Why We Play: Emily Poehlein

“Why we play” is a weekly installment in which athletes write about what their sports mean to them. This week, we feature senior field hockey player Emily Poehlein, above. Courtesy of Nick Jallat.

As a second-semester senior, I have been thinking a lot about my experience as a field hockey player, especially in the collegiate setting, and reflecting on what lessons I will take with me for the rest of my life after Vassar. Coming off of such an amazing season, it has been easy to recall the highest of highs that I have experienced during my field hockey career. This fall, we had the best season in Vassar Field Hockey history, winning the Liberty League Championship for the first time ever and advancing on to the NCAA tournament. We had a 16-game winning streak, were undefeated at home and, in the midst of all of this success, had the time of our lives.

Despite these unbelievable experiences, I do not think that these feelings of being a champion or scoring a game-winning goal will define what I take beyond my athletic career. In reality, it has been the more difficult experiences that have shaped who I am today and that have prepared me to be an adult outside of an athletic setting.

Field hockey has taught me the value of hard work. I have always embodied a “work hard, play hard” mentality with whatever I do. Of course, playing field hockey is so much fun and, above all, that is the reason why I started playing in the first place thirteen fall seasons ago. Although running around and hitting balls with wooden sticks is always a good time, I do not think that I am unique in saying that my career has not always been fun and games. During my first-year and sophomore seasons here at Vassar, I did not get the amount of playing time that I would have liked and struggled with understanding my role on the team, especially after playing almost every minute of every game in high school. While this experience taught me how to contribute to the team in other ways, I also became determined to improve. I worked so hard during the off-season, and ultimately my effort paid off—my presence on the field the next year proved valuable in our team’s success. While working hard to get playing time may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I will never forget how hard I was able to push myself in order to get what I wanted. I consider this lesson to be one that I can apply to many facets of my life in the future beyond athletics.

Field hockey has taught me to learn from my mistakes. While I have loved being a part of a winning team, my experience playing field hockey has not always been so favorable. Even during my first few seasons at Vassar, we experienced some very hard losses, seasons that did not end up in our favor and adversity that prevented us from accomplishing all that we had hoped. While winning, obviously, is always preferable,

I think that I have learned more from the losses than the wins. Through losing games, we are made aware of our weaknesses, given room to grow and improve and, above all, are reminded not to take our successes for granted. I anticipate in the future, when inevitably things may not go my way, I will remember what I learned through my losses as an athlete and strive to put a positive spin on adversity.

Field hockey has taught me to set goals and achieve them. Ever since my first year at Vassar, a team goal has always been to win the Liberty League Championship; however, this was the only year that we actually accomplished that goal. I do not consider the previous three seasons to be failures, but rather they were preparation for achieving this target. Through both individual and team goal-setting, my time playing field hockey has always had purpose and objective. As an adult, ambition is an important aspect of all facets of life, from one’s career to their family and relationships, and I anticipate that the experience that I have had setting goals and striving to meet them has prepared me in an invaluable way for what is yet to come.

Field hockey has taught me the value of teamwork. I cannot remember the last time that I was not part of a team. From youth recreational soccer to collegiate field hockey, I have always loved being surrounded by others who share a common goal; however, being on a team of all women is not always easy. Throughout my field hockey career, I have had to deal with clashing personalities, conflicting opinions and drama among teammates. Even here at Vassar, where our team prides itself on being drama-free, it has sometimes required quite a bit of effort to work cohesively as a collective. Through these complicated relationships with teammates, coaches and competitors, I have learned how to work with people who may learn, think and make decisions differently than I do. This knowledge I know will prove helpful in the future when I will need to be able to work with coworkers, supervisors and other colleagues in the workforce.

Now that my field hockey career has come to a close, I have had a long time to reflect on my experience and what it means to me in the context of the rest of my life. When I first started playing in the fourth grade, I would never have guessed that this sport would have such an important and positive influence on my life, even now that my career is over. The impact that this sport has had on me goes beyond the feelings of being a champion and the invaluable friendships this sport has fostered. I can confidently say that I have become a better person because of field hockey, and I will continue to cherish the lessons that I have learned, beyond Vassar and into adulthood.

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