What’s It Like Coaching Women (They’re Not Girls)?

By Pat McCabe, Head Coach, Adelphi University @Adelphi_WLAX

Since taking the job as Head Coach of the Adelphi University Women’s Lacrosse team, I get asked many questions. These questions are of a wide variety, with the most common being “What’s it like coaching girls?”

Photo courtesy of Adelphi University Sports Information
   Photo courtesy of Adelphi University Sports Information

I have to admit, if you had asked me this question before I started, I probably would have talked about the difference between the men’s and women’s game and how the athletes are different. I would have gotten into how it will be a challenge for me to connect with my players and find ways to motivate them. I am very relieved I haven’t answered this question publicly until now, nearly three years into my tenure at Adelphi.

What’s it like coaching girls? First of all, they are not girls, they are women. While our younger players are still making that transition to adulthood, they are no longer girls. I am constantly impressed with the maturity our players show, both on the field and off. Our players strive for excellence in everything they do. They are talented players who are always working to improve on the field. They are also terrific students who take pride in their academic accomplishments. These young people care about their families, value their relationships and work every day to be great teammates.

As a coach who has spent the majority of his time around the men’s game, there is only one answer I have for what it’s like: “It’s great!”

Following our first fall practice two years ago, I received a text message from our Athletic Director, Danny McCabe, (no relation) asking how things went. Although it was my first practice and both the team and I were feeling a bit of anxiety, we had a great night on the field. The energy was off the charts as we flew up and down the field and moved from drill to drill.   My answer to Danny: “I can’t believe I waited so long to do this!”

Everyone wants to compare male and female athletes, as if there is a difference. There is not. The young women I have had the opportunity to coach possess the same qualities that my most successful teammates did when I was a player. They are hardworking, tough, intelligent, passionate, selfless, determined, fearless, energetic and open minded. These ladies are never looking for the easy way out and they don’t take short cuts. It’s easy for me to say these things about my own team because I see them every day, but I see the same qualities in our opponents.

There are some subtle differences, but nothing glaring. For example, I always loved to be in the locker room before a game. The quiet intensity with each guy listening to their own choice of music through a pair of headphones as they tinkered with their stick or stared into space contemplating their matchup, envisioning what was about to happen. What are the women on the Adelphi Panthers doing pregame? Full out DANCE PARTY!!! It’s a wonder they have the energy to play!!! This took a while for me to get used to, but they love their pregame locker room and once they get through that final song they are all business.

We had no designated hair braider on any team I was a member, so I guess that’s another difference.

I am sure there are a few other things I am missing, but in my experience the female student-athlete is far more similar to the male student-athlete than they are different.

Among all the great qualities these young ladies possess, I would say that their selfless attitude and support for their teammates tops the list. This goes for every team we play against as well. I am still amazed at the enthusiasm coming from both benches during our games and the energy coming from the sidelines.

The game of lacrosse has been a tremendous part of my life for the last 35 years or so and has afforded me many opportunities. I’ve been fortunate enough to play for some of the greatest coaches who have ever walked the sidelines, with Roy Simmons Jr. topping the list of those who have impacted my life. I have traveled the world and met some wonderful people thanks to this great game. When my playing career ended, I wasn’t quite sure how I would continue to fulfill my need to keep lacrosse in my life. I enjoy coaching my own children but there is a time when you have to let them go and have them make their own way under different coaches. They need to hear a different voice and we as parents need to enjoy being our kid’s biggest fan, just relaxing and having fun watching them play. The ride home after games is much easier when you are just “Dad” and not “Coach.”

So while I was trying to figure out the rest of my lacrosse life, this opportunity at Adelphi presented itself. I’m not sure I really expected to be offered the job or understood what it would mean to me at this point, but I am eternally grateful that Adelphi took a chance on me. The last two-plus years have been a tremendous experience.

I always loved going to practice and competing with my teammates. We would go hard for two hours every day, pushing each other to be the best players we could be, enjoying every minute of the pain and sacrifice it took to reach our goals. These days I get to watch 25 talented young women with the same attitude and intensity do the same thing with and for each other. It’s smart to stay out of their way when things get heated. And whatever you do, don’t call them “girls.”

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5 thoughts on “What’s It Like Coaching Women (They’re Not Girls)?

  1. A great read. Thank you for the insight from both sides.
    So glad you get the chance to shape and mold these young women. They are fortunate. Way to go Pat!!!!

    Laura Blablo

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  2. So impressed with his perception of the female athlete!! You seem to be a wonderful coach with a refreshing attitude. Good luck with your team.

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  3. Coach McCabe
    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I spent 20 years on the sideline, film study and chalk talks with the SU Men’s Lacrosse team and 16 years in the radio booth for them. The last 5 years I have been working with our Women’s Team. All the things you said were absolutely true. In fact, in some aspects the women have greater stick skills than the men. The soft hands you need to be able to catch with what is comparably a tennis racket defies logic. Yet the gals do it effortlessly and to be able to maintain the intensity, peripheral vision and “look ahead” is truly remarkable. The comrodery and “we not me” mentality is unbelievable on the field and off. The accountability to one another to the team and the school warms the heart and ensures that these women will be great leaders one day. It was a pleasure reading your article.
    Kyle Fetterly
    Head Equipment Manager for Athletics and Radio Analyst for Lacrosse
    Syracuse University

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  4. Coach McCabe:

    Great work with the women of today and tomorrow. You are an inspiration to all!

    The good lord blessed my family with two girls and my wife and I could not be more proud. It is coaches with a voice like yourself that allow the youth of today to learn and adapt to new situations as well as achieve greatness through sports.

    I am proud to say I’m a coach and part of the vibe around these great women.

    My hat is off to you.

    Coach,

    Al Zumbrunn
    Sachem Sports Club
    New York

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