Tara Zollinger just finished her second season as the head coach at Shippensburg University. In her two seasons at Ship she has won just as many NCAA Division II National Championships and just as many NFHCA Division II National Coaching Staff of the Year honors. Prior to taking the helm at Shippensburg, Tara was an assistant coach at Syracuse University, where she was an integral part of the staff that led the Orange to the 2015 NCAA Division I National Championship. Tara was a two-time NCAA Division I National Champion as a player at the University of Maryland.
Tara sat down to answer your questions — received through the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) social media platforms — about coaching, professional development and recruiting.
Question: What is the most important quality you look for in a prospective student-athlete?
Answer: There are many important qualities we look for in prospective student-athletes. One of the most important ones is adaptability. We are looking for student-athletes who can adapt to a new environment and be flexible to meet the team needs and work with the changes that a student undergoes in their four years.
Q: How do you design your practices?
A: We design our practices based on what we need to implement that week for the game ahead. After we identify those areas we need to work on, we create drills and games that will help our athletes grow in those areas. In all of our practices we include some element of competition and small games.
Q: Did you ever think you'd be a collegiate coach?
A: Yes, it was my goal to be a collegiate coach. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to coach with a club in Maryland as well as with USA Field Hockey. The amazing experiences I had coaching there further solidified my desire to pursue this profession.
Q: How do you get your team ready for a game?
A: We prepare our student-athletes by showing them video of both our upcoming opponent and recent video of themselves. We then have a full scouting report and discuss the areas we can be successful. We also have a competition day right before we play. This is a great way for our athletes to relax, have fun and just compete!
Q: What advice would you give young coaches?
A: Find your confidence and find a good mentor! There are so many nuances to this profession that you only learn from experience. So, having a good mentor will help expedite that process and will also give you support, valuable advice and knowledge.