The United States women's soccer team has devised a unique way of relieving the tension during their World Cup campaign in Germany – employing a series of elaborate practical jokes.
Pia Sundhage's squad takes on Colombia in its second group game in Sinsheim on Saturday and the players have admitted to feeling the pressure of trying to take the USA back to the top of the women's game.
And while the effort of attempting to regain the World Cup trophy is serious business, away from soccer the team spends downtime trying to make fools out of each other.
"We have a lot of free time when we are together as a squad," striker Abby Wambach told Yahoo! Sports. "And that inevitably leads to some joking around. Everybody likes trying to get the better of each other with jokes and pranks and it is all part of the fun."
One joke involves placing buckets of water at the top of hotel room doors, to ensure that the passing victim gets an unwelcome shower. Another popular trick, a team source said, involves "Jello and a pillow case."
Coach Sundhage is a popular figure among her players and encourages the tomfoolery, believing it only adds to a sense of togetherness and team spirit.
"It definitely helps," Wambach said. "Just the sense that we can be comfortable in each other's company and enjoy being around each other. Having fun away from soccer is a big part of it. It stops you from getting too bored during all the time on the road."
Finding constructive ways to make use of idle time is a regular problem for international soccer teams. Bob Bradley's USA men's team engaged in countless competitive video-game battles during last summer's World Cup in South Africa.
Having already beaten North Korea, victory against Colombia would virtually guarantee the American women a spot in the knockout stage and increase its chances of winning Group C.
Topping the group would likely come with the additional advantage of avoiding Brazil in the quarterfinal. Norway would be the expected opponent instead.
The USA won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games tournament, but is no longer considered the driving force in the women's game, having slipped behind Brazil and Germany in the world rankings.
Sundhage has adopted a more technical European style since taking over following the USA's failure in the 2007 World Cup, when it was destroyed by Brazil in the semifinal.
"I was always saying the States played a little too direct," said Sundhage, originally from Sweden. "They have been very, very successful, don't get me wrong. So I wanted to change that, but it couldn't be too big of a change. With a successful team, you can't change too much."
- Pia Sundhage
- Abby Wambach