Team photo of the Canterbury field hockey club playing field hockey overseas

The Uniting Power of Sport – What I Learned Playing Field Hockey Overseas

Uru Founder Ainsley McCallister’s story

Hi, my name is Ainsley McCallister from Ann Arbor, MI. A lifelong athlete, I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 with a Movement Science degree and thousands of hours on the field under my belt.

I spent the following two years using field hockey, joining teams from England to Tasmania, as a vehicle to travel the world and open doors to new experiences I never imagined possible.

Ainsley McCallister, University of Michigan Field Hockey Alumni, played field hockey for Tasmania in the AHL and 6 other countries overseas. She then founded Uru Sports.Playing field hockey overseas was an experience that was absolutely incredible and one I wish all athletes had access to, but in my case, the journey was not transparent or easy.

That’s why I’ve started Urū Sports to help athletes navigate this journey, but this article is not about me or Urū. It’s about the amazing uniting power of sport that I experienced on my overseas adventure.

Picture the Olympic Games…a global village

There is something truly special about the power that sport has to bring people together from across the world. One need only think of the Olympics, a startling image of global cooperation. But what is often overlooked is that sports transcends boundaries every day, not just for a month every four years. It creates small villages all over the world.

The unique USA College system is a global melting pot

Today, it is the norm for college rosters to be dotted with foreigners. The majority of Division 1 teams in the NCAA are made up of athletes from three or more countries. Some are virtual cultural melting pots. The deep connections made among these international teammates foster bonds across borders that are transformative, and often life-long.

Ali Froede, Team USA defender from Miami of Ohio reflects on her college days saying: “I loved playing with a global family. It brought a whole different dynamic to our playing style and team culture.” After graduation, Froede visited her teammates home in Argentina. Her visit exposed her to Argentina, not as a tourist but as a guest staying in a local home, affording her the opportunity for an unfiltered authentic travel experience.

What Club Hockey overseas can offer you

Beeston Hockey Club women's 1's team pose after winning a field hockey game in the Investec Premier league in England.It’s not only in the US where the norm is to play on teams that are diverse and made up of “imports” from all over the world. 125 countries across the world have field hockey. Though hard to believe, field hockey is the third largest sport in the world. And using your sport as a vehicle to live abroad, work in a new area, get access to study or internships opportunities is becoming more and more popular. Opportunities are abundant, something that I was completely blind to just three years ago.

If you are fortunate enough to join a welcoming club, you will automatically have 18 “tour guides” who are eager to show you why their home and club are the best. Each stint abroad I was lucky to experience this, but Nottingham, England with the Beeston Hockey Club will always be close to my heart. I was only there for three months, but on off-days, teammates took me into London, up to the Peak District, to the quaint city of York, even to the Cotswolds for tea. It was a local immersion unlike anything I could have achieved on my own.

Molly Murphy, Wake Forrest alumnus, had an unexpected experience in Australia. Towards the end of the season Molly found herself playing on an All-Star team with athletes from 10 different countries. “Several of the players did not speak English. Our team chats consisted of lots of charades, grunts and laughs. It was a pretty unique and special experience to have a team made up from so many countries.”

I was lucky enough to compete alongside Murphy on this team. I recently met up with our Japanese teammate, Mazuki Arai, who came to the US to study English. In Perth, we used hand motions; as we walked the Grand Canyon we chatted in English the entire time. This illustrates what for me is among the very best gifts of overseas play: the chance to befriend people I would have otherwise never have been lucky enough to meet, let alone be deeply enriched by. When on the field, you set all differences aside and work towards a common goal for the love of the sport. And this intense, passionate and plain fun atmosphere makes for some very deep bonds. That’s rare in life.

Life changing moments with players who become friends

Of course, when you are on the pitch, you share blood, sweat and tears. But some of my most memorable experiences happened off field, killing time on the bus to an away game or in the locker room during game delays. We shared silly and profound moments, from hilarious tales of Christmas traditions to the recounting by my Zimbabwean teammate of her family bring forced to flee their farm.

There is nothing like sharing stories and walking in another’s shoes to provoke personal development. On my adventure, I was variously known as “Yank,” “Obama” and “Miss America.” This identification with my country caused me to think hard about my customs and habits, and to articulate long held but largely unexamined beliefs. These conversations changed forever the lens through which I view the world.

I challenge you to stop postponing your life

If you have a weekend off when playing field hockey in Europe, Uru Sports recommends you travel to Italy. Take a bike and venture around a city like Grace Baldson (GB National field hockey team), Line Malan (South African international) and Ainsley McCallister (Uru Sports Founder). They played for Canterbury Hockey Club and had a weekend off before the EHCCC finals.
There is significant pressure post-college to “stop postponing your life” as an athlete and set yourself up for success. I challenge all to view playing abroad as just such a step forward. It not only opens doors to fabulous relationships and new places, cultures and priceless experiences, it can serve up transformative personal growth and lessons that last a lifetime. You will step outside of your comfort zone for sure, and you may even take a step toward your actual career.

One of the US athletes Urū Sports helped place worked with a startup while in Perth. The experience paved the way to similar work in NYC upon her return. Opportunities abound for coaching, internships, or other jobs through club members, and possibly even furthering study through masters programs. But any way you look at it, playing abroad is like a graduate degree in and of itself.

Follow your sport and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities it has to offer

Up to this point, there has been little transparency to all these amazing opportunities and that’s what Urū Sports is trying to remedy. It is our hope that more clarity and connection in the world of sport will lead to strong relationships that transcend nationality. We view sports as a microcosm of our society and, by breaking down barriers, we look to take a step in the right direction. I know this sounds like a lofty goal, but I truly believe that each person can make a difference. Being a part of the global field hockey community and representing USA with class and distinction is step one.

I can’t say it better than Men’s National Team Captain, Will Holt: “When going overseas to play for a team, we represent far more than ourselves, we represent our USA program and our country. People ask you questions and watch how you behave as an American. It’s a phenomenal opportunity.”

So, whether you’re an Olympian or just a passionate hockey player, follow your sport. Continue to be a part of the amazing field hockey community and seize the tremendous opportunities our sport has to offer.

Join Uru Today
No Borders. Just Sports.

 

This article is featured in the Winter 2018 issue of FHLife Magazine. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to our quarterly publication by clicking here

 

FIH USA Field Hockey Magazine. Winter Issue 2018 - Feel Good Hockey. Play field hockey abroad for a life changing experience. Uru Sports.

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