Like many coaches, Windham Middle School field hockey coach and seventh-grade English and Language Arts teacher Emily Grudzien began playing sports at a young age, but it wasn’t until she tried field hockey that she felt she really succeeded in a sport. It was a way for her to grow her confidence in middle and high school and feel like she was part of something outside her social circle.
She stopped playing field hockey in college and began working in outdoor education, where she focused on whitewater canoeing instructing. Working with young people to develop technical skills while creating a community and sense of belonging has transferred well into her position as a field hockey coach.
“Coaching is a great way for me to connect with students outside of the classroom, much in the way I would with students on backcountry trips,” said Grudzien.
Originally from New Hampshire, Grudzien graduated from Saint Lawrence University where she studied English and environmental studies. When she worked in outdoor education, she would lead trips in cross country skills, backpacking and downhill skiing. Her mom was a teacher, and she considers it to be her dream job.
What drew Grudzien to coaching field hockey was it had always been a catalyst for her to break out of her shell in middle school. She could redefine herself apart from stressful social dynamics during the school day. She wanted to provide that same opportunity for her team, many of whom she has currently or has had previously as students.
“She would help the team out if anything happened or there was a situation where the team needed [it],” said Windham seventh grader and field hockey player Hayley Johnsen. “I learned how to take a hard drive and be responsible [and] I learned how to have good positioning in games.”
Johnsen had fun this season and plans to play again next year.
The Windham Middle School field hockey team had a great turnout this season with a variety of player abilities that were able to learn and grow from watching each other. Grudzien gives credit to Windham High School field hockey coach Cory DiDonato and others who have invested in players year-round at the youth level.
“At the middle school level, we are often teaching more about life lessons than field hockey skills,” said Grudzien. “Concepts like preparedness, teamwork, compromise, leadership and timeliness are all lessons we tried to impress on our players this season.”
The squad impressed her and Windham Middle School assistant field hockey coach Alexandra Belaire with their energy and excitement around their winning streak and also with their supporting of members of their team.
“Being her assistant coach was so much fun,” said Belaire. “Emily brings enthusiasm around the sport of field hockey and brings the 'why.' She constantly was managing players who were at a lower level all the while running corner plays. She is such an asset to WMS athletics because she has experience and is young. The players learned how to have fun and love the sport.”
Grudzien’s goal for her first season was to develop fundamental skills for beginning players, introduce more advanced players to higher-level skills and create a sense of belonging and unity among players. Regardless of skill level, how players feel when they come to practice or play in a game has a big impact on whether they return in the future; she wants everyone to return next season.
“I love being in an environment where I can focus on building relationships with students [and] players,” said Grudzien. “This is the part I miss most from working in outdoor education—bonding with a group of kids around a common cause.”
After graduating from college, Grudzien worked for two years at the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, where she led backcountry trips for kids of all ages. She now lives in Raymond in a log cabin and loves to hike and paddle when not coaching. <