USA Field Hockey NEWS Athlete Spotlight: W...

Athlete Spotlight: Will Holt

Sept. 25, 2020, 4:45 p.m. (ET)

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.

He is fueled by his favorite sports quote, “Believe where others doubt, work where others refuse, stay where others quit, and you will win where others lose.” With more than a decade of experience on the international stage, Will Holt is a recognizable leader on the pitch as a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Holt’s athletic journey is rooted from watching the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games as an eager child on the couch in the living room. Seeing the smiles, tears and pride of athletes under the United States flag forged a dream to one day represent the red, white and blue on the sports world’s biggest international stage. In 2000, he zoned in on his sport of choice when he attended a two-week program in his physical education class at Bedford Open Elementary School.

“During that time you signed-up for a class that wasn’t offered in general education,” explained Holt. “It was a variety of courses like geology, sculpting, origami, etc. There was only one sport on that list and it was field hockey. I had no idea what it was, but all I wanted to do was play sports. I had no interest in anything else, so I felt I had to do it.”

The Camarillo, Calif. native then met an individual by the name of Coralie Van Marken, who was involved with the Ventura Roadrunner Field Hockey Club, and at the time did not realize this would be a life changing encounter. Van Marken demonstrated field hockey to the ambitious young Holt, which according to him at the time, was a sport “so weird, so strange and made absolutely no sense.:

“I hated the idea of not being good at something, and I was terrible at hockey,” continued Holt. “I grew up playing basketball and the idea of using a candy-cane shaped stick to smack a golf ball-looking baseball was beyond me. But Coralie told me that I had potential, she set me up to play for the Ventura Roadrunners. I joined at the end of their normal season. The very next year, my very first official U-12 coach was Malachi Mahan, now an assistant coach at the University of California, Berekly, and a very close friend of mine. That mini-course at Bedford with Coralie, forever changed the trajectory of my athletic career - and I will be forever grateful.” 

A few years later Holt, still holding his Olympic dreams close to his heart, tried out for the U.S. U-16 Men’s National team at the age of 13. He did not make the cut, but from the experience he knew his dream could be reality if he truly put in the extra training and mentality to achieve.

He didn’t have to wait much longer. In 2007, just seven years after his fateful introduction to the game, Holt was named to the senior USMNT. The following year he recorded his first international cap for USA on the doorstep of the Olympic Games: the Kia Kaha Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, which consisted of six teams looking to punch their ticket to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

“I got to see some of the guys I looked up to, watched on the internet playing in World Cups and Olympic Games,” noted Holt. “One of my favorite players at the time was there playing for New Zealand, Hayden Shaw. He was a massive defender who was one of the strongest dragflickers in the game at that point. Along with guys like Phil Burrows, Mario Almada, Kwandwane Browne, the list goes on. We’re talking field hockey legends and in an amazing country like New Zealand! It was such an amazing experience.”

Though on opposing sides of the field, Holt and the rest of USA dueled his idols of the game to a fifth place finish in the tournament. Over the last 13 years the dream of the Olympic stage is as bright as ever as Holt has tallied 85 goals in 146 international matches for the red, white and blue.

He found additional playing opportunities in Europe over the years. Holt recalled his athletic contract for Royal Oreé THC in Brussels, Belgium in addition to the fierce competition and great atmosphere of the club. After an injury while playing he knew college was the next logical step, but knew he wanted to return to club life eventually.

“I had been to two great hockey countries, and I had decided that I wanted to play in a new country each season and gather as much hockey knowledge and culture that I could,” said Holt.

Academically, sports have remained near and dear to Holt. Following high school he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance (2014) and a master’s degree in athletic administration (2015) from the University of Louisville. Like his encounter with Van Marken, Holt made a life altering choice after visiting campus and a conversation with head coach Justine Sowry.

“I had absolutely no intent on going to Louisville,” admitted Holt. “One of my best friends from high school, Michael Roman, had just transferred from UCLA to Louisville to play college soccer. Another friend and I decided to fly out and watch Michael and Louisville play against UCLA in the NCAA College Cup. While I was there, I had the opportunity to meet the legendary Justine Sowry. I got to sit down with the Australian legend for about an hour and just talk field hockey and Louisville. The next day I submitted my application to the university. I had to go there.”

But while his goals remain the same as an athlete, Holt has amassed a significant resume as a coach of the game as well. In the U.S. Men’s Olympic Development Pipeline, he served as assistant coach of the U-21 USMNT before taking on the roles of associate head coach of the U-16 USMNT and head coach of the U-18 USMNT.

Overseas he has been a head coach and assistant coach for several club teams, including the U-16 Boys team for Royal Oreé T.H.B (2010), U-16 and U-18 Boys teams for Royal Pengouins HC (2016), U-16 Boys first team for V.M.H.C. Cartouche (2018) and U-14 Girls for NMHC Nijmegan (2019). Several of these positions corresponded with Holt’s return to club play after acquiring his master’s.

“After I got my masters degree from Louisville, I returned to Belgium to play for Royal Pengouin HC, followed by Southgate HC in the United Kingdom,” continued Holt. “I then returned to my first club, VMHC Cartouche in Holland, where I got to play with and against some Dutch legends. The last dance for me was NMHC Nijmegen in Holland. I had the opportunity to play for a great coach, Bas Bogaard. My time in Europe was special, really special.”

In 2017, he was also the director of strength and conditioning for HC Ludwigsburg. Stateside, he was named assistant coach at Indiana University in January, 2020. It hasn’t been the start that he expected as the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) has shifted the Hoosiers’ plans significantly to train this summer and the fall season put on hold.

“There was a lot of anxiety heading into preseason for our athletes,” said Holt. “So many regulations and protocols, uncertainty all around. Not to mention our first official day of preseason is when the Big Ten announced the postponement of fall sports. That was a big blow, we gave them a day or two to take a step back and reflect, had a team hike, and set up training that Monday. They came out with a fire and motivation to train ans play proper hockey. I’m so proud of the way they approach each and every training. The level of professionalism is really high, and the quality of hockey has just gone through the rough, we’ve been really impressed with the level of improvements. We just wish these athletes would have had the opportunity to showcase their hockey this fall, but they’ll be ready to turn some heads this spring. I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

Off the pitch, Holt still stays close to the game as a member of the USA Field Hockey Judicial Committee, a position he has held since 2017. He also served two terms on the Athlete Advisory Council, the liaison to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and USA Field Hockey Board of Directors. He was most recently elected as Athlete Director and will serve two terms. 

Whether as an elite athlete, a coach or administrator, Holt’s ambitions have taken him around the world and provided invaluable life experiences. While he remains busy, the spark that was ignited watching the Opening Ceremony in Atlanta on television remains as bright as ever.

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Will Holt