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 the game can take you anywhere in life, both talent-wise and globally. For 20 years, Pat Harris has channeled that passion into representing the U.S. Men’s National Team on the international stage in addition to various clubs around the world as an elite-athlete.
Harris has been a long-time believer in that the sport chose him, not the other way around. Field hockey has a lengthy tie to the family name starting with Pat’s father (David) and uncle (Tom). These two iconic siblings are a history lesson themselves, but their enthusiasm was quickly passed to the next generation to Pat and his brother, Sean.
“For my brother and I it was quite clear we were going to be involved in field hockey at some point,” said Harris. “I started playing when I was 5 in a small organized league in Moorpark, Calif. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back I now recognize how fascinated I was with the sport and how that fascination drove my work ethic and dedication to improve. For instance, when my father, my brother and myself would go to the training ground together, I would often head off on my own and attempt to mimic skills top international players were using. I was very motivated and particular about training. Things had to be perfect, which wasn't realistic of course, but I think this passion to be as perfect as possible played a huge factor in my individual growth as a young [field] hockey player."
In addition to practicing nearly every day among family, Harris gained experience on the field as a member of the Moorpark Coyotes club team through most of his youth. In 1996, still early in his athletic career, Harris attended the Olympic Games in Atlanta. While he noted that he can’t pinpoint just one defining moment that inspired him to one day represent Team USA, his memories of seeing acquaintances take the field for the red, white and blue in Atlanta was unique in putting him on a similar path.
“The U.S. Men were competing at the [Olympic] Games,” continued Harris. “Just being able to see them compete in an atmosphere like the Olympics, and even having the opportunity to speak to some of the players, sparked my ambition to one day have the chance to perhaps be a member of Team USA.”
Harris did not have to wait long to begin making that vigor a reality. At the age of 13, the Moorpark native tried out for the Junior U.S. Men’s National Teams. Despite only having U-18 and U-21 teams at the time, Harris exceeded all expectations and was named to the U-18 squad shortly after. Later on he moved up to the U-21 team before being named to the senior USMNT in 2000 at the age of 15.
While still at Moorpark High School at the time, Harris quickly ventured abroad not just for USA, but also club play in Europe. He had come a long way from his club life with the Moorpark Coyotes and was ever determined to take advantage of his playing opportunities. Harris began training with the oldest field hockey club in The Netherlands: Amsterdam Hockey and Bandy Club, starting with the U-16 and U-18 teams. In time he also had the chance to play a handful of matches with the club’s second team, which gave him the opportunity to compete with many legends of the game, most notably Taco van den Honert of The Netherlands.
It was just the tip of the iceberg for his career. By the age of 18, Harris branched his experience across the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
“From the ages of 18 to 22 I played small stints of club hockey in Germany, England and New Zealand before moving back to The Netherlands in 2008,” added Harris. There I played three years for Laren Mixed Hockey Club. In 2012, I moved to Germany and played eight years for Mannheimer Hockey Club, and just this year I moved to Leuven, Belgium to join the Royal Hockey Club Leuven. Club hockey, especially the versions I have been exposed to in Europe, has given me the opportunity to compete against, and with some of the world’s best, and a means to continuously develop my game over the years.”
His time in a USA uniform has also been memorable, filled with experience, life lessons and achievements. His first international cap was during the 2000 America’s Cup (a World Cup qualifying event) in Havana, Cuba, where he also tallied his first goal for the senior squad. Two decades later, USA’s No. 5 has collected 150 international caps amidst a variety of experiences in the U.S. Men’s Olympic Development Pipeline, ranging from frustration to jubilation.
“Some I would rather forget, like finishing seventh at the 2007 Pan American Games, and some I am very proud of such as winning the bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru,” continued Harris. “Of all the years I have been involved, I see the most potential in the group that has been assembled over the past circa 5 to 6 years. There has been immense progress and I am excited for what the future holds for the group.”
In that timespan, the Wolfpack has clawed to multiple medal-winning competitions in addition to Lima, including bronze at the 2017 Men’s FIH Hockey World League Round 2 and men’s Pan American Cup.
It's hard to imagine his life without having the sport to mold him, but is grateful for it with every rising sun.
"I for sure would have missed the many people throughout the world who have positively influenced my life," admitted Harris. "I can remember so many experiences that have pushed me to become better, made me laugh, given me perspective, etc. The people I have met have shaped my life in many ways, so it's hard to imagine what life without hockey would or could have been had I chosen a different path."
Although he has been active throughout the world, Harris was able to continue his education through California University of Pennsylvania.
“My college experience was very relaxed in comparison to most I would say,” noted Harris. “I specifically chose California University of Pennsylvania because they offered bachelor’s and master’s sports programs that were completely online. I wanted a platform that would compliment my hockey commitments. The fact that I could complete my studies online allowed me the flexibility I needed to meet the demands of playing professionally in Europe and traveling and competing with the U.S. Men’s National Team.”
Now with more than three decades under his belt as an athlete, Harris’ passion of the game still burns strong wherever the road takes him and seizing every opportunity that comes his way.