During a field hockey clinic last week in McLean, thwacking sticks were periodically silenced by careful demonstrations of new skills and drills. It was during these moments that a smattering of local coaches stood alongside players and paid close attention to the instructions offered by a pair of women with credentials far greater than their own.
The duo leading the two-and-a-half-hour clinic were players, too; but their experiences across the pond this past summer rendered them something more: Olympians.
More than 80 girls ranging from third to 12th grade descended on The Potomac School on Oct. 27 to sharpen their field hockey skills under the tutelage of Claire Laubach and Michelle Kasold, two members of Team USA at the London Olympics this summer. It was a homecoming of sorts for Laubach, a 2001 Centreville grad who played field hockey for current Westfield coach Starr Karl.
“It was awesome seeing how many people were here,” said Laubach, a mainstay on the U.S. national team’s defense since 2009. “It’s refreshing to see so many people excited about the sport because you don’t always see that. I would love to do this again, especially in this area.”
The event was put on by Beyond Sticks, an Arlington-based company whose mission is to empower women through sport using a nationally certified curriculum geared toward improving field hockey and leadership skills. A little more than a year old, Beyond Sticks has run several camps and clinics around the area in addition to providing coaching at the club level. They even took a handful of players to Spain this summer to train with top coaches and players in the process of soaking up a new culture.
Chrissy Lewis, the 27-year-old owner and director of Beyond Sticks, said that although she has seen kids receive plenty of quality instruction during the past year, nothing quite compares to the thrill of learning the game from an Olympian.
“The most encouraging thing for me was the enthusiasm at the end,” Lewis said. “Every single kid was lined up to get their stick signed and their shirt signed. It gives me chills to know that these kids are inspired by these role models.”
Lewis hopes that inspiration will go toward improving the confidence of her kids on and off the field, an aim that lies in her company’s core message of “playing beyond the game.” Bringing the international success of women like Laubach and Kasold to a local audience showed the clinic’s participants that great achievements can be attained by anyone willing to put in the dedication and hard work.
That message of empowerment continues to drive Lewis, who has grown increasingly committed to building strong character through coaching field hockey.
“What’s special about Beyond Sticks is that we really believe the technical aspect of the sport is only one side of the house,” Lewis said. “Women who play sports are more successful in their careers, they’re more confident and they tend to do better later in life. So we really want to take the intangibles and find ways to make them tangible and improve upon them along with your skill set while you go out and play.”
Lewis hoped that Laubach’s roots in the Northern Virginia area would allow kids at Saturday’s clinic to relate to someone who has gone on to achieve great things. Laubach told the kids about how she didn’t pick up the sport until she was a high school sophomore, when access to good field hockey instruction and competition was far less prevalent than it is today.
“It was cool to hear Claire talk about how it was when she used to be here, how much smaller it was and how much it’s grown,” said Kasold, a Chapel Hill, N.C., native who has been a member of the U.S. national team since 2006. “These kids are the future of our program, and I’ve just been inspired by those that came before me, so it’s really exciting to see the kids and actually get to meet them.”
Having been on the other end of instruction for so many years, Kasold and Laubach never imagined eliciting the undivided attention of kids eager to learn from U.S. Olympians. The experience both strengthened and validated their devotion to the continued development of the sport they love.
“You have girls that are looking up to you anyway, but to see an actual Olympian, I think it gives them more hope,” Laubach said. “These people are real and getting out there and interacting and playing with them is awesome. I never had a chance to do that, so I hope it helps them.”