Ask a Coach Colleen Fink, Head Coach, University of Pennsylvania

Colleen Fink just finished her 10th season at the helm of the University of Pennsylvania's field hockey program. But her 10-year stint at UPenn is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her field hockey coaching journey. Fink as found success at many levels — from 2005 to 2009, she led the Haverford College Fords, before that, she served as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Saint Joseph's University, she spent three years at Archbishop Carroll High School, and has been active with the Viper Field Hockey Club since 2005.

What has all of that experience taught her? Well, as she reminds us below — in her responses to your online questions — "coaching is coaching," and to maximize your experience at any level, you just need to be committed to growth.

How do you make sure everyone buys into your team culture?

Culture is a living and breathing word to me. I think it is hard to get people to buy into anything if you don’t live it yourself. I try to show my athletes that I am supportive so they can be supportive. I try to show my athletes that I work hard and advocate for what’s fair and right so they do the same. I show the women of Penn Field Hockey that I believe in them and that it is OK to compete so they are willing to do the same. Your culture has to be a genuine reflection of who you are or no one will buy anything.

What are some tips or strategies for coaches looking to set the tone in preseason?

My father, who was a long time coach and high school disciplinarian, used to tell me, “don’t smile until Christmas.” While I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment exactly, I do think it is important to stay true to what you believe in from the start. Your core principles need to be understood so the athletes know what to expect. Make sure your team knows what is critically important to you — stick to that and try to let the other stuff go.

Can you talk about transitioning from Division III to Division I and your experiences at the club and high school levels?

I am so grateful for my background and experience because I have such an appreciation for what coaches across all groups are going through. Coaching is coaching. I think the best thing that all of us can do as coaches is collaborate with one another. Call your peers and ask questions, watch other teams train, borrow ideas, and continue to grow. I would gladly talk to any coach about any technical or tactical parts of the game!

What is the biggest thing you feel like you have to teach your players that they might not already know?

How to hit the ball properly. Kidding...(kinda)!

Honestly, I want to teach them that life is going to throw many challenges their way. Women are confronted with an unrealistic expectation in our society — be beautiful and fit, work full-time and be an amazing parent, etc., etc. While I like to rise to that challenge every day, I also know I can’t do it alone. As we read in our team-assigned book recently, you need your wolf pack. Find your pack, lean on them, and lift them up. That’s what being a part of a team is all about.

How are you staying engaged with your players while adhering to social distancing guidelines?

My team has done an incredible job managing this situation. Right from the start we developed a robust plan for how we were going to approach being away from one another. We use social media to stay connected with fun and positive posts. We video conference at least three times a week to stay connected — we discuss mental performance, film, and our team book assignments. Our strength and conditioning coach has been very engaged and created a team S&C Council to help with feedback, collaboration, and creative training methods. We are also hosting a game night this week which will be so much fun and good for team morale!

What do you recommend for prospective student-athletes during this unprecedented time?

I can’t express to the current high school athletes how sorry I am that their high school, club, and recruiting process has been impacted by this. While I know everyone is extremely eager to get back out on the field, we also have to accept the circumstances for what they are.

I encourage athletes to keep in touch with coaches, listing their name and class year in the subject line of any emails. I also think film is going to be more critical than ever before, but I don’t think families need to go out and spend a fortune. If possible, get footage from club or high school games and use any of the numerous apps to put it together. Have your daughters do it…if they can TikTok, they can clip film! Put the film on YouTube and share with coaches. I think once you are able to go to university camps and clinics, you should!

How are you occupying yourself right now? Any recommendations?

Our whole team just read Wolfpack by Abby Wombach, which was an easy read and had so many important lessons for young female athletes to hear. I also just complete Relentless by Tim Grover, the former trainer for basketball greats Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. I am also taking a free, four-week long course through Penn’s Positive Psychology Center with Karen Reivich (a member of my pack!) that is covering resilience and optimism.

I am also about to start reading Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thomspon, which was recommended to me by a neighbor. The book talks about how to raise young men to be emotionally literate and have strong social intelligence. I have two sons, Beau and Toby, who are five and seven!

Thank you, Colleen! And thanks to everyone who submitted a question!

Want more answers? Catch some advice from West Chester University head coach, Amy Cohen, and York College head coach, Katie Fost!