Question (NFHCA): Most people don’t know that the legendary Bob Derr didn’t start his coaching career in field hockey — can you tell us about how you got your start?
Answer (Bob Derr): How I got into coaching field hockey is quite a story.
In the fall of 1979, I was teaching in the Warwick School District and coaching the junior high wrestling team and the high school boys’ track and field team. I was approached by Sandy Moyer, who was the varsity field hockey coach. She informed me that the junior high field hockey coach had just resigned and there were still 10 days left in the season. Sandy pleaded with me to take over for those last 10 days — the team only had seven practices and three games left in the season and she promised to help me along the way. My first reaction was “NO WAY!” All I knew about the sport was that you could only use one side of the stick, I had no idea how I would figure out line-ups of players that I did not know and coach a game. But, after some serious coaxing and plenty of reassurance from Sandy, I agreed.
Sandy and I met later that day to review the day’s practice, and after I got the “OK” from my wife, Kathy, my field hockey coaching career began.
In those 10 days, I was so taken by how engaged, passionate, and full of heart the girls were for field hockey. They truly LOVED the game and their love of the game wore off on me. After our last game, I went to Sandy to ask if I could coach again next year and she agreed. Here I am, 40 years later, getting ready for my 41st season coaching field hockey — I owe it all to Sandy for having faith in me and I thank all the girls that gave me the love of the game.
Bob talks to his Warwick team at halftime.
Q (NFHCA): You’ve built a formidable program at Warwick — how did you go about doing that? What did you focus on in your first five years leading the program?
A (BD): First, I had to go out learn as much as possible. Sandy recommended that I go to the Eastern Field Hockey Camp to get a proper introduction to the sport. When I called Judy Wolstenholme, she thought I wanted to coach the camp, I explained that I wanted to attend as a camper so that I could get on the field and learn with the girls. I had no knowledge of the basic skills, and tactics of the game, so I thought if I could be a camper and do the drills and skills, I could learn the game. And that’s how my education of the sport began — I would bring my stick and notebook along and I would play in the drills with the girls and then in the evening the coaches invited me to play with them. I owe a lot to Judy and her staff — they gave me a great start.
Second, I focused on the fundamentals — ball control, push pass, trap, hit, role-one defense — we drilled these every day. We also focused on building a culture based on team first, family, discipline, and work ethic.
Bob with two of his former assistants, Stacy Rucci (left) and Heather Hess Sell (right).
Q (NFHCA): As you enter your 41st season as a field hockey coach, what has changed the most from your perspective, for the good and for the not-so good?
A (BD): Field Hockey, like many sports, has seen much growth in each athlete’s abilities, strength, and speed. Plus, the athletes today are much more talented. The education of the game and how it is played has advanced with new skills and rule changes which has allowed for better flow to the game and a faster game. These changes have made the game very exciting.
The not-so-good: the players by their own choice are focusing more on one sport, mostly influenced by year-round opportunities. I still feel there is much to be gained by an athlete competing in multiple sports. I believe it is good for the athlete’s mental and physical health.
Q (NFHCA): With Mother’s Day just passed and Father’s Day coming up, we’ve got coaching and parenting on the brain — how did you manage being a father and a coach (of multiple sports), a top wrestling official, and a teacher? How do you think coaching affected your family?
A (BD): I was very fortunate and lucky that I married the right person. Kathy has been a wonderful wife and is a tremendous woman. They say, “behind every great man stands a great woman,” and it’s true. On a typical winter day in the Derr household, I would leave home and walk to school, while Kathy would see to it that the three kids ate breakfast and got to school. After school, I would coach junior high wrestling and after practice, Kathy would pack up all three kids, pick me up, and drive us all to a varsity wrestling match that I would be refereeing. After the match, we all would go to a restaurant and have dinner together. The wonderful thing about it was that Kathy made sure we always spent some family time together, no matter our busy schedules.
As for the effect on my kids, sports and athletics kept the family together. All three of our children were multi-sport athletes. Each of our children, Danielle, Bree, and Andy, coached field hockey at some time. My daughters both coached at various high schools and colleges and my son coached with me for a brief time before he took a job at a local rival school. Coaching against each other…that was a sight to behold.
But the main point is that it was my wife, Kathy, was the glue that held our family together.