Sticks DOWN!

My first introduction to field hockey was at a game, the first game of the season. 

I remember driving to the field I was so nervous, thinking about what I was going to find, feel, and do. I pulled into the parking lot and when I walked in I walked down to the field and got a HUGE pit in my stomach- "turn around, you can't do this" I thought, but I kept walking!

As I walked on the field, the coach, C, called the team over and said "Hey guys! Here she is, here's your assistant coach!" 

The team paused from the warm ups and all offered high fives and warm welcomes! They seemed really excited to have me there. I instantly felt more at ease- "I can do this!" I felt.

When the game started I had literally no idea what was happening on the field. I didn't know the rules, positions, C kept screaming out plays, the girls weren't following her commands and I had no idea what was going on. Just a giant magnet ball game of girls, sticks, and balls- wash, rinse, repeat. PANIC, FRANTIC, AND CRAZINESS! But! During the game,  I did hear C call out a phrase about 29348 times- "STICKS DOWN".

At the end of the game I walked up to C and said to her "So...tell me about this 'sticks down' thing". 

She went on to tell me that when you run in field hockey, you need to keep the stick close to the ground, down. The girl's were choosing to run in their comfortable stance of elbows bent and sticks in the air, up. This meant that they miss potential blocks and shots, and could get called by the refs for high sticks. This needed to stop...errr lessen. 

I quickly thought of a way to get the girls more invested on being mindful during the game. 

I told the girl's at the next practice that I was going to tally up how many times that the coach had to yell "Sticks down" during the next game. For every tally mark, that was a lap they would be asked to run at practice. This technique put them in control. If they kept their sticks up, that meant more laps. But, if they worked on keeping them down, then less laps! This method also created awareness towards working as a team. They needed to learn to support and coach each other on the field, to make sure the lap count was low.

At the next game, two days later, we explained our system. I showed them the sheet of paper, blank but ready for potential tally marks. The coach asked the girls to focus on keeping their sticks down, and to ready for blocks and shots.

In the first half, they only racked up 2 tally marks. At half time we shared the news with the girls. We told them how proud we were that when they had a clear focus on a specific task- they were able to adjust, that was great. 

In the second half, they racked up 10 more tallies. TEN MORE TALLIES! They were distracted by the praise when they went back on the field and they lost their focus. The tally total was 12 at the end of the game. We revisited what had happened and helped the girls realize that once they felt comfortable with the feedback they got, they forgot to keep focus. We asked them to come prepared to run at practice tomorrow, and recommended eating some carbs that night.

That evening, the coach texted me that one of the team's captains sent out a message asking the girls to show up early so they can get their laps out of the way before practice. The team then chimed in that they were able to make it to practice early and they would be there to run. 


Actual message from our group chat.


These were teen aged girls. They are supposed to be hormonal, testy, annoying beasts unable to self-regulate and respect authority. And here I was, being proven wrong. My limiting thought of what a "teenager" is, was being put to shame. This team was driven, focused, honorable, and trustworthy. 

I pulled up to practice the next day thinking that I was going to see maybe 1/2 the team, the brown noser players, running the laps while the rest of the girls were messing around. I had a low expectation of  what I was going to find, but again I was wrong. I underestimated the drive and dedication that the team had. The whole team was out running their laps. 

They ran almost 2 miles before practice and the coach and I weren't even there. When I got the the benches, I called out "Last lap" to the team and I was met with "but I only have 2 more, can I finish?" I was beyond impressed. The team really respected the boundary that the coach and I set. The team realized it was up to them to keep their sticks down if they wanted to run less. And in the coming games the sticks were down more.

Not always, but a lot better.

This moment really sticks with me. I feel disappointed that I had such a limiting belief of what these teenage girls were capable of doing. It was my own limiting beliefs that had them set up to fail, totally convinced that I would need to yell or push them to honor the consequence. Being wrong about these teenagers opened me up to understanding that respect and firm but fair boundaries work across ages and genders. Once you set in motion a system of free choice and natural consequences the function yelling and micromanaging lessen. Sure it wasn't perfect, but with consistency and patience we worked on getting it as near to perfect as we could in 2.5 months. 

This is true in any relationship. Being attentive to the limiting beliefs that you are holding on to and freeing yourself of these beliefs will allow you to open up to new surprises. If I had stayed stuck in my negative though of what a teenager WAS able to do, it would have distracted me from learning what these teenagers ARE capable of doing. If I had stayed stuck in the belief that since I didn't play field hockey I wouldn't be able to be helpful to the team- I would have never come to practice after the first game, let alone entertain the whole idea of being the assistant coach to begin with. 

I learned that the labels we assign in our life can limit our involvement or quality of involvement because we believe that we "shouldn't", "can't" or "aren't good enough". While I didn't know much about field hockey, I looked to identify something I was able to do inside the environment and stayed flexible to tweaking the way I approached it. Starting with my strengths, while improving my weaknesses.

If you are interested in discovering some of your limiting beliefs and figuring out a strategy that will free yourself from them, reach out and email me! I would love to chat!