On Wednesdays throughout 2021, USA Field Hockey will highlight an active club from one of the nine regions around the United States to shine a spotlight on what makes Member Clubs unique. From coast-to-coast, clubs big and small will be featured to increase awareness of field hockey across the country, and administrators and coaches will have the chance to talk about initiatives, training and favorite parts of the game. This week from Region 11 is San Francisco Youth Field Hockey.
Club Name: San Francisco Youth Field Hockey
History: San Francisco Youth Field Hockey was founded in 2017 by Michelle Van de Braak-Smulders in an effort to give back to the sport that has given her so much. The team name and mascot has a unique story that came about when the team was on a field trip to be walk out and be anthem buddies at the 2019 UC Berkeley vs Michigan game. The squad was given three choices of animals that were fierce and indigenous to where the club plays in San Francisco, Calif. and something fun for the fans to yell. They picked the Hawks. Prior to that the parents yelled “Go San Francisco Youth Field Hockey!”, which was a mouthful. The club colors mimic those of the university that founder Van de Braak-Smulders attend, the University of Michigan.
San Francisco Youth Field Hockey welcomes boys and girls in first through 12th grades from beginners to experience athletes. The club prides itself on teaching athletes to learn sportsmanship, teamwork, resilience and the skills to play field hockey.
The club offers year round training in all seasons along with summer camps and winter skill development. They believe everyone deserves the opportunity to play the greatest sport invented, as their mission is to grow field hockey in San Francisco. Since the launch, the club has touched more than 750 athletes and continues to grow in numbers of athletes and teams each year.
Van de Braak-Smulders on Club Life:
Van de Braak-Smulders, who also serves as the head coach, started her field hockey career in 7th grade at The Kinkaid School in Houston and fell in love with the sport. She played for the University of Michigan (1992-1996) and earned NCAA All-America her senior year and Big Ten All-Conference her junior and senior years.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Business, Van de Braak-Smulders moved to The Netherlands to continue to play field hockey. She played for five years for the Pinoké Club in Amsterdam. During this time, she had the honor to represent the USA as a member of the U.S. U-21 and U-23 Women’s National Team. In 1998, she attended the U.S. Olympic Trials with hopes of making the USWNT for the Sydney 2000 Games.
To stay busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, like most clubs, San Francisco Youth Field Hockey shifted to virtual sessions only to soon discover that field hockey is no fun virtually and Zoom really was the new four letter word. So as a club, they hung tight and waited for the mandates to open up. The San Francisco Department of Public Health approved outdoor camps, so they jumped on the opportunity and since July 2020, their coaches have been on the field with their athletes five to six days per week.
As youth athletes in Northern California start to return to play, Van de Braak-Smulders emphasized that the club needed to adjust their typical tournament style to adhere to the current guidelines. San Francisco Youth Field Hockey pivoted and launched the Nor Cal Hockey 5s League where clubs from all across the region joined the 8-week league and are competing to be crowned champion across five different divisions.
The club is also proud to partner with the San Francisco Department of Youth and Children services to offer FREE summer camps to underprivileged youth in the city. These camps, called Summer Together, run from July 12 to 30 and are open to everyone in first through 8th grades.
Just prior to the start of the fall season, San Francisco Youth Field Hockey will host an intense high school pre-season program to help springboard athletes into the season. This opportunity will also be from July 12 to 30 for athletes in 9th through 12th grades.
Van de Braak-Smulders’ favorite part of being a member of the USA Field Hockey Family is the support of the organization to stay connected to the sport. San Francisco Youth Field Hockey is very excited about the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games being in their state.