USA Field Hockey NEWS USA to England and B...

USA to England and Back

By CARRIE HANKS, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM DEFENDER | April 06, 2020, 10:25 a.m. (ET)

Wearing the USA jersey has significant meaning to each and every player who has the privilege to put it on. The players who came before worked tirelessly to honor it. The current players, both veteran and new, look to the jersey and to each other while standing on the baseline ready to take on fitness development, on Winning Wednesdays full of competition, during the national anthem on game day as they look to perform. Younger players watch the games, practice skills and dream of one day putting on that jersey. I was one of those younger players. However, from early on in my development, my awareness of field hockey broadened to see how big the sport is across the globe. As my interest and passion for the sport grew, so did my desire to watch top competition and skill. YouTube offered an enormous number of skills videos and international game footage. The streaming of the men’s EuroHockey League allowed me to watch top-level competition whenever those tournaments rolled around – and also left me sitting in amazement of the skill (and composure) the players possessed. This is when I started hoping and thinking of the incredible experience I could have if I could play abroad at some stage.

 

The opportunities with Junior High Performance teams and Indoor U.S. National Teams continued to push my development and passion for the game, accompanying my high school club and college play. At the end of my final NCAA season at the University of Maryland, I knew it could not be the end of my playing career. I had been named to the U.S. Women’s National Development Team and knew it would take continued commitment to my development as a player in order to vie for a spot on the national team. I wanted to continue training and competing at a high level. The start of the spring semester brought just that opportunity to my attention. Coaches involved with an English hockey club and university had asked my coach at Maryland, Missy Meharg, if there were any graduating seniors who would be interested in playing abroad and completing a postgraduate program at the university, and sure enough, she did. A series of emails and Skype conversations later, I had confidently made my decision – I would travel to England that coming August to play for Beeston Hockey Club, and to study and play for Nottingham Trent University. Looking forward to the coming year served as another challenge to take on and work toward, in addition to the work with the Development Team that spring.

 

I arrived in Nottingham excited to get on the pitch and get training. In playoffs the previous season, Beeston Hockey Club Ladies’ 1s had secured promotion to the Premier Division for England Club Hockey. Each game would be a battle, some teams with current or former Great Britain players competing, and all certainly with experienced, skilled players. One of the biggest differences from playing in the NCAA was the variety in players’ ages on teams. There could be a teenager playing next to a player in her thirties. The environment created in the established club system in England, as well as other countries, keeps players competing past the university age. The accumulation of playing experience really is apparent when these players take the field because of the composure and game sense that has been honed over the years with the skills to match.

 

The club promotion also meant my family (and a few dedicated friends from home) could watch my home matches at Beeston on the BeeTV stream.

 

Both of my coaches in Nottingham were attuned to what my personal goals for development were, in addition to what coaches within the USA system were looking for in players. Key aspects of my learning and development in England centered around keeping my play simple. My club coach over there liked to present it as: the best players in my position (as a defender or screen) don’t make mistakes. He wasn’t trying to pressure me with an unrealistic standard – quite the opposite, really. Instead, it was for simplification. Obviously, no player is perfect, but it helped to put me in the playing mindset to know what my options were before I even received the ball, and to focus on simply executing the skill to distribute. Over time in training and time off the pitch, these characteristics began to become more consistent in my game play. Individual time on HUDL (the platform for sharing and viewing game video footage) complemented team tactical video sessions with the club. I enjoyed the experience so much that when asked by my coaches whether I would consider returning to Nottingham for a second year, I said yes. In August 2019, I went back for round two, pursuing a second postgraduate program, and fundamentally, even more time guaranteed training, competing and working toward that fundamental motivation: Team USA. It didn’t turn out to be the fall and first half of the season I expected. I had a concussion that forced me away from the game I was passionate about. But the team support was so great and helpful and I looked to still contribute to team progress where possible.

 

For me, the time living, studying and playing in England brought on significant development for myself as a player and as a person. Adapting to the new environment (though not needing to completely learn a new language) included changes in terminology used while playing and everyday life, in addition to new customs and experiences. The people on my new teams played an important role in my adjustment to their systems of play, and it was key for me to contribute, as well. With a pretty decent amount of playing experience, I took it upon myself to confidently voice my thoughts and questions - in the training environment, particularly. When I returned for a second season with these two teams, I took on leadership roles.

 

Returning to the USA environment for the U.S. Women’s National Team Trials in early January of this year certainly changed the outlook for my next six months. Instead of returning to England to play and contribute to my teams over there, I would have the privilege of training and going straight into the 2020 FIH Hockey Pro League as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team. It was the overarching purpose that I had when going over to England. I had achieved a major goal of mine, but it now signified just the start of another journey, to wear that USA jersey.

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Carrie Hanks