Scott Tupper's path to field hockey started with friendship
The captain of Canada's field hockey squad is heading to his 2nd Olympics
By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports
Scott Tupper sometimes allows his mind to wander and wonder what path he would have travelled had he not befriended Phillip Wright in kindergarten.
Would he still have found field hockey? Would he have pursued ice hockey instead like his Dad did or figure skating like his sisters Brady and Kelly? Would he have become an Olympic athlete? Would he even have been an athlete?
None of that matters now for Canada's national men's field hockey captain, who will compete in his second Olympic Games in Rio this summer.
Tupper did become friends with Wright and as a result he was welcomed into a field hockey mad family. Wright's father, Lee, just happened to be a Canadian national team field hockey player back in his day. He competed in the 1964 and 1976 Olympics. Wright's older brother, Anthony, was a sweeper for Canada in Beijing in 2008.
Tupper and Phillip Wright got their competitive start with the Vancouver Hawks Field Hockey Club at age eight.
Now Tupper, a star defender and team captain, and Phillip Wright, a forward; are together trying to push the Canadian national field hockey team to new heights on the pitch.
It hasn't always been easy. When Tupper was younger his friends teased him for playing a "girls" sport. He would jab back, especially at those with whom he played ice hockey with. Tupper's response? He'd tell them he was not only a better field hockey player, but better than them on the ice, too.
"Yeah, guys joked with you a bit growing up," Tupper said. "It was nothing malicious. Maybe it's a girls' sport or whatever. I'm reasonably thick skinned and people weren't too bad about it."
These same friends would later show up to watch Tupper and see what field hockey was all about. They developed an appreciation for their friend's sport when played at a high level.
"A lot of the guys are just jealous now that I have competed in an Olympics and I'm off to my second Olympics," Tupper said.
Attraction to field hockey
What attracted Tupper to field hockey all those years ago was the tremendous amount of skill involved in the sport. Trying long aerial passes, working on short corner strategy, and deadly drag flicks was fun for Tupper.
He has turned into quite the player, counted on for leadership, key goals, his dribbling and distributing the ball to his teammates.
"There is a high level of skill involved," Tupper said. "For the people who are more familiar with ice hockey, there is a lot of crossover in the skills between the two sports. The way we dribble is what guys on the ice call a toe drag.
"It's fun to mess around with the skills and use them in games. I think when people are exposed to field hockey they are pretty impressed with what the guys are able to do. That is what drew me in and kept me in the sport."
Plus, he gets a chance to play for Canada. Ever since he can remember watching international sports competitions like the Olympics, Tupper has tuned in.
He has a lengthy list of favourite Canadian sporting moments, but two stand out, in particular: Donovan Bailey's 100-metre golden moment in the 1996 Atlanta Games and the Canadian men's ice hockey team defeating the United States in the Olympic final six years later in Salt Lake City.
"It's an honour and a privilege to represent Canada," Tupper said. "There are so many athletes I've looked up to, whether one of our great ice hockey players like Joe Sakic or Jarome Iginla or someone like Donovan Bailey.
"I don't know if I could say I wanted to be an Olympian at the time, but what Donovan did back then, to see him cross the finish line with that smile, must have planted a seed."
When it comes to field hockey legends in this country, Tupper feels fortunate to have a pair in Rob Short and Ken Pereira.
Tupper was only 18 when he played his first game for Canada against Scotland. He roomed with Short at his first Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 and the following summer at the Beijing Olympics.
"I owe a lot to them," Tupper said. "They taught me passion and what it means to play for Canada."
They also taught Tupper to learn from past experiences. Beijing did not go well for the Canadian field hockey team. Yes, Canada finished 10th for the program's best Olympic showing, but Tupper felt the team did not manage its time well.
There were too many distractions with friends and family and the excitement of living in the Athletes' Village.
As a leader, the 29-year-old Tupper doesn't like to interject too much, but as one of the older members of the team he will make sure his teammates stay focused in Rio.
"I hope I'm still getting better," he said. "I've played with guys [like Short and Pereira] in their late 30s and they were some of the best on our team."
"I don't know if leadership is something you're born with, so I'm constantly looking around to see how I can be a better leader. One way is the last couple of years I've sat back a little more and said less because when I have something to say I want it to be important."
Tupper saw improvement in the way his teammates handled the Pan American Games in Toronto last summer, even though they did lose 3-0 to Argentina in the final.
Argentina is ranked sixth in the world, while Canada is 14th. Tupper hopes Canada can improve on its 10th-place showing from Beijing.
"Losing to Argentina will give a little motivation for us in Rio," he said.
"We want to leave that Olympics knowing we did the best we could have."