Experience Isn’t Always Measured in Years

By Hilary Duda, Head Coach, Franklin Pierce University  @FPUWomensLax

People ask me all the time… “you’re 27?”

Yes, I know, I look younger than I am, and yes, I know I am a young head coach at the collegiate level, but that doesn’t mean I am not ready to take on this job. What many people don’t know about me is that I have been through a lot in my life, including longstanding academic and family struggles, as well as significant loss and conflict that has made me the person I am today, and given me the strength to achieve my goals. My parents divorced at a young age, and my father passed away shortly thereafter, leaving my family and me in a place where we had to rebuild who we were; however, what never left me was lacrosse. This sport means so much to me because when I was going through these hard times, I had a support system that never left me alone. It was an outlet for me, but more importantly it was my driving force to become successful.

          Photo courtesy of the author.

Throughout my athletic career, I have had the opportunity to coach many youth teams and at camps, yet each time they ended I would feel like something was missing. It wasn’t until my junior year in college where I realized that THIS, coaching at the collegiate level, is what I needed to be doing. Having the opportunity to put a smile on so many faces, see young women improve each day, and be someone who can help these athletes succeed on and off the field is what filled that void; there is no better feeling. Being surrounded by my athletes brings out my personality, but also drives me to be the best person I can for them. These days our student-athletes are battling so much, and I will always strive to be that person they can go to, whether it is struggles with school, family issues, anxiety, performance frustrations, etc. What I have learned is that you can’t fix everything, but if you listen, are honest, and be helping hand in getting them on the right path, it will go a very long way.

This year is my first year as a collegiate head coach and I couldn’t be more excited! I know that it isn’t going to be easy and I will make mistakes, but I am ready for the challenge. Being an assistant for three years allowed me to see different sides of the athletes and understand how I need to get to know each player. So, taking over this program in the fall, I had a plan and hit the ground running, but naturally I began to hit some roadblocks. There were many times I didn’t know what to do or why things were happening, but I stuck with my gut. The best thing I could do was to talk to my athletes. I needed to figure out what was holding them back from moving forward. They needed to learn to lean on each other to achieve our goals. What I found was my athletes were more than happy to give their advice, but also after time, they were able to understand that asking for help was not a sign of weakness. Once that trust was formed, I found my athletes reaching out to me; when they didn’t know where to turn next, when they wanted to set goals on and off the field and build a connection with me as a person. I was finally able to see their personalities come out at practice, which in turn put a smile on my face.

So, what is the theme here? In each phase of my life there has been hardships and struggles, but what never left me was lacrosse, my teammates, and my players. Being a young coach with the experiences I encountered, gives me insight into my players and how to best support them as a student and an athlete.  We as coaches are so lucky to have the support system that we have built over the years, but we are also fortunate to have young women in our lives who trust us to help them go in the right direction. Life is a scary ride and the road might be long, but if you keep powering through with your head up, nothing can stop you.

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