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Archive for February 15, 2021

Feb. 15, 2021 — Coaching matters

Over the last few years, I have seen three television shows featuring former international field hockey players Ellen Hoog, Jacques Brinkman, and Keli Smith spending a week or more with a down-on-their-luck field hockey program of some kind, and, in each situation, the teams achieved measurable improvement.

And it doesn’t matter whether it was Hoog’s club team in Holland, Brinkman’s college team in Kenya, or Smith’s high-school team in Virginia. For the success of any sports team or any group of people, coaching matters. Good, dedicated coaching over a multi-year period is a determinant, though not necessarily a guarantee, of long-term success.

I’ve seen too many field hockey situations where funding is grudgingly offered for coaching stipends, or when teams are relegated to third-class facilities, such as having to play on the outfield of a baseball ground with a dirt infield cutout protruding onto the playing surface. The results, are, predictably, poor.

Over the last three decades observing field hockey and girls/women’s lacrosse, I have noticed teams which have been routinely downtrodden, sometimes going an entire year with only one or two wins. Often, the team in question has changed coaches every year over the course of a decade or more, which creates a lack of continuity and the absence of a long-term institutional memory or a lack of continuity, whereupon traditions can build.

I’ve seen what a dedicated coach can do. For the last several years, Shenandoah University’s field hockey team has been in the headwaters of the conversation about the Old Dominion Athletic Conference thanks to the coaching of Ashley Smeltzer-Kraft after enduring a period of down results. Smeltzer-Kraft has not only had an impact at the school as a coach, but she is a senior women’s athletics administrator and is, for this spring, the chair of the Division III field hockey tournament committee.

Now, it would be utopian nonsense to aspire to a level of competition where every team in a particular competition finishes the season at .500, which would mean that no team would excel, and no team would be horribly beaten over and over again. That just doesn’t happen in real life; just ask the teams in most organized leagues around the world whose best teams leave the league to play one level higher the next year, and whose worst teams are relegated to a lower one.

But shouldn’t coaching mean getting the maximum out of your players, not just the wins and losses?