Staying Involved After Eligibility Ends

Dec. 05, 2018, 1:37 p.m. (ET)

Written by Megan Bomba, USA Field Hockey Content Development Intern & Messiah College Student-Athlete
Images courtesy of Delaware Athletics and Messiah Athletics

There are a lot of clichés surrounding the idea of living life to the fullest. This generation has produced ones like “YOLO,” “Live like you’re dying” and many more. It’s true, most times the gift of life is overlooked. Even further, the gift and ability to play field hockey is taken for granted.

It’s something to avoid thinking about for most, but it is a reality for everyone. This reality may strike on Senior Day, at the end of the year banquet or even sooner for some.

For sophomore Kaitlyn Zook, this reality hit in her senior year of high school. With a slight MCL tear, LCL sprain and torn medial and lateral meniscuses, Zook had little hopes of playing her senior season. She had already committed to the University of Delaware to continue her hockey career and her only worry was how she might be set back by the recovery time required. What followed were many surgeries to reconstruct her knee, stretching into the present. In late April of her freshman year at Delaware, Zook learned that she would no longer be able to play field hockey given the demanding nature of Division I athletics and high risk of another injury.

“No one ever told me that,” explained Zook to her reaction to the news. “In my head I knew it was a possibility, but I just thought I was being dramatic.”

As Zook struggled to understand what this meant for her future, she was surrounded by supportive teammates and coaches. From offering to listen after hearing bad news from doctors to quite literally carrying Zook on their backs, she wanted to stay at Delaware and involved with her team.

“Sticking with the team and continuing to be apart of this program is the very least I could do for all they have done for me,” commented Zook commented.

Zook has taken on a new role for the Blue Hens as a Student Assistant Coach. The position allows her to be part of the team while learning the coaching side of the game.

“It is neat to be part of the players group but also see what happens behind-the-scenes,” said Zook on her responsibilities. “My teammates still look at me as a player, but they also look to me for help. I can provide personal input, or [act as] a type of messenger about what may or may not be working for the team [to the coaches]. I write our newsletters, and have even written some of the articles on the Blue Hen website for the team.”

While Zook could have stepped away from field hockey following the news from her doctors, she chose for her career to continue rather than giving up. 

Her advice for players to remember as they take the field each day, “Honestly, you never know when it will be your last chance to step on the pitch. With that being said, every time you step foot on the field just try your hardest. Give it all you have in the tank even if you just had a horrible day.”

While Zook's words of wisdom are valuable for players now, Messiah College Head Coach Brooke Good offers advice for the future when players find themselves out of playing eligibility.

Good played field hockey and softball for the Falcons all four years while pursuing her undergraduate marketing degree. She never planned to become a coach, but she realized her gifts pointed toward coaching while she played college hockey.

“Once I realized how much I loved the sport and that I still had a hunger to learn and grow, the next logical step is to coach,” explained Good of her rationale.

Just like Zook, Good could have walked away from the sport after her four-year timeline ended. Instead, she decided to share her passion with the student-athletes on her roster. She finds reward in the daily interactions she has with players.

“My favorite thing is seeing the four-year journey with the student-athletes as they evolve and grow on and off the field,” revealed Good. “The most rewarding thing is seeing the ‘lightbulb’ moments when an athlete gets the concept or executes it in a game.”.

Zook shares a similar philosophy as Good in finding importance in giving back to the game.

“Currently, I am coaching a U-12 club team,” added Zook. “My hope is to stay with them, help them develop and watch them grow from 6th grade to high school, until they go off to college to play.”

Good has her own advice for student-athletes, “Don’t take your opportunities for granted, and try to find as much value in each opportunity as you can. If it's playing in a game, going to practice, going and watching the National Team play - just appreciate it because the time goes by so quickly.”

It’s not over until a player chooses for it to be over. There are many ways to stay participating in the sport after eligibility runs out or an injury strikes.

“So often we think inward, when you’re eligibility is over you're done,” proposed Good. “If we're thinking outward, we can continue to influence the sport at any level, officiating or coaching. The love and passion for the sport doesn't go away unless you allow it, it does not extinguish the flame. If you let it keep burning, it can last forever.”

This article is featured in the Spring 2018 issue of FHLife magazine. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to our quarterly publication or to order additional copies, clicking here.