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Lessons from Field Hockey

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Authored by Head of School Dr. Fran Bisselle

Recently at the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools conference, Chair of McGill University’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education Dr. Lisa Starr asserted, “It’s not enough for schools to be solely focused on content. Our thinking needs to shift to teaching girls how to position themselves in the world.” And never has this been more important than now. 

How do you teach this to third and fourth-grade girls? Well, you coach field hockey of course, which was the absolute highlight of my fall! Learning to put knowledge in action (like stick work); understanding team and the strategy of being two passes away; and experiencing the psycho-social and emotional engagement in a game are key lessons girls need—and love—and why I just loved picking up a stick again. Way back in college at Boston College, I played DI field hockey, and loved every minute of it!

Three lessons I learned from my coaching season: 

It is very hard to teach integrity.

For example, I was trying to explain that if the ball hits your foot in field hockey, it is usually a foul. 

“What do you mean by usually, Dr. Bisselle?,” a player asked. I explained if it hit your foot and landed at an advantage, then the referee would probably call it, but not always. One of the girls asked in follow-up, “So it is up to the referee?” Another said, “I will just stop playing when the ball hits my foot because I do not want to cheat.” 

Word choices are powerful and they make a difference in girls’ experiences.

We know that the part of the brain where memory and language live develops more rapidly and is larger in girls than in boys at this age. This season reminded me that choosing empowering language motivates young girls and has a lasting effect on confidence. 

Sisterhood abounds at HB.

One of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received was a braided embroidery string bracelet (brown and gold of course) with a silver field hockey charm made by one of my players. She made a bracelet for each member of the team and it unified us even before we received our uniforms. Third and fourth graders know that little things are big things, and kindness matters.

Studies have shown that college professors can identify girls who went to an all-girls' school on the first day of class. These students have a self-confidence that is different from their counterparts; they possess broader interests and they use their voices more passionately. I have no doubt that experiences like my field hockey team build that future confidence. It was a privilege and honor to coach those third and fourth-grade Blazer athletes!

To learn more about athletics at HB, I invite you to watch/listen to my recent conversation with Athletic Director Stacey Aroney that first debuted as part of  “40 Minutes with Fran” — our alumnae Listening and Learning for Life series.

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