Field hockey has a curious way of becoming one of the most loved sports in the world. When it collides with a lifelong passion to teaching kids through sports, it’s a recipe for success. Such is the case for Bob Derr, who has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a coach of the game.
Coming from a wrestling background, Derr has made a career as a physical education teacher since exiting college in 1972 and has been a recognizable face at Warwick High School and Middle School in Lititz, Pa. ever since. When he signed on, Derr’s responsibilities also included being the varsity track and field coach, as well as the middle school head wrestling coach. It’s been a dream job since day one; a man whose coaching philosophy is instilled in teaching and getting kids involved in sport and physical activity. It stems from the teachings Derr received as a student-athlete growing up. The resulting impact his coaches left on him naturally generated an equal life goal of giving back to the next generations of student-athletes.
According to Derr, he was very fortunate with coaches growing up because as a kid he just loved playing sports.
“I wanted to give them the same passion, discipline and training that my coaches gave me,” said Derr. “I wanted to give that back to the kids. That was my main goal was giving kids the best opportunity they can possibly have and realize it doesn’t come easy. It’s hard work, and that hard work and discipline will pan out and help you in your future life.
“Sports offers so many life lessons that carry over in your everyday life: in your job, raising a family, tons of lessons each and every day.”
With his hands in multiple sports over the years, how did such a recognizable coach get started in field hockey, let alone become accomplished in it?
Ten days is all it took for Derr to be an educator of the game for life. When Warwick Middle School’s field hockey coach unexpectedly resigned with a handful of practices and games remaining in the year, the Warriors needed a placeholder. Sandy Moyer, the high school coach at that time, asked Derr to step in. Back then, everything was laid out for him to finish those final ten days of the season: whole practice lessons, drills, plays for games. He and Moyer met every morning to review the practice sessions and cover every little question the newcomer had to the game of field hockey.
What Derr couldn’t predict however was the enthusiasm of his temporary players.
“I was so impressed on how much the girls wanted to be good,” commented Derr. “When I was showing them a move and how to move the stick, their eyes were as big as saucers.”
Derr loved every moment of it, so much that when those ten days came and went, he asked Moyer if he could do it again next year. The rest has been history in the making over three decades later as the second longest tenured coach in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
Knowing nothing about the sport, Derr spent the next several months going through the process of learning the game from the inside out. He started by heading to the Eastern Field Hockey Camp run by Judy Wolstenholme, whom Derr knew from his days at West Chester University. From there, Derr and his team learned the sport together, one question after another.
Since then, Derr has also been the head coach of Sutter's Brigade for over 20 years. The club has generated countless memories for him, with just as many bright and eager players.
“I couldn’t even tell you,” said Derr when recalling all the fond years. “I remember when we first started, going into National Hockey Festival in 1991 when we took the team for the first time we ended up winning it in overtime. That was a great experience there, but we’ve also has some great experiences at Disney Field Hockey Showcase.”
His philosophy has never been stronger as Derr enters his 36th year of coaching field hockey. He doesn’t seem primed to hang up the clipboard anytime soon.
“You’ve got to love what you’re doing,” continued Derr. “If you want to coach, go out, go to clinics, camps and find people that are successful, but also have a true passion for the sport. You’ll be able to tell. I was very fortunate.
“You as a coach have to be a teacher. A good teacher of the sport that is able to break things down and simplify so young kids can understand what you are saying and what you want them to do. You as an individual show the love of the sport.”
Derr will continue behind the bench as Sutter’s Brigade transitions into members of Nook Hockey in Lancaster, Pa. With his entire staff coming in tow, both he and the athletes of Sutter’s Brigade are preparing for their next challenge of transitioning and mixing into the Nook Hockey system. All in all, it’s a win-win situation for everybody.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” admitted Derr. “It’s going to be exciting, going to be challenging, going to be competitive. As a coach you can’t ask for more.”