Opinion: We are all in this together!

By Shellie Onstead, Head Coach, University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley, Head Coach, Shellie Onstead stands on the sideline with three fingers held up in sunglasses, a white polo and dark shorts.

I'm just going to keep saying it — we are all in this together!

I don't like the role of historian, because I think that just means I'm older than most, but I think it is important to have context. I was blissfully unaware of Title IX and what it did for me as a student-athlete. I just played sports in high school and then in college. I had a dream to play for my country and just went about pursuing it. As often happens, it took a crisis at work to teach me the real value of that law which led to learning more about the history and the people that were responsible for it.

Sometimes you need to look beyond what serves you in the moment and see if you can make even a tiny improvement in the world. Or maybe just your world. Same thing.

It's like picking up some litter, even though you had nothing to do with it.

Like most of you, I fell in love with this game. I don't know why. I played many sports pretty well, but this one hooked me in a different way. It was the game itself, the challenge of proficiency and the coaches I had. I'm pretty sure that the coaches had a lot to do with it.

Collegiate hockey was a product of Title IX. It was born then. And with it, the first generation of collegiate coaches. Donna Fong, Gillian Ratray, Dianne Wright, Vonnie Gros, Marissa Didio, Judith Davidson, Anne Petracco, Beth Anders, Dottie Zenaty, Pam Hixon, and many, many more. Then they gave birth to Generation Two: us! The coaches that currently are in charge of the game. Some are newer (could be described as Generation Three in my terms) and some are legends (still Generation One), but wherever you sit on that scale, it isn't about gender or divisions: we are all in this together.

I am grateful for this career that I happened in to. I served as an assistant for 12 years because I loved it and I had a flexible job. Then the head job opened up and after first turning it down because I didn't think I could afford it; I took a leap of faith. Donna decided it was time to retire, and I became a head coach. Like so many, I was a young, naïve, passionate and competitive former player. I just happened to "luck-in" to a pretty great career and noble profession.

I want to make sure Generation Three happens and then Four, Five and Six. I'm not sure which is the bigger issue:

  1. the sustainability of the sport, or
  2. the profession of coaching.

Do men and women gravitate toward coaching like we used to? Can we keep the sport healthy and growing in the face of the changing collegiate sport landscape? As they are inherently intertwined, I hope we can address both and I believe it is up to all of us to go beyond being advocates and become activists. Now.

The game remains special to us. It is unique, fast-paced, exciting to watch, played all over the world by both men and women, and is represented in the Olympic Games.

I don't have any specific suggestions. I just know that change starts with a raised awareness. Updates and food for thought:

  • I appreciate the response from my appeal to this group on behalf of the University of the Pacific and field hockey in California. The message was strong. As an update, Pacific is in a search for a new President and we hope the decision can be revisited once that position is filled. For more information, contact alumnae Kerry McKracken (kerry.mccracken2000@gmail.com) or Luci Lagrimas. Donations are in a safe place and are not controlled by the University. If the effort fails, the money will go toward growing the sport. You can donate here (no minimum). Additional emails to the University of the Pacific Board of Regents and the Athletic Director are always welcome. They need to know we are watching and we care.
  • The Pacific program will be an important part of building out more programs in California as part of the LA2028 Task Force. There is also a plan being formulated for Division III growth in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC). This is a network-reliant business. Get involved and let us know who you know!
  • As for the current western collegiate schools, we need support. Not just talk, but action.
  • There is also a Title IX fight brewing in Kentucky that could prove to be instrumental in establishing new programs in the middle of the country over several divisions. From experience, I know these things take financial backing to support the attorneys who take up the fight. $10,000 changed my life. It might change yours. You can support this effort here.
  • On the coaching front, I hear a lot of discussion about coach evaluations and how they relate to communication, player management, parent management and team dynamics. It is a massive topic and I am willing to bet that we all have a story or two. This is a recent article from basketball that crosses gender and sport. And this article is about how feedback is collected from the student-athletes. If you don't want to read it, just scroll down to the handy chart at the bottom. These things have been said about all of us. Too many great coaches have left the profession prematurely.

As coaches and stewards of the game, I ask that we take nothing for granted and be willing to get involved in protecting this sport. We are all in this together!


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Photo credit: KL Fotos