Olympic hockey great Kendall Coyne savored a pressure-free youth
By Greg Bach
The U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team is dealing with intense pressure and scrutiny as it vies for a gold medal tonight in a much-anticipated showdown with Canada.
But for U.S. forward Kendall Coyne, who led the silver-medal winning U.S. team in scoring at the 2014 Winter Olympics, pressure is something that never suffocated her growing up.
And she flourished because of it.
“For me, I never felt pressure and I think that’s what made me want to work so hard and drive to be the best version of myself that I could be,” Coyne says. “My parents said that as long as I was having fun and I loved it that I could continue to play. I loved it and I wanted to keep getting better, they never forced me.”
Coyne loved the process of discovering ways to improve, and committing herself to it.
“I would work out in the basement by myself,” Coyne says. “My parents never made me do that. Or just going outside and going for a run. Still to this day my dad says ‘work hard and have fun.’ For them the outcome doesn’t matter, as long as I’m having fun and I’m enjoying what I am doing. That was so important for me as a kid and it’s still important today.”
The fast-skating, hard-working, impossible-to-defend Coyne is 5-foot-2, but she plays big on the ice.
Besides leading the Americans in scoring at the last Olympic Games, while at Northeastern University she picked up the 2016 Patty Kazmaier Award, known as the Heisman Trophy of women’s Division 1 college hockey. While at Northeastern she made life miserable for opposing goalies as she set career records for points (249) and goals (141).
Despite all the incredible success, she still covets an Olympic Gold Medal, which the U.S. missed out on in a stinging 3-2 loss to the Canadians in the gold medal game in 2014.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of heartbreak to put the reality inside of you of the work that needs to be done,” she says.
FACING ADVERSITY, CRUSHING CHALLENGES
Growing up, not many girls laced up the skates. So naturally, her presence on the ice created lots of attention.
“It was definitely challenging for me as a kid because I was one of a few on the ice with a ponytail,” she says. “So there was already a target on my back.”
She played hard and learned from her mistakes.
And her love for the sport never wavered.
“Sometimes when you make a mistake it hurts,” she says. “But for me I just always wanted to be the best that I could and I knew I needed to overcome whatever was on my mind right away and to look ahead to the next play or the next game or the next shift. It’s tough when you make a mistake but I wanted to get better so sometimes when I made a mistake or had a hard workout I would get a little bit excited because I was like, ‘wow, I can get so much better.’ So I think just looking at it in a positive way really helped me as a kid.”
Too often kids (and parents) get caught up in game results, in the process overlooking one of the many really cool aspects of sports.
“These days instant gratification is an issue with kids,” Coyne says. “It is a journey and that’s one of the best parts about sports is the people that you meet and the experiences that you have, the places you go, the conversation you have. At the end of the day when I look back on my career I can barely tell you the score of any of my college games that I played at Northeastern but I can remember the moments that we had on the bus, the people I played with, the funny moments that we had, things like that is what you remember. Sports brings people together and it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
Jamie Clarke has climbed the tallest mountain on every continent and worked with elite athletes on the mental side of the game. Use his insights to elevate your leadership skills and take your young athletes on a journey they'll never forget
3-time Olympian Allison Baver overcame gruesome injuries throughout her career to excel on the world stage. Use her insight to help young athletes overcome fears lurking in their minds
Curt Tomasevicz, Olympic champion in the four-man bobsled and former football player at Nebraska, on helping young athletes conquer fears, stay focused, and perform at their best when the pressure rises
After a disappointing performance four-time Olympian Stacey Cook will be mad and frustrated – for 30 minutes. Then she resets and refocuses, a great approach for young athletes in any sport