Chelsea Hoffman

In her 4th season as head coach of women's lacrosse, Chelsea knows it's all about taking risks to at least try - because you never know where you might end up.

Why did you decide to start coaching lacrosse?

I went to college for my undergraduate degree at George Mason, and I had remarkable mentors there as a young player. My major was education, and when I started to do my teaching hours, I found I was not in love with teaching in the classroom. But I was still coaching club lacrosse during my summers as an undergrad. And immediately I found the rewarding experiences of working with young women.

At that time, I was coaching high school athletes that were getting into college and super excited about getting into the game. I started to see the growth of the game of lacrosse. I was a three-sport athlete and I got into the game late, so it was really exciting to see this game was taking off and then being able to take an education background into what we’re doing on the field. That was what drew me to college coaching.

Then I got the opportunity to get a job right out of college at UConn, and it just took off. I love the fulfillment piece of being able to impact the lives of the female athletes I was working with every day and give them a little bit more confidence and understanding of the big picture – of yes, you get to play lacrosse for four years, but at the end of the day, who you are developing through the sport is the most important part of their journey.

How important is it for young athletes to have female role models, and who are some of the mentors who inspire you?

I’ve actually never played for a male coach, so what I’ve known is women. My only male coach was my swim coach and I loved him to death, but it just wasn’t always the best relationship. When I was at George Mason, my head coach at the time was Amy Bokker. She left after my freshman year and took a head coaching job at Stanford University, where I eventually went on to coach for her. So what I always saw was the connection with role models, with people I looked up to, people I aspired to be like, and that has drawn me into hiring really strong individuals with different personalities on our staff. And allowing us to show our athletes what it’s like to be a strong woman, what it’s like to take on different adventures, different challenges, and what that looks like from a perseverance standpoint.

I think the biggest thing I’ve seen in my recent transition is that I became a mom. I’ve always wanted to be a working mom for my athletes to show them that you can have a family, that you can do both. I was raised by my mom, who was a stay-at-home mom. I love that she was dedicated to her children, but I always knew that I loved coaching, I loved working, and I wanted to be able to do both.

And right now, I’m navigating that with my athletes. It’s amazing seeing my four-month-old daughter on the plane with my players, them passing her around and I think it brings a different family atmosphere to our program here at Oregon. But also I want them to be able to see that you can do both, you can have different opportunities, you can be at the highest level and have a family. And just finding a balance and those time management skills that we talk about as student-athletes all the time.

I’ve been really blessed to be part of the coaching tree of Amy Bokker, who was at Stanford, and then Katie Woods, who I worked for at UConn. They’ve both been working moms, and I think it’s inspirational. Seeing other coaches in our athletic department has motivated me as a young head coach to be able to do it, to get up every day and find the motivation for my daughter, for my family, for my athletes. Because they all are so much of the story behind why I do what I do.

Through your experiences as both a player and a coach, how have you seen opportunities for female student-athletes increase because of Title IX?

I’m super excited to celebrate Title IX. I didn’t know what Title IX was when I was a college player. I didn’t know what opportunities had opened, and I think that’s our role as coaches to always educate our athletes.

We were on the plane flying to UC Davis and this older woman, I think she probably 70 or 75, was sitting next to one of our athletes and she kept saying to them “You are so lucky!” And the girls asked me, “Why did she keep saying that?” And I told them, “Because she didn’t have the opportunity as a female to play sports.” And she just looked at our whole group and said, “You guys have such an amazing opportunity. Never take it for granted.”

It’s really amazing to see the growth. I think coming to a university like Oregon, I see that our women athletes are celebrated so much more and there’s a lot of opportunity. I know our athletic department does a lot to help develop our female student-athletes, because they know they’re going to give back, but also to push them to that next level and give them that platform.

How can opportunities for female student-athletes continue to improve to help accelerate women’s athletics even further?

It’s been incredible to see the doors that Title IX has opened, but I would say we’re not done. We had that Kaplan report come out about areas where the NCAA is slighting women. I think that’s a big conversation right now for our female student-athletes, for our female head coaches, and assistant coaches, on what’s next.

We revolutionized things for female student-athletes so, so long ago. But let’s never get comfortable, because there are so many incredible women that are doing amazing things. I think with the immersion of NIL, we also have another layer of celebrating women, giving them opportunities to be sponsored, having these endorsements, because their brand of sport is very similar to that of male athletes. And it’s more about figuring out how we continue to advance that and how we continue to open up doors.

I think in ways we’re still hindered, but I think there’s been so much growth. I always want to be able to look back at where we’ve come from, but never being comfortable with where we are. Because we have amazing women that can do so many incredible things in our world. A small subset of that is women’s lacrosse. We work at it every day, we talk about it every day. We’re trying to advance our sport to be seen in the Olympics. But thinking broadly about opening windows for young girls around the world to play sports that might not be “female sports”. Being able to wrestle, being able to do things that are seen as “abnormal” for girls. So I think it’s continuing to delayer that question of what’s next.

What role has Women In Flight played in your experience as a coach and the experiences of your players?

Women In Flight has been a huge opportunity. I met with Dave and Nancy Petrone early on about Women In Flight, asking what is this program and what does it serve our athletes? And I have loved it. Obviously there’s the financial backing, that’s always extremely helpful for our athletes to go do other things like bonding experiences. But also, just knowing that there is this other platform that celebrates women and that this university has that representation.

We’ve done a ton of different off-the-field activities with the opportunities from Women In Flight. It’s been really awesome to create chemistry, to put our athletes in uncomfortable situations like ropes courses where we’re in the trees in harnesses, and understanding what it’s like to get out of your comfort zone with a huge group of women that are from all over the country.

I would say I am really motivated by what Women In Flight has given to our athletes and being able to create that off-the-field chemistry and opportunity to elevate our program, as far as what our culture is like. But to also have them understand that Women In Flight is more than just the trips, it’s about the celebration of you as a female student-athlete. It’s about giving you opportunities to go out into the world and do something bigger than maybe what you came here to do.

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Go Do Anything” and how do you instill that message in your players and your daughter every day?

I think it’s all about taking risks. Personally, I don’t think I would be where I am now if I didn’t take massive risks. And I know with risks, there’s always that fear. There’s a comfort zone that everyone wants to stay in. I grew up in New Jersey and went to college three hours from home.

When I had the opportunity to come out to the West Coast to coach lacrosse at Stanford, I was scared. I didn’t know if I could fly the coop. I’m really close to my family. I took a risk, and that risk has been extremely rewarding for me as a professional and as a female coach.

So I encourage my athletes every day in our skillset to be risky, to take chances. I think being able to instill that confidence in them, to go apply for a job that you maybe don’t know exactly what it’s going to bring you, but get out there and do it. And be in front of people to tell your story, to celebrate yourself and to give yourself an opportunity because you never really know.

And I feel like that was something I always felt. I never knew. I always said I could go there and do this for a year. And that’s what I tell my athletes. Apply for a job, go out and try it. You can always make a change in your professional career and your personal life. It’s always about being able to take those risks and be comfortable being uncomfortable.

I think that’s a lot of what college athletics is too. You are never going to tap into your potential as an athlete unless you take those risks. And you reflect on those risks and say, did I grow as a person? Was I open-minded? Did I listen? Did I learn? But ultimately, I think that’s life and that’s what sport teaches any athlete, female or male. It’s about taking risks. It’s about finding out who you are in that process.

I think about that for my daughter, she’s five months just now figuring out literally how to put things in her mouth. And everyone comes in with this notion of what they should do. But I want to keep the door open for her, to tell her go do it, just try, because you’re never going to know.

And seeing the female athletes that have done so much in our world, they didn’t get there by being comfortable. They didn’t get there by having a smile on their face. They were gritty. They were relentless. They never ever said no. I think that opens the door for motivation, because it’s a big world and there’s a lot of people that can do a lot more to impact young lives around the country. And that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be taken for granted.