Being a part of a team that is consistently going into games and tournaments as a side that’s not meant to come out with a positive outcome, has more positives than the majority may feel. Within the Wolfpack, we do our best to shut off the outside noise and have therefore given ourselves an attitude that allows us to play without fear.
I’ve been a part of this team for over six years. Not one of those years have we ever gone into a big tournament where anything was truly expected of us. The belief within the camp has never been stronger than it is right now, however, this wasn’t always the case. I remember sitting inside a changing room having lost a Pan American Games quarterfinal match against Brazil, feeling lower than the game has ever allowed me to feel. The end result of the tournament was that we finished fifth and the field hockey world saw that as a fair result for us. It did not feel that way to me, the team or coaching staff. At this point, the belief wasn’t within the squad as it is now. We were going into tournaments and games believing we were the underdog but also allowing ourselves to know there was a reason for that.
What was to come in the resulting years, following that poor result, was a big rebuild. A lot of questions were asked of everything within the program. It started with professionalism and attitude. How could we go into any game not believing we could match up with our opposition? It’s one thing to be an underdog, it’s a complete other to recognize you need a miracle to pull off a result. This is where our process had to change. The drawing board was visited a few times before things started to click. It’s a long process to go through a recovery to get things right, perhaps a harder one to implement. Whilst we looked at our mental approach, we also knew that in order to qualify as even underdogs we needed to be working harder. You can’t work less against perceivably better opposition and come out with a positive result. It’s like going into a test having not studied, rarely is the desired result achieved. So, this was the new minimum in the first couple of years post 2015. We work harder on our fitness and playing careers to make them match up with the best in the world.
At the end of those two years and the new standards, we earned our first medal as this group that still stands together today. Bronze on home turf at the 2017 Pan American Cup, it felt a lot better than fifth in Canada a couple of years back. A semifinal lost to Canada in a shootout where Canada gave us a lot of plaudits after the game. This posted a new question of the underdogs; is this possible? Yes. We went toe-to-toe with a team who has qualified for the past two Olympic Games and World Cups. Having said that, we came up short, again. Only one thing to do, work even harder. A harsher attitude was adopted and even stricter training and lifestyle changes.
The majority of the team, after the Pan American Cup, went over and played seasons abroad to gain a better knowledge of the sport. When finding themselves there, they were instantly met with the stigma that male American athletes can’t play field hockey. Yet it added more wood for the fir of the underdogs and an even nicer attitude for us to drive motivation. You can’t change people’s minds by talking to them, you have to do it on the pitch. This is what we did, we started changing attitudes, much to the annoyance of the countries we played against. After beating France in Paris, the French press said that we were a disgrace and didn’t deserve it. After drawing series with both Scotland and Ireland in their respective home countries, we were told that these games were flukes and we came out lucky. All this luck lining up though, has to mean something?
The squad didn’t care about what was written or said, because now we had momentum. Momentum and an underdog attitude can be quite a force. As we pushed on into 2019, which was a big year in tournaments for us, we managed to surprise everyone. We came fourth in India after losing a semifinal match in the last twelve seconds to a team we beat in pool play, fair play. We claimed bronze at the Pan American Games in Peru, losing two games to sides who were certainly better than us on the day, fair play.
The recent results still aren’t changing the field hockey worlds minds’, and neither are they changing ours. Since 2015 this squad has achieved more than any other U.S. Men’s National Team has ever done. So we’d like to ask the rest of the field hockey world to keep doubting us because we have the momentum and adopted an attitude that allows us to go into every game knowing we have nothing to lose, which is the perfect mental state. Keep calling us the underdogs, it’s fuel to the fire.