How the Olympic Development Pathway Shaped Gonzales' Journey to the USWNT

by Linnea Gonzales, U.S. Women's National Team Athlete

Whether you started playing field hockey as a tiny toddler with parks and recreation, joined a club team or gave the sport a shot starting in high school, we all have to start somewhere. Listening to some of my teammates’ journeys has opened my eyes to see that everyone has their very own pathway. Some of these avenues may look relatively similar and others may be navigated differently. I think that is what makes everyone’s story special - so here is mine.


I started playing field hockey when I was 7-years-old. I originally played soccer, but my sister decided to try out the sport, so of course I wanted to try it too! It was shortly after I first began that I became obsessed and was having a lot of fun. The icing on the cake was that I was surrounded by an uplifting group of coaches and a lighthearted group of girls. Something about the sound and feeling of when my stick tapped around the field hockey ball was so addicting and still is to this day. I gave up soccer and started to get really into competing.


From parks and recreation, it was then time I joined a club team. With club field hockey there is a higher level of competition. You can travel to different tournaments and events to play against challenging teams that may not be in your state or specific area. I played for H2O Field Hockey for nine years, starting in U-12 and ending U-19. Man, those were some fun times! The older our team grew together, the more high-level tournaments we were able to compete in. I think it is important that every player finds the right club team for them. You want a group of teammates and coaches who are going to challenge you, but you also want to have a blast doing it. My time on this club team was so great because I was surrounded by a group of girls who became my sisters and led by coaches like Janice Rhodes, Alice Puckett and Natalie Magdeburger.


However, on top of club field hockey and recreation, I wanted something MORE. In the summers I would go to a couple field hockey camps with my H2O teammates. I remember we would always go to the University of Maryland camp, local camps and McDonough Camp. The McDonough Camp really got things jumpstarted. I remember after that camp, one of the coaches handed me a paper to take back to my parents. It was a recommendation for USA Field Hockey’s Futures program. I was shocked and excited, I thought it was so cool! Me? You’re going to pick me? Well okay, let’s go! Futures is a program for our country that allows field hockey athletes to grow their game, compete on an elite stage and maneuver their very own pathway in addition to the elite, professional coaching.


I started the Futures program by attending training sessions throughout the year. They would have a couple sessions on weekends here and there. These training sessions were so beneficial because I would learn about the game from some of the top coaches and players in the nation. It was also insightful because they would teach us new skills and break them down for us. I still think about one of my Futures coaches who was explaining how to defend a reverse stick shot. It was like “wow, I didn’t know that...but I needed to know that, so thank you”. The skills that I learned back then became a foundation to prepare me for the platform of play for today. They were added to my toolbox and became second-nature. If you can master the basics and focus on the small details, your game as a field hockey player will elevate and become much stronger.


Anyway, these Futures sessions helped me prepare for the Regional Futures Tournament (RFT) that was at the end of the season. You could be selected for the RFT during your training sessions or be invited to join the Futures Elite training group. When I first started, I got selected for the RFT and then selected for the National Futures Tournament. Each pathway in the program that you get selected for offers a higher level competition and more challenging play. I liked competing in the National Futures Tournament when I was younger because I got to meet, play and compete against high level athletes. Not only was I learning from the coaches, but I was also learning through game experience and the players around me.


I stuck with Futures on top of playing club and that gradually led me through the U.S. Olympic Development Pathway. Each year it was another baby step (Nationals, Junior Olympic Games, Futures Elite, Junior National Camps, etc.) I remember when I got selected to my first Junior National Camp, it was overnight in Massachusetts. Our coaches were Jarred Martin and Ange Bradley. I was SO NERVOUS. I didn’t even want to go at first because my nerves were eating at me. When we hit the field I was not playing like myself. Timid, anxious, reserved. It was when Ange pulled me aside after one of our training sessions and said “just play” was it then that I began to soften up a bit and have more of a go. That was my first experience playing at the Junior National level. It was intimidating and a bit nerve-racking at the time, but the coaches believed in me and helped me through this new process and that meant a lot.


As a result of these Junior National Camps, I was able to get selected to the Junior U.S. Women’s National teams. The youngest squad I was on was U-17 for a year and then Janneke Schopman pulled me up to the U-21 team. I remember being shocked and anxious because a lot of the girls were older than me, already in college. This gradually went away the more time I spent training at that level with the girls. I was on that team for four years and we generally had the same team for a couple years. It was very rewarding looking back on how much we were able to grow together and start to become even more disciplined tactically and technically. Janneke was a great coach - you could tell how much she loved the game and wanted us to be the best version of ourselves on and off the pitch. I loved that experience on the U-21 team and hold it close because that is when we were starting to get a taste of what international field hockey was like. It is eye-opening when you travel internationally to compete against teams such as The Netherlands or Argentina. You escape the “bubble” and are exposed to a whole other world of the sport. I also really enjoyed the U-21 team because many from that group are now or currently have been on the U.S. Women’s National Team. It goes to show that hard work and dedication truly does pay off.


It makes me smile being able to look back and see where the U.S. Olympic Development Pathway has taken us all. For me, it has led me to compete at a level that I have always dreamed of, the U.S. Women’s National Team. Through club, high school, college and Futures, I was able to grow and enhance my game. This program has given me so much that I am grateful for but I don’t want to stop there. I look to continue to learn about the international game, keep gaining that experience, grow on and off the field with my team, and COMPETE at the highest level possible. Representing the red, white and blue is a sum of all the experiences, challenges and opportunities. I play for my country, myself and everyone who has helped me along the way.