Girls varsity soccer coach Heidi Valk has decided to step down from her position after twenty five dedicated years. A part of the coaching staff of Deerfield’s first girls soccer program, Coach Valk has led the team humbly and gracefully.
Valk has many mixed feelings about leaving the program. On the one hand, she says, “I’ve done it for 25 years. I think it’s time for the school to have somebody new. However,” she added, “I’m pretty sad about it. It has been something that has been really important to me… I felt like my place to effect any change for girl’s athletics has been in soccer.” Coach Valk hopes that stepping down from this position will also give her the time and opportunity to watch both of her kids, Bennett Pitcher and Jackson Pitcher ’19, compete in their fall athletic competitions.
As the makeup of students began to change at Deerfield due to the integration of girls in 1989, the opportunity presented itself to Coach Valk to continue doing something she loved— soccer. “It was exciting. In some ways I think the school was ready to embrace girls athletics and was open to it in a way because it was new, it was interesting, and it was exciting,” expressed Coach Valk. “It didn’t come without, certainly, its trials and tribulations, but on a whole I am not sure that they were a whole lot different or bigger than those that exist now.” Coach Valk also shared the responsibility and opportunity to coach soccer with a close friend. The duo began sharing their love of and skills for soccer with other girls. “We helped coach first and second grade girls in the spring from when I was in ninth grade all the way through high school,” she reflected. “It was something that I always did. Soccer has been something I always loved, and as much as I’ve loved the game, I just love teams,” Coach Valk shared.
During Coach Valk’s 25-year tenure, her coaching philosophy has changed; initially, winning was the most important thing on her mind. “Truthfully, it has evolved over the last 25 years. I think of myself when I first got here; I cared most about winning. I always wanted to win. I am competitive. That hasn’t changed,” Coach Valk reflected. She understands, however, that coaching is more than just trying to get the best possible record: “As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve had my own kids… I started to think about other things besides winning and I think my philosophy now is as much about feeling like we are always improving and that we are working together to become more than the sum of our parts. I like us to leave every day and feel like we have put it all out there.”
Girls varsity soccer captain Audrey McManemin ’17 has played on the team since her sophomore year. She shared that the dynamics of this year’s team were the best she has experienced in her time with Deerfield soccer and one of the best in her soccer career as a whole. “Everyone supported each other yet pushed each other at the same time, and I think that has a lot to do with Ms. Valk and her ability to be both firm and demanding while allowing us to have fun and enjoy playing the sport.”
Throughout McManemin’s past three years playing under Valk’s coaching, she has felt Coach Valk’s impact: “[She] not only made my soccer skills better, but improved my ability to be a good teammate,” Ms. Valk has served as a role model for girls like McManemin and others that she has coached over the past 25 years. She pushed them to become better, but also remembered to take time to praise the small things. “There was one time when Alli Norris went off [the field] and I remember watching Coach Valk give her a double high-five with a huge smile because Alli headed the ball. The way she cared about small actions, even as small as a header, made her a great coach,” McManemin added. When prompted about her feelings on Ms. Valk stepping down, McManemin shared, “I obviously respect her decision, but it makes me sad for the next generation of girls who won’t get to have her as a coach. I am just happy I got to have her as my coach for my varsity career!”
Reflecting on her decision to say goodbye, Coach Valk realized, “It would always be hard for me to say goodbye, because I think part of what I love is the team… While every team is different, I think each team has its own personality and the personalities on the team are what draw you in.”
Coach Valk leaves future female soccer players and Deerfield athletes with these words of wisdom: “Work hard, have fun, trust your teammates. Represent yourself, your family, your team, and you school to the best of your ability. And care. You’ve got to care about it…Whatever you are trying to acheive has to matter.” Her presence will be missed on the field, but her passion for shaping the character of Deerfield students will continue both in and outside of the classroom.