Lynne Beecroft is telling a story about herself while sitting in her office. The walls are papered with handmade posters. Mementos cover her desktop. She shares this office with another coach, who prefers using another space, which is handy, since she has placed a large trophy on his desk for safekeeping.
Beecroft’s anecdote involves being a little girl confronted by puzzle pieces. Not for her the patient testing until correct piece meets correct space. In the retelling, she is hammering her open hand down on her desk.
“I always tried to bang them into the hole when they didn’t fit,” she said.
A lesson learned long ago—square peg will not go into round hole, no matter how hard pounded—has served her well in a quarter-century as coach of the University of Victoria women’s field hockey team. Her squads have won 11 championships in 25 seasons.
Such prolonged success is the exception in university sports, where many seasons conclude with graduations that leave teams in need of an overhaul. I stopped by Beecroft’s office a few months after her latest triumph—and only days before she would launch a new season—to learn the secret of her success.
Even before an audience of one, the coach becomes spirited in defining her coaching philosophy. She spoke not a word of victories on the pitch, instead describing the morale-building exercises adopted in years past to transform a disparate collection of young athletes into a cohesive team. Her program is not determined solely by wins and losses, but by how the players and the coaching staff operate together.
Every season brings new players, new pieces to the puzzle. Her experienced eye will determine a role for them on the Vikes. She coaxes and cajoles. An ill-fitting piece cannot be pounded into place.
“I sell the team game,” she said, leaning forward in her chair. “It’s not about individuals. Everybody’s got their jobs.”
Beecroft’s diminutive stature—she stands just 5-foot-3 and, during her eight years on the national team, weighed just 110 pounds “soaking wet”—contains an intense character. A single question earns an eager, 10-minute exposition in return. She is a sprite inside which burns a Knute Rockne spirit.
She has come a long way from the day in 1984 when she was first asked to take over the coaching duties. Her inclination was to turn down the job. She did not think she could ever stand in front of a group of players and address them with authority.
Beecroft grew up with the freedom to try any sport she liked. Her father was a logger and, later, a manager for MacMillan Bloedel. Born at Comox, she grew up in logging camps, including a stint on Graham Island in the Queen Charlottes at Juskatla, established during the Second World War to supply lightweight spruce for warplanes. The closest elementary classroom was at Port Clements, about 20 km northeast.
Many years later, she would reflect on the carefree gambols of her youth, learning to maintain balance as she raced over, around, and atop fallen logs.
Her family moved to Port Alberni and, later, to Duncan. She played soccer, basketball, and road hockey. (Around that time she was tagged with the nickname “Buzz”, for the way she would buzz around the court or field. Anybody who knows her has called her Buzz ever since.)
“I never got pigeonholed into ‘This is what girls have to do,’” she says. Her favourite was ice hockey and it became a family tradition to eat supper on trays in front of the television on Saturdays at 5:30 p.m., when the CBC aired Hockey Night in Canada with a sign-on beginning late in the first period of a game from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, or the Forum in Montreal.
After being introduced to field hockey’s shorter, heavier sticks, she chose to become a goalkeeper. “I thought I could be Gump Worsley,” she said. “Dive on the ball.” It did not take long before she realized a truth about the sport that has come to dominate her working life: “You don’t want to have people shooting at you. You want to be the one doing the shooting. That ball is hard.”
In high school, Beecroft ran middle distance in track and took part in the long jump, a rather hopeful exercise for so short a girl. Field hockey was a way to get in shape for basketball season, yet it was on the pitch where she found her calling. She developed into a spunky centre-half under the tutelage of coach Peter Wilson. Beecroft compared him to other coaches and came away with a model that would inform her own style.
“You don’t scream and belittle,” she said. “You encourage.”
In 1973, she helped lead Cowichan High to a Girls’ AAA British Columbia championship in a showdown against a private school played in the Lower Mainland. It was her school’s first provincial title in any sport.
She had in mind a higher goal. A few years earlier, she had watched on television the Summer Olympics from Mexico City, vowing to become an Olympian herself. She enrolled at UVic in 1975, playing for the Vikes for four years, a time during which she also qualified for Canada’s national team. All that sport delayed her own degrees—BA ’82 (Kinesiology) and MEd ’95 (Coaching Studies).
In 1984, she marched into the Los Angeles Coliseum behind the Canadian flag during the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, completing the vow she had made as a girl 16 years earlier. The Canadians finished fifth in the Olympic tournament.
She returned to Victoria, where coaching success came early. The Vikes went undefeated in 1984, claiming a national university championship. In 25 seasons, she has a record of 11 gold, seven silver, and four bronze medals at the Canadian Interuniversity Championship nationals.
She does not dwell on the success.
“I appreciate every championship,” she insists. “But then I just move on.”
More important to her is the building of a rapport with her athletes. Each season is approached as a new puzzle. Her job is to find where each piece best fits.
She finds a theme for every season, expressed in such acronyms as FAITH (Finding Answers Inside the Heart), or TRUST (Tomorrow’s Results Ultimately Start Today), or MAGIC (My Attitude Generates Incredible Coincidences). The intent is to engage the athletes in team-building exercises. The themes are bookmarks to which the coach will return during the season, a shared language of common purpose.
Beecroft also learned a lesson on the Olympic team, when an edgy coach insisted on full workouts within hours of game time. “Instead of working my athletes to the bone,” she said, “we might go to Starbucks instead of practice.” She has also been known to cancel a study of game tapes in favour of watching the Karate Kid, during which bowls of popcorn are served. The coach believes team spirit builds cohesion, on and off the pitch.
It is hard to argue against the results. On the other desk in her office rests the magnificent McCrae Cup, a prize awarded to the top university women’s field hockey team. It makes for an impressive paperweight.