For a lot of people, high school is about trying new things – for me, that was diving into the world of competitive team sport. Having played little in the way of team sport other than interschool sports and a brief encounter with soccer, joining a team and committing to everything that came with that was a big challenge. I had been involved with gymnastics for over six years prior, however as a highly individualistic sport, I was in many ways unprepared for the very different expectations and dynamics of high school team sport. However, it was the consistent support and encouragement of the head coach, Angie Lambert, which helped along my journey in the sport throughout my five years at high school.
My chosen sport was hockey. To this day, I still have no idea why I chose hockey, but I am incredibly glad I did. Throughout my five years playing it, it taught me important life skills in teamwork, communication, resilience, and persistence, among many others.
However, my journey with hockey did not necessarily start out smooth – as one of the only girls on the grade eight team who had no experience with the sport, I felt quite intimidated by the other girls who had been playing in club sport for years. The distribution of talent was very polarised, to the degree that there were a group of incredible players, a group of less talented but experienced players, and then me, along with maybe two others who had never touched a hockey stick in their lives. It was, to say the least, daunting as a shy twelve-year-old entering a new sport and school and wanting nothing less than to fit in.
A couple of practices in, the head coach Angie Lambert must have noticed my wobbly hits and terrible passes, because she came over to me, gave me a big smile and asked me what my name was, and then helped me figure out how to hold the stick properly. As the head coach of over 100 girls and direct coach of the opens team, taking notice of the beginners was an extra step she didn’t have to take. I was absolutely ecstatic when my hits started to become a little more stable and stronger, and my passes actually went to the girl I was trying to pass to. The individual attention from Angie, while not taking much effort from her, was one of the highlights of the entire season for me.
My personal relationship with Angie was further developed by the small things, such as remembering my name. As a past gold medal Olympian and retired member of the Hockeyroos, Angie came to talk to my entire grade about what life was like as a professional athlete. At one stage, she chose a few girls to come up, to try on the Hockeyroos competition outfit and her gold medal, with a spot left for someone to hold the Kangaroo mascot. She then pointed to me and said, “Zoe, how about you come hold the kangaroo?”. I’d told her my name once, and out of the 100-strong hockey cohort, she had managed to remember it. This may not seem like much, but the special notice and obvious care from Angie gave me a lot of confidence in myself as a player and aided in developing my relationship with her.
Throughout the years, Angie continued to pay attention to my progression, commenting on my playing if I was doing particularly well in a game. The fact that she took the effort to notice how I was improving despite not being my direct coach was a great confidence booster, and demonstrated she sought to foster the talents and interests of those who shared her love for the sport regardless of whether she directly coached them or not. On top of this, she provided consistent feedback to not only me but the entire team, even if we were the secondary team in the league and had little chance of coming out on top. This showed me that she really did care about our developent, and her focus was individual improvement rather than simply winning the competition.
With her encouragement I found myself always seeking to improve. Because I had such a disadvantage compared to the girls who had been playing for years, I had a lot of catching up to do. I was determined to reach my own best and show Angie that I wanted to play to my potential. Over the years, things started to change – I found myself getting the ball more and more, even if I hardly ever scored. I could get past players, when before I would fumble and lose the ball. I actually came within sight of a goal. And throughout it all, Angie was there, giving me an encouraging word and a smile.
I think the greatest moment for me in my five years of hockey was when I was voted ‘Player’s Player’ by my team. This is when each member of the team votes for who they believe is the most valuable player on the team. I was absolutely ecstatic. It meant more to me than any loss or win, because this was my fellow teammates and friends acknowledging who I had become as a player, and a person; it was the manifestation of all my hard work over the years.
I still remember receiving the award and the final certificate all the senior players got. Angie gave me this big, slightly sad smile, and told me how great it was to see me here, now, as the player that I am, from the nervous little grade 8 girl who missed almost every hit.
Without Angie’s support, I may have lost the drive which I felt every time I zipped up the field. The support of a coach is often, I think, underrated, and even the smallest gestures of interest and care can go a long way in inspiring players to achieve to their very best. The other message here is that being better than everyone else is not the endgame of sports – it is being your best self which is the most rewarding.
Header image via: Toowoomba Hockey Association.