Thanks Mom

By Anne Moelk, Head Coach, DePauw University  @DePauwWLax

It was my tenth time attending the women’s lacrosse coaches’ convention in 2019. It was also my first in over 10 years. My journey coaching this wonderful sport has brought me full circle and I am excited to share a few thoughts about what happened along the way.

                                            Photo courtesy of the author.

I came to lacrosse as a freshman in college looking for a sport to keep me busy in the spring. I had been a field hockey and soccer player in high school and they were both fall sports in college so had to find something new. I was lucky that at the time our field hockey and lacrosse coach were the same person and she convinced me to pick up a lacrosse stick. Needless to say, I quit playing field hockey by my junior year and needed to find a way to stay in the game. I was again lucky to be able to sign on as an assistant coach right after I graduated from college. I spent years laughing every time I received a pay check, thinking to myself that it was crazy that someone would pay me (albeit not very much) to continue to participate in this sport I loved so much. I even did it for free a few times, supporting myself with three part time jobs that would work around the team’s practice schedule. I worked my way from assistant to head coach at the Division III level, and then to an assistant position at the Division I level. When the opportunity to take a head coaching job, to start a brand-new Division I program came along, I thought that it was what I was supposed to do, what I needed to do. And so, I did.

I loved it at first. Getting to create the culture, develop the brand, recruit the student athletes that I wanted to coach… all of these things were thrilling to me. A few years in, I started to hate it. I hated that my mood often depended on the decisions of a 16-year-old young woman who had decided to not accept my scholarship offer or a young woman a few years older who failed her class and was ineligible for the season. I hated what I perceived to be other coaches pushing the envelope on the rules both in recruiting and on the field. I hated that I spent so many hours on the road recruiting in a time before large tournaments brought the players to a single location for coaches to observe. And so, I quit.

I quit coaching at the collegiate level that is. I moved to Minnesota, started law school, and immediately found a high school team to coach. Soon after I became involved with a club program in the area and soon after that was lucky enough to be chosen to participate as a Coach Development Trainer for US Lacrosse. Eventually I graduated from law school, got a job in the legal world, and continued to find ways to work lacrosse coaching into my life. I spent most of my vacation days at those new tournaments where my club team played and college coaches had the luxury of watching hundreds of potential collegiate student athletes compete in a 2- or 3-day period.

My job in the legal world turned into a job back in higher education, this time in an administrative role, and turned into work focusing on Title IX. As it stands today, Title IX litigation and awareness is focused on how institutions respond to the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment that affect their student body. When institutions ignore these issues, which impact women significantly more than men, they are in violation of Title IX as it limits the opportunities for women to take full advantage of all opportunities on campus. I worked to educate faculty, staff, and students regarding their rights and responsibilities on Title IX. I started to hear the stories of the women who were victims of sexual assault and abuse, and tried my best to get them support and provide accommodations to help them overcome the many obstacles that these incidents created in their lives. I moved again, to be closer to my aging parents, and continued my work with Title IX. I believed in the work that I was doing to help stop abuse and make people more aware of their rights. I even brought my experience to the lacrosse field. I talked with my high school and club players about relationship violence, urging them to look after one another and recognize the signs of abusive relationships. I collaborated with US Lacrosse on some of their Safe Sport Initiatives. I can’t say that I ever loved my work in Title IX, but I felt good about what I was doing. Then, my mom died.

My mom was my best friend, biggest supporter, and the most awesome mom I could have asked for. She was a sports freak, an especially dedicated fan of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. She was the reason sports have been such a huge part of my life from day one. She worried about my life working as a coach and then about my life working in the law. She particularly worried about my life working in Title IX. My mom’s death caused my generally happy personality to turn dark. I hated everything. I was miserable in my work. It was depressing. I felt like I was not making any difference and the new presidential administration was/is in the process of limiting the support available to victims of sexual assault and harassment. As I muddled my way through the months following my mother’s death there was one thing that actually made me happy, that I didn’t hate, and that was lacrosse. The women I was coaching with on my club team delivered meals to my dad, covered practices that I could not get out of bed to attend, called, texted and stopped by my house to bring me food, flowers, cards, candy and a smile. I got notes of sympathy from former players and former colleagues. I survived those horrible months with the support of my friends, most of whom I had because of lacrosse. I made it back to practices and then games and then fall ball. I started working more closely with our college-bound players to help them find a place to both attend college and continue their own love of lacrosse. I started to see, again, all of the great things that lacrosse brings into the lives of those who love the sport.

And so, I’m back. I have returned to full time, collegiate coaching. I am lucky that an excellent Division III school took a chance on a coach who had been working around the edges of collegiate lacrosse for a decade. I realize now that when I took that Division I head coaching job, I did so because it was what I should do, what others thought I should do. It was the only reasonable next step in my career, or so I thought. What I have come to realize is that when I stopped coaching all those years ago, it wasn’t coaching that I hated, it was coaching at the Division I level. Just like a Division I experience is not for all student-athletes, coaching at Division I is not for all of us. Division I was not my playing background and it did not align with my coaching philosophy. I now understand where I belong and don’t worry about what I “should” be doing anymore. I have perspective on the decision-making process of 16 and 21-year-olds and now know that things work out even when they say “no” and screw up. I have the understanding to know that it is my choice how I respond to a colleague who chooses to skirt around both the letter and spirit of recruiting and playing rules. I am lucky to be able to take advantage of tournaments where I can both socialize with colleagues and see hundreds of potential student athletes in a weekend, allowing me to have a few weekends for things other than lacrosse. I am so grateful to be back in this community.

Thanks Mom.

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