Apr 2, 2014
Taft School Girls' Hockey Rebuilds, With Olympic Gold Medalist Coach
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“The Montessori School programs (she taught 3 through 6-years-olds) is based on the education of the whole child. So, that philosophy and that of The Taft School mesh perfectly. Sports is all about teamwork, sacrificing your own priorities for the greater good of the team. Sure, I am here to develop hockey players and win games. But I’m also here to develop good teammates and good people.”
On her coaching style, she says, “I am flexible enough to adjust to the group of kids I have at a given time. It varies according to the skill level of the players and the focus to the sport that they can bring to the rink. I build a foundation but I can only build what the kids are willing to give me. I do have high expectations for my players.”
She knows that while teaching set plays and how to defend against opposing teams is her daily chore as a hockey coach there is so much more that a mentor is called upon to do.
“Kids will confide in their coaches and I have to be there for them when they need me. I want them to be advocates for themselves but I also know we must serve as role models. There’s a lot of stuff that gets thrown at teenagers these days and it’s difficult for them to navigate through it all. We must do what we can to help them reach their goals.”
Silverman applied previously for the position she now holds but chose to take a post at another school. When the position of girls hockey coach opened up once again, she was asked by members of the school’s administration to reapply.
“I was familiar with the Taft community and I had worked with some of the Taft faculty’s children in the Watertown Youth Hockey program. I was encouraged by the administration reaching out to me and that led me to reapply. I was fortunate enough to get the position and here I am.” She and her husband and children live on campus.
She didn’t directly ask her former teammate, Mleczko, if she should go after the job at Taft but she knew the Taft grad had a wonderful experience at the Watertown school.
“A.J. went here and I knew loved the experience. When I was playing at Loomis Chaffee, we had great rivalries with Taft. Patsy Odden was coaching the Taft girls and the schools were playing the best female hockey around. I really want to reestablish that level of excellence at Taft and I know we can do it.”
Today’s opportunities for young girls to play hockey are certainly a far cry from when Silverman was growing up and involved as youngster in the sport.
“I played on all-boys teams when I was a young girl until one day when I got checked from behind into the ice and a whole incident started. My parents said that was that and I wasn’t playing with the boys anymore.”
Ironically, she would go on to skate with a men’s team in Boston where she and her future husband were living at the time leading up to and following her Olympic journey. She still skates whenever she can, often paying in men’s pickup games.
“The chances for girls in hockey have grown leaps and bounds. You look at where it is now, with the women’s college Frozen Four and the schools that have girls and women’s teams in the Midwest and that just didn’t exist 20 years ago. We didn’t think of ourselves as pioneers when we were on the Olympic team but now I look back and know that we were.”
She continues, “I was making an appearance some years back and the current captain of the U.S. national team, Meghan Duggan, was there. She related that the few moments I spent with her at that event made a lasting impression on her as a young girl and served as inspiration for launching her own career in the sport. That’s pretty neat when you hear things like that.”
Ms. Silverman said her Olympic experience was one of a kind.
“To see the crowds that we had was amazing. I mean, we were playing in front of family and a few friends at Dartmouth and here we were in a packed arena. To get the first goal of the game in a gold medal game still resonates with me. My husband and parents were there along with some friends and to do that in front of them was special.”
Gretchen Silverman is hoping she can help make the hockey dreams of young women attending Taft during the coming years become reality. She would like nothing better than to see one or more of her players go on, just like she and Mleczko did, to play before a packed house at the Winter Olympics.