The Hockey Paper - - WILLIAMS -

With the school hockey sea­son in full swing, coaches now get plenty of ques­tions from par­ents and young play­ers about what stick to buy next.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the gap be­tween what par­ents are hop­ing to pay and what their su­per keen ten to 15-yearolds are hop­ing they’ll fork out is some­where around £100. That’s about as much as the par­ent wants to spend while the plead­ing eyes along­side are of­ten hop­ing for dou­ble that and, in some cases, triple.

Not sur­pris­ingly, it’s the non­hockey play­ing par­ents who are mostly look­ing for some guid­ance and so this week, af­ter ex­actly this type of con­ver­sa­tion, I de­cided to test out my lo­cal sports store to see what would con­front a par­ent with lit­tle or no hockey knowl­edge.

So, with a bud­get of be­tween £75 and £150, I pulled out eight sticks from var­i­ous brands and then started to write down what in­for­ma­tion was in front of me that would help me de­cide which stick might be best for my child.

The list, when I’d fin­ished, was ex­tra­or­di­nary. Along­side the per­cent- ages of car­bon and fi­bre­glass were all sorts of other fea­tures, high­lighted by im­por­tant look­ing brand­ing, of­fer­ing ap­par­ent rock-solid guar­an­tees on things like grip, feel and pro­tec­tion.

The big buzz word how­ever seemed to be “tech­nol­ogy” with brands spout­ing core tech­nol­ogy, gel tech­nol­ogy and even bounce of the ball tech­nol­ogy, what­ever that is. In to­tal I counted 21 dif­fer­ent branded fea­tures on those eight sticks and not one bit of in­for­ma­tion ex­plain­ing any of them.

Now, be­fore any of­fended man­u­fac­tur­ers cry foul, let me just re­count what the des­per­ately help­ful shop as­sis­tant had to of­fer about just one of these fea­tures.

“I have no idea,” he said, “I sup­pose it keeps the ball bounc­ing low rather than high.” And with that, he left me to de­cide if that was a good enough rea­son to buy a stick for £149.

With my head now full of zones, gels and pro­tec­tion sys­tems, I then de­cided to com­pare things with the ten­nis sec­tion, bear­ing in mind there are a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween how rac­quets and sticks are made.

There I found an en­tirely dif­fer­ent story. Not only were there fewer brands but the point of sale advertising was mainly based around the in­stantly recog­nis­able spon­sored play­ers who used the top ver­sions of the prod­uct. There also seemed to be a much smaller num­ber of whizzbang fea­tures and they all seemed to be ex­plained on a use­ful in­for­ma­tion sheet at­tached to the face of the rac­quets.

So, in our world now lit­tered with fake news and al­ter­nate facts, let me of­fer some quick points of ad­vice. First, take note of the weight, bal­ance point and curve in­for­ma­tion but ig­nore the car­bon con­tent per­cent­ages which doesn’t ac­tu­ally give you any use­ful in­for­ma­tion about the qual­ity of the stick. “99% car­bon” tells you noth­ing about the type or grade of car­bon, or the resins that are used or the rest of the pro­duc­tion process. It might as well say it’s 100% but­ter.

Sec­ond, use the same type of logic as you might if you were buy­ing a car. That top of the line coupe from North Korea might look good but does it have the pro­duc­tion qual­ity of a midrange Mercedes?

And the ob­vi­ous les­son from the eight sticks I looked at this week was that there seems to be a pretty clear cor­re­la­tion be­tween the brands with­out that range and qual­ity and the num­ber of du­bi­ous, eye-catch­ing zones, gels and tech­nolo­gies they can ap­par­ently of­fer.

Fi­nally, if you’re look­ing to buy a stick for your young player, just re­mem­ber that just as Roger Fed­erer’s rac­quet won’t teach some­one to hit a back­hand nei­ther will a £275 stick teach any­one how to push or trap.

Even if you can af­ford a Mercedes, it still makes no sense to buy Lewis Hamil­ton’s F1 car for some­one who is still only a cou­ple of years in to driv­ing.

Spend sen­si­bly on a good brand and a player who is us­ing it of­ten enough and well enough will wear a good stick out.

That’s the right rea­son to up­grade rather than the size of its car­bon foot­print or the ap­peal of a 100% Kevlar In­fused Ul­tra Pro­tec­tive High Vis­i­bil­ity Soft Touch Power Zone.

Roger Fed­erer’s rac­quet won’t teach some­one to hit a back­hand, nor will a £275 stick teach any­one how to push or trap

Get­ting stuck in: These boys are us­ing their sticks to good ef­fect

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