Team USA Hits the Pitch, Hangs with Lion Cubs in South Africa

Nothing says team bonding like jet lag, smoothies and lion cubs…

Team USA had the ultimate bonding experience this summer as they traveled to South Africa for three weeks of training and competition in the FIH World League semifinals. The World League is an international field hockey tournament with over 30 teams from around the world - the top teams emerge out of the World League to qualify for the World Cup and Olympics. 

In between training, dominating the pitch and scoring a gold medal in the semifinals, the Team USA girls squeezed in a little exploring...here’s a look at Jill Witmer and Taylor West’s photo blog of their South African adventure (yes, we are living vicariously).

Highlight of the tournament?

Taylor: Winning the final game against Germany in shootouts – what an insane end to the second round of the tournament. World League is also a qualifier for World Cup and the Olympics, so we were pumped!

Jill: Winning the gold, absolutely! We had a lot of younger girls on the team this year, so it was amazing to watch them experience the tournament and have so much success. And with that, it’s always a win to see a new team come together and find synergy. 

How do you balance training for the tournament and staying fresh for all those games?

Taylor: The training block right before we left for South Africa consisted of a lot of hard training, running and lifting sessions to prepare us for the tournament. As the tournament got closer, our training load decreased bit by bit. 

Jill: Yeah, the trainers structure it so we can taper off our training as the tournament gets closer, but still maintain a high level of fitness. While we were in South Africa, we kept it pretty light – maybe a short lifting session or bike workout. The games can really wear on your body, so it’s important to strike a balance – keep stretching, keep hydrating and find time to rest on your days off!

Favorite #squad moments?
 

Taylor: Honestly, it was so fun exploring and going to different coffee shops and restaurants together. One of our favorite spots was Kauai, a sandwich and smoothie place – the food is super fresh and it has a really positive vibe focused on natural and healthy living!

Jill: Yeah haha food is kind of a big deal for our team. Most of our bonding happens while eating. Team lunches, team dinners, late night snacks… 

Obviously you were super busy and focused on the tournament, but you were in South Africa (so jealous)!! When did you find time to go exploring?

Taylor: On the last day, we went to a lion and safari park outside of Johannesburg. It was so surreal…we got to pet lion cubs and see all these amazing animals that we don’t have in the U.S. 

Jill: It was the coolest experience. Obviously, we were all a bit tired, but there’s always adrenaline coming out of a tournament like that. On the last day, our flight wasn’t until 9:00 p.m., so we were all stoked to get to enjoy a bit of the scenery and wildlife. I think the lion cubs were everyone’s favorite part. 

World League finals are up next - New Zealand, here we come!

Want to help your squad bond like the USA field hockey girls? Here are 12 ideas to help your team get tight!