Tough times led to better place

Courtesy of Rachel Dawson

Rachel Dawson and the members of the U.S. field hockey team bonded through a difficult transition period.

To say that things have changed over the past 15 months is perhaps the biggest understatement of my nine-year career with the U.S. national field hockey team. Since the London Games, it’s been an enormous transition: a change in coach, in team, in programming, in training, in mentality and, most significant, a change in home.

In January, after five athletes retired, seven returned to college, one had a baby and another took a coaching job, 12 players showed up for training camp in San Diego. Those 12, myself included, have clung tooth and nail to the love of the game. We’ve endured, and thrived, during the most grueling times of an athlete’s career -- the transitional times, like this one post-Olympics, when it’s not clear who, why or what you are working for anymore.

Over the past year, there have been moments, more than I am proud to recount, when I wondered if I would last through it all. There were days I seriously questioned the validity of showing up. I’d had a good run, after all. No one would fault me if I hung up my stick.

I clung to my teammates during those days, to all the things we had sacrificed and were sacrificing for the small chance to pursue an uncertain dream. It was their commitment to show up every day and find joy in adversity that refueled my belief in the vision for our program. If we worked hard enough, long enough and smart enough, we believed we could change the culture of our sport and empower the kids who will take the reins after us to pursue something far greater.

Looking back now, I am thankful for those hard days, for their uncertainty and the unwavering bond they forged within our team. I am thankful that I continued to show up, that we held on to our shared dream and trusted our new coach, Craig Parnham, and his vision for hockey in the U.S.

When Craig arrived I knew very little of him, but 11 months later, I feel like he has begun to transform the character of our program. He has opened the door for the creative re-culturing of field hockey in this country. He has given ownership and power to the players, coaches and technical experts to explore different ways of improving player development systems. By encouraging thought and dialogue in practice, he has pushed players to take more active roles in our personal development.

Beyond that, he has made us mindful of the responsibility we have as role models to the younger generation. That responsibility, coupled with a renewed enthusiasm for exploring the game, is what inspired my teammate Lauren Pfeiffer and me to pursue a new creative path. It is called FH Revolution, and is a digital magazine that aspires to connect readers with the vibrant and meaningful layers of life that surround the game we love.

While producing a magazine with little editorial experience is daunting, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past year of change, it’s that passion, perspective and simply showing up even when times are tough will get you not just through the trying times, but into the best of times.