USA Field Hockey Olympian Caitlin Van Sickle – aka Poppy – has a new calling: coaching and guiding youth field hockey players on their quest for success. Following an illustrious six and a half year career with the U.S. Women's National Team, the pinnacle of which was competing in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Van Sickle was appointed Director of Coaching for PowerHouse Field Hockey Club, located in the Philadelphia suburbs. She embraces the position full heartedly and has been received with open arms and loud cheers.
“There is a lot that excites me about working for a club, but mainly the opportunity to work with kids and young women of all ages,” said Van Sickle. “I have never really worked for a club before and so that in itself is very exciting. I had no idea how much went into running a club and I probably still do not know all that it entails, but the opportunity to work with so many kids is exciting. It is also fun working with old teammates and I am very thankful for.”
Van Sickle’s field hockey career has been marked by many highs and always positivity. In 2013, Van Sickle was named to the U.S. Women’s National Team after a journey through the Olympic Development Pathway. She garnered 148 international caps as a defender for the red, white, and blue. Van Sickle was a part of USA’s incredible performance at the 2016 Women's Hockey Champions Trophy in London, England, as the lowest world ranked team, USA clinched the bronze after a shootout win over Australia. Continuing with that momentum, USA impressed the world at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games earning a historical fifth place finish.
In college, Van Sickle was a standout player for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She was a three-time team Most Valuable Player (2010, 2011, 2012), three-time first-team All-America (2010, 2011, 2012), three-time Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defensive Player of the Year (2010, 2011, 2012), three-time All-ACC and All-ACC tournament and 2012 ACC Tournament MVP. In her time as a Tar Heel, Van Sickle helped win back-to-back ACC Championships (2011, 2012) and played in the NCAA Division I championship game all four years, winning the championship in 2009.
I caught up with Poppy to find out more about her new role, career highlights with USA Field Hockey and at UNC, and fun facts about Poppy including her famous nickname.
What was your best field hockey moment at the University of North Carolina?
Poppy: “Winning the national championship in 2009, but also having the opportunity to play in four Final Fours!”
What is your best USA Field Hockey memory:
Poppy: “I don’t know if there is one specific moment that sticks in my head, but representing my country in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is obviously the highlight. When you hear the national anthem, standing on the field next to your teammates that you have worked so hard with for years, it truly is am inspiring moment.”
Tell me about your decision to retire from Team USA:
Poppy: “I think for me I knew it was time to retire once the team did not qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. I went back and forth with the decision and ultimately decided this was my time to step away.”
Why did you move into the club scene rather than coaching at the college level?
Poppy: “After retiring I thought that college would be the next step, but this just makes sense right now and I think this was a great opportunity I was given.”
So tell me about your new role at PowerHouse as Directory of Coaching:
Poppy: “It’s multifaceted. Stefanie Fee (Co-Director along with Lauren Pfeiffer) and I will create the curriculums for all age groups and then we will also be coaching each age group. I would say coaching the different age groups on a daily basis is my main focus, but then also creating practice plans with Stefanie [Fee] is another large part of my role. Obviously, there are administrative tasks we share, including ordering uniforms, creating guidelines for prospective college athletes and offering calls with our athletes about their progress.”
Did you play with Stefanie and Lauren in any international tours with Team USA?
Poppy: “I think Stefanie and I joined the team at the same time so most of the tournaments we competed in were together. The biggest ones would be the Champions Trophy in London and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Lauren was on the team before I was and we played together for a few years starting back in San Diego.”
What fun facts can you share about Stefanie and Lauren that most people don’t know?
Poppy: “Stefanie is a very talented dancer and the leader of the dance floor at most weddings! Lauren is fairly artsy with her knitting abilities, but also a very organized person and the one who keeps the club together!”
And a fun fact about you, Poppy…
Poppy: “I love to golf and cook! I get this honest because my mom is actually a golf professional and my Dad went to culinary school.”
How would you describe your coaching style?
Poppy: “I’m not sure that I have established a coaching style yet, but I would say that I like the kids and athletes to be the ones who lead the discussions. I think learning is best accomplished by doing and acting on the pitch but also talking through situations. I welcome the athletes to challenge me and ask me as many questions as possible.”
What are your club and personal goals at PowerHouse?
Poppy: “I think my goal for the club and myself would be to offer the athletes the best coaching I can. I want to help these kids not only develop into the best field hockey players they can, but also the best athletes they can be.”
“The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.” – Anson Dorance This is your favorite quote, taken from your USA Field Hockey bio. It is inspiring! Why did you choose this quote?
Poppy: “I just think this quote exemplifies hard work. Hard work to me is the basis of everything and the ability to push yourself further than your ever thought was possible is something that drives me. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a great program leading up to Rio that helped me in this capacity and really shaped me into the person I am today.”
In closing, I have a question that many want to know! How did you get your cool nickname Poppy?
Poppy: “I was given the nickname in college on my first day of preseason by a girl in the grade above me. She took my last name, Van Sickle, and said, 'Oh that sounds like Popsicle…Poppy.' Some people think it is a stretch, but it makes sense to me and now it really has stuck.”
Rapid Fire Questions for Poppy:
Your best field hockey skill: Decent/accurate hit.
1 word to describe the PowerHouse athlete: Determined.
If you didn't play field hockey, you would have played: Basketball.
Thing that makes you most happy: Being able to spend time with family and friends.
Favorite post-victory food: Love Neopolitan style pizza.
What you're watching on Netflix now: I want to start the third season of Ozark!
Favorite sports hero: Michael Jordan.
Philly girl yet?! Love the Philly restaurant scene so slowly finding my way around.