Not many athletes have the honor of representing their country on an international stage. Those who do have a wealth of experience with and knowledge of their sport, including how other countries approach the game. What do those athletes do in the offseason?
Hannah Prince, the captain of the United States Women’s National Indoor Field Hockey Team, coaches at Saint Joseph’s.
Prince had a history with USA Field Hockey prior to joining the Indoor Team; she played on the U-21 and U-16 National Teams and spent a year on the outdoor National Team after graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 2014. When she wasn’t reselected for the outdoor team, Prince moved to New Hampshire to join the University of New Hampshire’s coaching staff.
“I was obviously pretty bummed [I wasn’t reselected], because it’s been a dream of mine to play, but I didn’t want to stop playing,” Prince said. “I was contacted by the Indoor coach asking if I wanted to come train with them. Despite the distance, I said, ‘Heck yeah, I do.’”
The Indoor Team trains in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, about a seven-hour drive from where Prince was living in New Hampshire. She made the trip about once a month in the offseason and multiple times in the late fall and winter, often staying in the Pottstown area for more than a week.
The distance didn’t bother Prince, though. It was a chance to continue playing the game she loves, albeit a different version than she was used to.
Indoor field hockey is different from outdoor; notably, the game is played on a hard court and play is five-on-five.
“It’s a lot different because you can’t have a backswing and you can’t lift the ball in the field of play,” Prince said. “As a player, you obviously get more touches with it being five-on-five. There are boards, too, so it’s like ice hockey, sort of. You can use the boards to pass.”
Prince always enjoyed spending time outside and most of her field hockey career focused on the outdoor game. She hadn’t played on an indoor team since she was in high school.
The transition from outdoor to indoor wasn’t difficult for long, though. Shortly after Prince joined, the team traveled to South Africa for a tournament, where the coaching staff announced Prince would be a co-captain.
Prince had always been a vocal leader on and off the field, so her role as a team captain came naturally. While being a captain didn’t change the way she played or viewed the game, she’s constantly taking in everything that happens during a game.
“Say there’s a questionable call against one of my teammates that results in a card or a goal against us,” Prince said. “I need to be able to quickly articulate what happened and speak to the umpire in a manner that I know what I’m talking about and respectfully, either to get the call changed or just being able to communicate with them because that can make or break a game a lot of times.”
Confidence and communication are two of Prince’s key focuses as team captain, and that mentality translates well to coaching. Being a vocal leader as a coach is crucial to the team’s success, especially in situations when the team is down or struggling. Prince has always approached those situations with confidence; if she can support the players and lay out a plan, the team will thrive.
After coaching at New Hampshire for two seasons, Prince started looking for a job closer to the Pottstown area to be closer to the U.S. Indoor Team’s training facility. When an assistant coaching position at SJU opened prior to the 2017 season, it was the perfect opportunity. Even better, Prince won three Atlantic 10 championships as a student-athlete with the Minutewomen, so she knew the conference.
The 2017 Hawks enjoyed the best season in program history, finishing with an 18-4 record and the #15 ranking in the final NFHCA Coaches Poll of the season. Although the season featured many highlights, the most memorable was the 3-2 double overtime nailbiter win in Amherst, Massachusetts, to win the A-10 title.
Was facing her former team in the championship game weird for Prince, though?
“I want [Massachusetts] to do well except when they play us,” Prince said with a laugh. “[UMass head coach Barb Weinberg] isn’t the coach that I had, so it’s different. And it’s not even the same field. They play in a different location, so that helps.”
The Hawks’ season ended in mid-November, but field hockey was still at the front of Prince’s mind. The U.S. Indoor Team traveled to Berlin, Germany, for the Indoor World Cup in February. Prince had played in numerous games at different venues and in different countries, and the atmosphere of the World Cup was by far the best.
Hockey has a much larger following in Europe than it does in the United States. Players start learning the game at a young age and can play in year-round club systems. Teenage players can play for clubs in women’s leagues, exposing them to a high level of competition at a young age.
Players for the national team are celebrities in some countries, according to Prince. Hockey isn’t just a sport: it’s a culture.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the stadium was packed for the Indoor World Cup. Still, Prince was in awe. How could you not be?
“It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of,” Prince said. “There were so many people. You have to tune it out because it gets so loud, but feeling the energy from the crowd is such a cool experience.”
When her squad wasn’t playing, they’d watch other matches to scout upcoming opponents. At any large tournament, Prince, her teammates, and their coaches will observe other teams, taking notes and watching video to understand what they’ll be up against.
After one season on the outdoor team and two seasons on the Indoor Team, Prince has a deep understanding of many countries’ styles and tactics. That knowledge helped Prince land a broadcasting gig with the outdoor team.
The U.S. Women’s National Team played a four-game series against Chile in Lancaster, Pa., in April. Janneke Schopman, the National Team’s head coach, had suggested Prince be asked to provide color commentary for the broadcasts.
Prince didn’t have any prior broadcasting experience, but jumped at the opportunity.
“I was so nervous,” Prince said. “Once I got comfortable talking hockey, I felt like I did a good job… Doing anything related to hockey at a high level is not only fun, but helps me learn. That’s what I’m all about. I never want to settle. I just want to continue to learn as much as I can in any aspect of the game.”
Prince’s vantage point while broadcasting allowed her to see and analyze more elements of the game than she would while playing or coaching. Although not all the tactics Prince analyzed would fit with the Hawks’ style of play, there were plays she noted could work against certain opponents.
Even if the Hawks don’t employ any of the strategies used in the U.S.-Chile games, Prince’s experience with international games is sure to play a huge role in the team’s development. Given field hockey’s worldwide appeal, it isn’t surprising that seven of the 26 players on the Hawks’ 2018 roster are from outside the United States. Many other college teams have a similar makeup.
With influences from multiple countries shaping how collegiate teams play, understanding international strategies is key to being competitive. Prince’s experience playing in international games and analyzing other countries give the Hawks an advantage over most programs.
“Some countries are known for certain playing styles,” Prince said. “For example, the Netherlands, they’re incredibly skilled, their passing is lightning speed, and they’re super athletic and always looking to shoot the ball, so you have to be prepared. As soon as they get in that circle, they’re ripping the ball on the cage. There are certain teams who, say, defensively, they’ll half-court press you. You kind of get an idea of what certain teams will do.”
Granted, indoor and outdoor field hockey are different, but Prince sees many elements that translate. The Hawks hold an indoor training segment during the winter, playing in a tournament against other schools.
“It really helps team dynamics because it’s a smaller group and it brings out more leaders,” Prince said. “It works on individual skill because on the hard court you have to have really fast hands. Also, the defensive structure is something that I think really translates because…if the defensive structure is in a flat line or is disconnected and too far apart, those are issues…It’s all about making shapes together and stepping up together.”
Defense was one of many strong points for the Hawks last season. Their .805 team save percentage ranked fourth in all of Division I.
With solid defense and offense, a talented class of incoming freshmen, and Prince’s extensive knowledge of international playing styles, SJU is poised for another strong, competitive season. Prince and the rest of the coaching staff have written down multiple potential lineups and playing shapes to get a head start on the 2018 season.
“It’s funny, your path is never what you think it’s going to be,” Prince said. “I would have played on the outdoor team for 10 years if I had the opportunity. It’s okay. You keep going and find your spot, whatever that looks like.”
Captain of the United States Indoor Team. Assistant coach for Saint Joseph’s. Four-time Atlantic 10 champion. Prince has found her spot.