This summer, while other student-athletes were taking a break from school work, the field hockey team had to write a paper. The assignment was part of an innovative philosophy instituted by new head coach Pam Stuper to train the team to play a better mental game.
Each player had to research a psychological aspect of her game which needed improvement, whether it was lack of confidence or anger management, and write an essay on how she could improve her play. Stuper’s emphasis on the mental aspect of the game comes both from her own extensive experience as well as her ongoing training as a sports psychologist.
“I believe once you get to a certain level everyone has the same skills,” Stuper said. “It’s the mental aspect that makes you a winner, a champion.”
Stuper’s techniques may be slightly unorthodox, but she runs the team with a passion both for the game and for helping her players. She encourages them to follow a passion because she believes if they are doing something they love, it will not feel like work.
The head coaching position is a continuation of Stuper’s own passion for field hockey. She played on the United States National Team for nine years and said it was “amazing to put on red, white and blue and represent my country.” Stuper also worked for eight seasons as assistant coach before stepping up to her current position.
Besides improving the mental game, Stuper’s other main focus is to get her athletes to succeed in all aspects of their lives.
“I love to develop women from age 18 to 22 not just as athletes but as students,” Stuper said. “These girls are not only going to be field hockey players. They are going to be doctors and lawyers. I want them to take the skills they learn from hockey to the rest of their lives.”
Stuper goes out of her way to make sure her students get eight hours of sleep per night, eat a diet with “variety, moderation, and wholesomeness,” and come talk to her when they have any personal issues that are bothering them.
“Pam is really concerned about us not just as players,” goalkeeper Elizabeth Friedlander ’07 said. “She’s really supportive of us and everything we try to do … sort of like having another parent. She knows I tend not to sleep very much, so she’s always trying to encourage me to get sleep.”
Midfielder Ali Rotondo ’09 feels similarly about Stuper’s devotion to her players.
“She emphasizes the importance of supporting your teammates,” Rotondo said. “And she has given us the tools to be successful both on and off the field.”
According to Friedlander, Stuper is also a bit of a health nut. Ten years ago, Stuper was on a fad diet of carbohydrate loading, which negatively impacted her play. Because of this, she encourages her students to avoid fad diets, but hands out Hershey’s chocolate after every game to highlight the idea that when it comes to diet, moderation, even with sweets, is okay.
“It’s one of her little quirks,” Friedlander said.
Acts like these are indicative of Stuper’s push to stress the fact that winning is not just about what happens in games.
“Yes, we’re shooting for an Ivy Championship,” Stuper said. “But it’s not the end we’re focusing on. It’s the day-to-day.”
She likes to read her players inspiring quotes, poems and cheers before games. One of her favorite quotes is, “Life is a journey and not a destination.”
While the Bulldogs are generally positive about Stuper, there are aspects of her coaching technique that take some getting used to.
“Pam likes to push us to our limits,” Friedlander said. “She makes us get up early in the morning in the spring and start practicing at 5 a.m.. And because we have to go to bed so early, we can’t have a normal college student’s schedule.”
In her rare moments of free time, Stuper likes to go for runs with her husband John, the head baseball coach at Yale, and their dog Jake.
Judging by the way her players speak of her, Stuper has a second family — the team. Stuper even calls herself the “Coach/Mom” of the squad.
“Pam’s great. I love her,” Friedlander said. “I’m so glad to have the opportunity to work with her.”