Ask a Coach: Nancy Stevens

Sep 21, 2020 | 2020-2021, Division I, Featured Stories

For the past 43 years, Nancy Stevens has been a fixture in the field hockey community.

She began her coaching career as the head coach at Franklin & Marshall University (then College), then served as the head coach at Northwestern University for nine years before settling in Storrs, Connecticut where she graced the sidelines for three decades.

At the University of Connecticut she compiled three NCAA Division I National Championships and 38 Big East Conference Championships — 19 regular season, 19 tournament — among a myriad of other accolades. Nancy is a member of the NFHCA Hall of Fame and is the winningest coach in NCAA field hockey history — she is the only collegiate coach to occupy the NFHCA’s 700 Victory Club. Wrapped up in her 700 career wins — as she tells us below — are a lot of special memories, thoughtful improvement, and moments of joy.

Last month Nancy announced her retirement from UCONN, but before she could ride off into the sunset we asked this field hockey legend to answer our coaching questions.

What is your favorite memory with UCONN field hockey?

My favorite memories are those exhilarating moments after a hard fought win, especially after championship games. Watching the joyous faces of our players is the most special part of those moments.


What is your favorite UCONN field hockey tradition? And you can’t say “winning!”

I like our team’s focus on game day. They enjoy playing with a soccer ball, throwing a football, and then getting down to the preparation for competition. We want them to play free.


What contributes to career longevity in coaching? How did you find sustainability in this career?

The simplest answer would be recruiting terrific players and maintaining continuity within our coaching staff. We did our best to celebrate every day as a gift and appreciate that we were a part of something incredibly special.

I believe that coaches need to carve out time away from hockey to enrich their lives. For me, it has been combining equestrian sports and travel— playing polo, doing horseback safaris in Africa, and riding the Icelandic horse up into the mountains of Iceland.

Recharging your batteries from pursuits that bring you joy allows you to return to your team with more energy and passion for chasing championships.

What is your biggest piece of advice to young coaches?

Study the top coaches in other sports at your university, around the country and across the world. Read their books and listen to their podcasts. Practice mindfulness, compassion, and kindness.


What do you think is the biggest difference between the game of field hockey now versus when you started coaching?

The self-start rule on free hits has changed game tempo dramatically. It has added speed and quickness to our sport and made it more enjoyable to play and to watch.


First, congratulations on your retirement! But tell us, what are you going to miss the most?

As a coaching staff, most of our time is spent in preparing and directing practice sessions. I will miss designing and running practices, because that is where championships are forged.


Psst…tell us the secret to motivating a team.

I did my master’s degree research on the work of psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and flow states. I have applied his principles to every practice session and game-day preparation for the past 43 years. Achieving flow state in any activity is life affirming.


Thank you, Nancy, for answering our questions and congratulations on your retirement.

Questions were submitted from our Instagram followers — follow us to participate in our next Ask a Coach feature story.

Want more answers? Check out our Ask a Coach series featuring answers from University of Pennsylvania’s Colleen Fink, York College’s Katie Fost, and West Chester University’s Amy Cohen!