Life on tour is sharing a room with a different teammate. It is playing in front of 5,000 people. It is packing snacks because you are a picky eater. It is playing gin rummy until you’re tired or hoping you have enough single dollars to compete in the next round of Left, Right, Center. It is trying new foods because you also like to say you are adventurous. It is fighting jet lag with different coffee shops. It is exploring a new country.
I made the transition to the national team in December 2018, and, due to my university’s academic structure, I joined the team full-time in March 2019. It was an exciting time because the FIH Hockey Pro League was in full swing, and the team was gearing up for a month long trip to Europe. I was stoked. The opportunity to represent my country, hang out with my teammates and explore Europe had me telling all my classmates back at school that I was on a study abroad quarter for field hockey.
Although a tour with the U.S. Women’s National Team is a little different than a college’s study abroad experience, what I think is so special about traveling with USA Field Hockey is that you explore each country’s hockey culture. For our trip to Europe in April 2019, we spent the majority of the time based out of Haarlem, The Netherlands. Haarlem is a quaint town marked with zigzagging brick roads, rounded canals, and bicyclist streaming past seemingly out of nowhere. Since we were in Europe for so long, we fell into a routine that often looked like:
- 8:45 a.m. Hydration Testing
- 9:00 a.m. Breakfast
- 10:30 a.m. Meeting
- 11:30 a.m. Lunch
- 2:00 p.m. Training
- 6:30 p.m. Dinner
Now, I will spare the details of hydration testing, but I am usually clearly hydrated, so that is never a big focus of my day. We then all head to team breakfast. No phones allowed. I am mostly a morning person, so breakfast for me is a great time to connect with my teammates. However, a lot of the team has more of a focus on coffee than connection in the early minutes of the morning. But, by the end of the meal, we are all usually chatting and planning escapades during our free time.
Meetings can range from watching film to talking about our structure to focusing on team culture. Usually, we watch film to debrief our previous games or to scout upcoming opponents. As a goalkeeper, I am fortunate enough to always stay for the auxiliary penalty corner meetings. I like to view this hour as “hockey class” for the day. Notebooks and pens required. Loose leaf paper permissible but can yield an exposing call-out during the middle of a meeting. Hockey is a lot more nuanced than I ever realized before joining the national team, and these meetings are always a great time to hammer out the details to be prepared for our next game or to improve any small detail.
We then head back to the dining room where we have our next no-technology meal. After lunch, I would probably spend the small break resting a little before practice. Most of the team fills this period with books, television, or schoolwork – a good opportunity to have a little me-time – but there is always a room full of my teammates chatting about whatever the latest drama could be.
We usually have a two hour practice. The practices are always intense, but the level varies based on whether we are playing a game the next day or within the next week. One of the things I like about tours is seeing another country’s hockey culture, and practicing is always a great insight into that. In The Netherlands, they have hockey clubs that also function as social clubs. People hang out, grab meals, play hockey, or watch a game. In China, the Chinese hockey team has their own facility with a hotel next to it and multiple fields. However, millions of kids still streamed into the facility to watch our game. In Belgium, they have pitches directly in the middle of the city. A band seemed to find its way directly behind our goal to chant loud songs no matter what side of the pitch we were playing on. In Great Britain, we played at a hockey club that also is a tennis club, a unique blend of the two sports. It also happened to be the same pitch that the 2018 World Cup was played on. Each country has a unique culture that emerges through its pitches. Some are different colors, some are located deep within cities, some have massive stadiums around it, but they all seem to weave together by a unified hockey culture.
Once training is over and if I am not too tired, I like to spend my last little bit of free time exploring whatever city we are in. During longer tours, we also have regeneration days, which are designated off days for recovery. Since the days’ focus is recovery, we cannot spend the entire day sight-seeing. After all, we are technically on a business trip for hockey, but we usually have an hour or two to do something active. I love to take this opportunity to explore.
A lot of time this adventure manifests in trying out new coffee shops around our hotel, taking a walk in the surrounding area, finding stores to shop, or looking for nearby cultural sites. The variability depends more on how exhausted we are from training, and how much we need to rest for upcoming games. However, if you want coffee, you can almost certainly find a group to go.
After free time, we have our no-phone team dinner, but one of the most fun parts of the day comes after dinner. There is always a group who plays a game of cards. Nicole sometimes even brings her Left, Right, Center game, but the team has to be careful playing as we like to wager real dollar bills. And a few games yield a few happy winners but a few too many sore losers. Shocking that the national team is so competitive about all types of games…
In all seriousness, I always enjoy these quiet evenings of playing games. The games are always a nice way to connect with a smaller group of the team and is also entirely unique to tours. At home, after practice, we all go back to our own respective homes with the same people. During tours we are all together and mixed up. We get an opportunity to hang out with different people and try different activities. Touring is a time when the team improves our connectivity while playing hockey in a different culture. It is an experience hard to encapsulate in words, but touring seems to be the dominant memory from my time so far with the national team. My camera roll is flooded with pictures of a sea of red tulips in Lisse, The Netherlands, and the pastel multicolor stadium seats of the pitch in Monchengladbach, Germany, and a few too many chai lattes with frothy white foam balancing on top of the milky brown tea. Touring is always an adventure that the team experiences together.