Each athlete that wears the red, white and blue has a unique story to how their careers came to fruition. From the junior level to the senior squad, USA Field Hockey is putting national team athletes under the spotlight to share their journeys.
The love of a game can extend generations and across decades as family members can often be the spark of passion. Jatin Sharma’s field hockey career followed a similar path from a sentiment that stretched half a world away to the Junior U.S. Men’s National Team.
Growing up and playing in India, Sharma’s father continued to stay active after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States. He later helped found the Stanford Lightning Youth Field Hockey club. All the while, a young 6-year-old Sharma would ultimately pick up on his father’s interest and played in his first California Cup in 2007. He has proudly played in each edition of the highly coveted tournament since then, and each year spawns a new memory on Memorial Day weekend, and with his father around club life.
“It's definitely the best tournament in the U.S.,” said Sharma. “My dad was my coach until I was about 16. I then began playing with the Hayward Hawks Field Hockey Club when I was 13. My dad founded this club with a friend to focus on boys development in the Bay Area. My dad and I now coach the U-10's at Lightning together.”
Field hockey was not the only sport Sharma focused on growing up. He participated in basketball through middle school, as well as competitive and varsity soccer until graduating high school in 2019. He credits playing multiple sports as a contributing factor to his fitness as he now focuses on field hockey. This fall he will begin his second year at the University of California Santa Cruz as he pursues a degree in computer science. When not training in the U.S. Men’s Olympic Development Pipeline, Sharma keeps his skills sharp around the Bay Area
“My school is about an hour away from Stanford so I can still go to Norcal Sharks regional practices every week and I can come home on weekends to play in the Bay Area Field Hockey Association (BAFHA) league or pick-up hockey,” continued Sharma. “I also play local tournaments with the Hayward Hawks and high level tournaments around North America with the San Jose Khalsa field hockey club. The San Jose team consists of many high level players, some of whom are past national team players.”
While wearing many jerseys around the year, Sharma’s first match dawning the red, white and blue was in November 2017 during a test series against Canada in Moorpark, Calif. Despite not getting a lot of playing time, he used it as extra motivation to train harder and to be more determined to reach the next level. This became a staple memory for his journey through the pipeline, and in 2019 experienced his favorite tour to date when USA went Chile.
“That was the first away series a junior team had won since 2011 and I thought that was pretty special,” said Sharma. “I also got close with a lot of the guys on the team on that trip. Going on tours is always full of good times because of the players you're around.”
His latest career milestone came earlier this year as the USMNT traveled to South Africa.
“Playing in a senior men's international game is a massive step up from junior games,” said Sharma. “The flow and quality of the game is much faster on the senior level. You also have to be a lot fitter to play in these games. Playing in South Africa was really an amazing experience because it showed me what it takes to play on the senior international level. It is definitely not a walk in the park.”
Wherever his career takes him next, Sharma, along with the rest of the Junior USMNT athletes hope to return to play as soon as it is deemed safe. They remain optimistic of training camps resuming later this fall.