When Anita Hay injured her hand during a game of field hockey, she decided to give a new, less injury-prone sport a go.
She never imagined that, within a few short years, that same sport would lead her to representing her country overseas, captaining the national women’s side, championing women’s involvement, and coaching a team in her adopted home town.
The Featherston local is one of the founding members of the New Zealand Women’s Floorball Team – recently returned from the 2023 World Floorball Championship qualification tournament, held in Chonburi, Thailand.
While in Thailand, the New Zealand team played six games over six days, in temperatures of over 30 degrees celsius and 80 percent humidity – spurred on from the sidelines by an enthusiastic crowd of Kiwi supporters.
Hay and her teammates played against some of the top floorball squads from the Asia-Pacific region – including Australia, Korea, Japan and The Phillippines – ultimately finishing in fifth place.
Hay began playing floorball, a fast-paced form of indoor hockey played with lightweight sticks and a hollow plastic ball, in 2011 – and has gone on to play in both social and competitive leagues, and represent New Zealand in four international tournaments.
In 2020, on relocating to Wairarapa, Hay and husband Chris set up the Featherston Feathercats, a social, all-ages team which trains weekly at the Featherston Sports Stadium.
Hay was introduced to floorball by a co-worker while recovering from a fractured hand – and hasn’t looked back.
“My colleague had a neighbour that played competitively – turns out, he was the president of Floorball New Zealand,” she said.
“He noticed my hand, and suggested I give floorball a try, as I was likely to ‘end up with loads fewer bruises’.
“I started playing socially – and got super involved, very quickly. It’s a pretty addictive sport once you get going!”
Floorball first originated in Sweden in the late 1960s, with the first floorball club founded in 1979 – though official match rules weren’t written down until 1981.
As of 2019, there were about 377,000 registered players worldwide.
Floorball is known for its accessibility [as little protective gear is needed, it is less costly than other forms of hockey] and matches which move at breakneck speed – which Hay argues is the most enjoyable part of the game.
“You don’t have a lot of time to think – so you make your decisions quickly.
“It can be a great escape for that reason. In the arena, you don’t have time to think about what else is going on in your life when you’re focusing on the job at hand.
“Also, it’s played in a more enclosed area, so you’re pretty much always involved in the action.”
Adding to the high-octane environment, players are subbed on and off in quick succession.
“Some games, you’re only on for a minute, then you’re subbed off. It can be a good way to throw off the opposition – rotating your whole team in a short amount of time.”
In 2015, Hay helped put together the first New Zealand women’s team – which played in its first World Championship qualifier tournament in Australia, with Hay as captain.
As there’s no specific women’s league in New Zealand, the young side was accustomed to playing in mixed sides or against all-male teams – so playing against more experienced female squads was a baptism of fire.
“We didn’t know what we were doing!” Hay said.
“As we were used to playing against men, we could play quite a good defensive game, but we had to learn to develop other facets of the sport [such as offensive strategy].”
The New Zealand team has gone on to play in three more international qualifiers – and, though it has not yet qualified for the World Championships, Hay said it is a positive experience to come up against “some highly-skilled competition”.
“It’s always great to play against a full team of strong women players. There are some real stand-outs in the international teams that we can learn from.
“For example, the Japanese team – their play is understated, but very efficient and slick. They make it look effortless. They’re very respectful players as well.”
Back in Wairarapa, she and Chris are enjoying working with the Featherston Feathercats – which has members aged from “20 to 70” – every Thursday afternoon.
“The good thing about floorball is you can adjust the pace according to different fitness levels. You’re not going to try tackling a 70-year-old and breaking their hip.
“Mind you, my Dad is 69 and plays in the team – and he’s more likely to do someone else damage than the other way around!”
Hay is also passionate about encouraging women into floorball – and regularly helps out with the Wellington league’s “have a go” sessions, where women can try playing in a safe environment.
For more information about floorball in Featherston, send an email to [email protected]