal. These athletes have a great deal of stamina, which allows them to cover a lot of ground during the game. They are strongest at passing the ball to create scoring opportunities and making split-second decisions.

Tier 2 field hockey midfield expert notes

Tier 2 field hockey midfielders have the stamina to cover the field to play both attack and defense. They provide good support to the attack team and protect the goal well when playing defense. Tier 2 field hockey players are good at passing and occasionally create scoring opportunities for their team. While they can assess a situation, they don’t always make the right decisions on the field.

Tier 3 field hockey midfield expert notes

While tier 3 midfielders can assume the role of both attacker and defender, they lack the stamina needed to cover the field for an entire game. They are more prone to making mistakes when evaluating situations during competitions. These athletes are good passers who can create scoring opportunities sometimes.

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Field hockey sweeper skills and recruiting guidelines

  Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Description Division 1 Low Division 1/Top Division 2 Division 2 / Division 3
Club Experience Attended major tournament: Festival, AAU, Junior Olympics, National Futures Program Attended major tournament: Festival Disney Showcase Travel team
High School Experience All-State, All-American All-State, All-Region/Conference All-Region, All-Conference

Tier 1 field hockey sweeper expert notes

Tier 1 sweepers are a reliable last line of defense who own their space on the field. They are strong defenders who consistently prevent attackers on the opposition team from creating scoring opportunities. They can quickly clear the ball; intercept passes and regain possession of the ball. These athletes have the innate ability to anticipate the opposition’s movements and time their tackles well. These athletes are versatile enough to step into an attacking role when necessary. 

Tier 2 field hockey sweeper expert notes

Tier 2 sweepers provide solid security for the goalkeeper. While less consistent than tier 1 athletes, they can prevent attackers from creating scoring opportunities, intercept passes and clear the ball. They use their tackling skills to slow down attackers and make good attempts to regain possession for the team. These athletes occasionally have the ability to anticipate the opposition’s movements. Tier 2 athletes are less comfortable stepping into an attacking role than tier 1 athletes.

Tier 3 field hockey sweeper expert notes

The lowest-ranked sweepers are tier 3 athletes. These sweepers cover the goalkeeper well, but they are not able to prevent scoring opportunities and clear the ball as successfully as tier 1 and 2 athletes. They occasionally anticipate the opposition’s movements and time their tackles to help their team regain possession of the ball.

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Field hockey forward skills and recruiting guidelines

  Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Description Division 1 Low Division 1/Top Division 2 Division 2 / Division 3
Club Experience Attended major tournament: Festival, AAU, Junior Olympics, National Futures Program Attended major tournament: Festival Disney Showcase Travel team
High School Experience All-State, All-American All-State, All-Region/Conference All-Region, All-Conference

Tier 1 field hockey forward expert notes

Tier 1 athletes are the best forwards in the college game. These athletes can combine pace, deception and speed to drive the ball to the goal and score. They are extremely versatile with the ability to adapt their skills in various situations. The most important role of a forward is to score goals, which they do consistently from all angles in high-pressure situations. Tier 1 forwards are solid communicators, working as a unit with other forwards on the field.

Tier 2 field hockey forward expert notes

Playing forward at a lower-end NCAA Division 1 program or top-end Division 2 program requires the skills and experience of a tier 2 athlete. These athletes are good communicators who work as a unit with other forwards to create scoring opportunities. While they are not as fast or adaptable as tier 1 athletes, they are able to score from most angles.

Tier 3 field hockey forward expert notes

Tier 3 athletes are not able to consistently put together pace, deception and speed to create scoring opportunities. They have a good grasp of the fundamental skills but have trouble adapting in various situations. They understand that scoring is their main role, and they can make goals from some angles. Tier 3 athletes can communicate well, but they struggle to work as a unit with other forwards in high-pressure situations.

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What division level is right for me?

Each NCAA division is unique in its own way. To understand what division level is the right fit, student-athletes need to decide what they are looking for in an institution and athletic program. Once they have a good understanding of what they are looking for, student-athletes will need to evaluate at what level they are best suited to play field hockey. Athletes can research current team rosters to see how they measure up, as well as work with their club and/or high school coach to evaluate their talent. Using this as a guide, the student-athlete can begin to research colleges and universities that might be a good fit for them.

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How to get better at field hockey

Joining a club field hockey team is a great way to develop as an athlete. Club teams practice and compete year-round, so student-athletes can consistently focus on improving as field hockey players throughout the year. Another benefit of joining a club team is the increased visibility and access to college coaches that high school field hockey does not offer. Club field hockey teams compete in tournaments attended by college coaches across the country. Athletes can put their skills to the test during competition, while college coaches watch and evaluate their talent.

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