Donna Hornibrook is entering her ninth season as the head coach of the field hockey team at Cornell University.
This is your ninth season as the Cornell coach. How has your coaching style evolved over these past nine seasons?
"I think that every season is a new season and I think that every year is a new year and every staff is a new staff. I think that my principles and my philosophy have stayed the same but what I do on an annual basis is see what I have and what I need. This year we’re taking steps to raise the expectations and the requirements for being part of the program. We had a pretty good stretch of about six years where we had wining records—we dropped off last year and weren’t satisfied and this season we’re really trying to change the vision of where we want to go as a program. A part of that is I’ve learned to put faith in our terrific support staff [and] delegate responsibilities. As a team, we’re hopefully able to get more out of our athletes."
Last season the Red faced tough competition in the Ivy league. Is there any loss in particular the team wants to avenge? Or in general is there any game you’re looking forward to?
"Obviously we felt like our play dropped off so we’re really emphasizing a common vision as a team in terms of style of play and in terms of our goals and expectations. When you have a tough season you really want to on a game-by-game basis and build your program to the level of expectation you had set for it. What we’re focusing on is learning to win."
What was your experience like on the Canadian national team?
"I think that one of the highlights would have been having an opportunity to play in the world cup in Argentina. The passion and the love of the game were so evident. Buses and buses of schoolgirls in their uniforms were driven up to watch their team and their county. When you have an experience like that, you have an understanding of how strong the game is around the world. It gave me exposure and understanding of the game elsewhere. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know."
Are there crazy field hockey experiences you’d like to share?
"What jump-started my coaching career and got me motivated with field hockey was when I coached at the Canada Games [Canadian sports festival held every four years where teams represent their province]. I was still in my 20s, trying to determine whether I wanted to coach for a living. We took a group of players who were on average 17 years old playing in the under-23 national championships and we were just fearless. The expectation wasn’t that we were going to go far, but we worked so hard in that two-year training period and made it to the championship game. We were down 2-0 at half-time and our players were settling — they knew they had their medal.
As a coach you can’t let that happen and there was a moment where the players all understood that they could do better than that. The whole attitude and effort of the team changed just in that ten-minute window in the locker room. We went out in the second half and tied the score up and won the game in overtime. It was the first time any team had won a gold medal in that province [New Brunswick]. As a coach it set the tone that I wanted to make this a career. It gave me a vision of what a coach’s job is, which is to try to inspire their players to reach heights they didn’t think they were capable of reaching."
Do you have any hidden talents or hobbies?
"I’m from Prince Edward Island, which is a province in Canada, and we call ourselves Islanders. In terms of hobbies, I’m happiest when I’m near a pretty significant body of water. I love sea kayaking and anything around the coastline."