Kaitlyn Williams stepped away from the national team in the fall of 2020, to pursue a career in law enforcement with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
Unsure if she was going to return to the net, Williams eventually declared her official retirement during the COVID pandemic. Her career transition is going well as she is working full-time for the VPD, saying that much of what she learned on the pitch has helped her in an intensive and demanding job.
A native to White Rock, BC, Williams made her national team debut in 2011 and spent those first few years rotating in and out of the starting role. By 2013-2014, she had secured the starting role. For her, the pathway takes time, but her commitment to improvement at all aspects of the game helped her get to where she is.
She said early in her career, she struggled with the mental pressure of big games. For her, it was internal pressure that she applied to herself, but as she matured as an athlete, Williams learned to manage the high-leverage moments and became one of Canada’s all-time goalkeepers, backstopping Canada for almost an entire decade.
“As soon as I got that starting job, I started putting more and more pressure on myself. We would get into big games, and I felt myself freezing up,” she said. “I worked really hard on the sports psych side of the game. And over time, felt free, I would play confidently and was much more focused on the process.”
Kaitlyn Williams made her national team debut in 2011. She went on to play 149 career international matches. Photos/Yan Huckendubler
Williams played at the University of Victoria from 2007-2011, where she won the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award, the 2008 CIS Championship and the 2011 Canada West GK of the Year. Williams played in 149 international matches for Team Canada, the most of any women’s national team goalkeeper in Canadian hockey history. She played in three Pan American Games, two Pan Am Cups and two Commonwealth Games, as well as several World League Series and Olympic Qualifiers. When looking back on her career, she rarely pinpoints one performance; a win or a loss, rather remembers the places she’s been and the moments with teammates.
“Playing in the Pan Am Cup in Argentina in 2013 was really amazing. It was one of the first times playing in front a huge, energetic crowd,” she said. “The games don’t really stand out, but just the experience, being in other parts of the world and playing in front of a big hockey crowd.”
She said her last Pan American Games in 2019 will always stand out, especially the win over USA in the tournament semifinals.
“My family was there; my siblings were there. They had never really seen me play,” she said. “We had put everything into preparing for that season. We had moved to Europe. That match had everything. We beat USA. In the end, we came up just short and won the silver medal, but it was a special memory for sure.”
For Williams, the off the field memories will always stand out more than the on-field. Williams got her nickname on her first tour, when she woke up with a black eye, was dubbed Rocky and it stuck. She even had a pair of boxing gloves inked on her mask for the bulk of her career. It’s moments like that and others on the road with her second family that mean the most, as she reflects on her career.
“The off field moments are the ones I will take with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “early morning travel, waking up with each other all over the world. It’s really a second family.”
After the heartbreaking loss in the 2019 Olympic Qualifier in Dublin, Williams started to pursue a career in law enforcement with the Vancouver Police Department. She was still attempting to marry playing with her new career path, but the time management was becoming increasingly overwhelming. According to her, she wasn’t feeling like she commit 100 per cent to either pursuit.
I just realized it wasn’t going to work. I was constantly battling that jet lagged feeling. I realized I couldn’t really commit to it all,” she said. “It was a long transition, and it didn’t hit right away. I went from playing full time into working full time, and it didn’t really hit me until I was watching the girls qualify for the World Cup.”
Williams is the most-capped women’s national team goaltender in Canadian hockey history. Photos/Yan Huckendubler
She said she immediately brought a lot of the skills and mentality from hockey into her new work as a police officer. She said that high-performance sport and law enforcement share many of these traits.
“A lot of this job is communication and learning how to talk to people,” she said. “You have to have that team mentality, where everyone is pitching in. You have to be adaptable as the environment is always changing it’s advantageous to have a good work ethic and be coachable, not to mention the ability to work hard while exhausted.”
As she looks back on her career, she offers some advice to the next generation of Canadian field hockey players. She notes that it’s different now, with more junior, NextGen and youth playing opportunities, but she said the attitude doesn’t change, if you want to be successful at the highest level.
“If you are adaptable and have a good attitude, you are moving in the right direction,” she said. “Take it one shot a time. Every game feels like you have to be perfect, but you do not. Do not put the world on your shoulders. Take it one moment at a time. You don’t have to be perfect every minute, you have to be present.”
Congratulations to Kaitlyn ‘Rocky’ Williams on an incredible career. Rocky sets the gold standard for what it means to be a Canadian athlete and competitor. She retires with 149 international appearances, the most of a Women’s National Team goalkeeper.