Coach’s Corner: Jessica Pilkerton, Butler Field Hockey

Coach’s Corner: Jessica Pilkerton, Butler Field Hockey

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic is proud to sponsor the weekly “Coach’s Corner”, featuring a high school coach from women’s athletics in the local community. Since 1974 the Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic has served the local area for orthopaedic problems and musculosketal issues. The sports medicine program has team physicians for local high schools which provide sports physicals and urgent care for athletes. Click here for details on SPORTS INJURY URGENT CARE.

This week’s “Coach’s Corner” feature is Jessica Pilkerton. She is the head coach of Butler’s field hockey team. If there is a coach you’d like to read about, email suggestions to

me selfie1) What is your history with athletics in your personal life?

Personally, I’ve had my hand in numerous sports over the years and always considered myself quite the tomboy. I played basketball for six years, volleyball for three years, archery for two years, and field hockey for four years. When I was a kid, I had my hands in soccer, t-ball, cheer, and gymnastics. I was always a fairly athletic and active kid and consider myself to be an equally-active adult participating in the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, Mini Marathon, and numerous other races to stay healthy.

2) How did you obtain your current coaching position?

I actually participated in playing field hockey at Butler Traditional High School and, after my fair share of coaches, I finally had my absolute favorite coach my senior year – Barby Mills. Barby coached for almost four years after I graduated and kept in contact with me, supporting my family at the annual Multiple Sclerosis Walk and through messaging on the phone or Facebook. One evening, Barby messaged me, knowing I was going to school to be a high school English teacher and asked if I was interested in coaching at my alma mater since she was planning to transfer to a school closer to home. One of my goals was to come back to Butler to teach and be a coach, and I felt this helped start the pathway to my goals. I immediately accepted, with my love still going strong for the sport!

3) Who do you look up to?

I know this is super cliché, but I personally look up to my mother. With my father working third shift, she essentially was the key role in making sure my brothers and I made it to every single game, practice, conditioning, etc. She has battled courageously with Multiple Sclerosis since she was 25 years old and has always pushed me to keep running and keep being healthy. Due to the disability, she has lost her ability to run and struggles to walk. I run for her. I run every day because she can no longer run and I would never take [for granted] of this amazing ability I have that others can no longer do. She’s constantly smiling, laughing, and living life being my number one cheerleader through all the different paths in life I’ve taken! She’s my role model.

4) What are two primary goals you have for your team this season?

-Personally, as a new coach, the biggest goal we set for this season so far is conditioning. Knowing that a sport like this requires a ton of physical exertion (averaging 2-3 miles, if not more) during a game, I wanted these ladies to feel prepared to be in shape for a sport like this. Starting this season, most girls could maybe do a mile and a goal of ours by the end of the season is to average 2-3 miles.

-Secondly, I told the girls at our first conditioning together and an impromptu meeting that winning isn’t an objective this season. The objective this season is finding the position they feel most comfortable in and improving the technique for this position. Learning technique and fundamentals is really all apart of the sport. Only through learning the sport, educating themselves, and motivating each other can we really develop a team.

5) What is the hardest part of coaching for you?

So far the hardest part of coaching for me has been reshaping attitude. Butler’s program is still relatively new and is open to new players who’ve never played before. With that being said, these new athletes are side-to-side with athletes who may have played since middle school. Sometimes from the newer players, the “I can’t” attitude begins to emerge. I wanted to reshape the “I can’t” attitudes into the “I can and I will”. It all begins by showing these girls that there’s a team of twenty other girls who stand behind them and want to push them forward. Next, is to find that source of self-motivation and confidence and move forward in building those characteristics through pull asides, individual technique interventions, and tons of “atta boys”. Showing these girls that they have the potential to be the greatest they want to be is most certainly the hardest part of coaching.

6) What qualities do you hope to instill in your players that they can take with them to their families, careers, and society?

Class. As Butler’s former coach and my former coach instilled in us, I will instill in these ladies: class. It is something to be achieved both on and off the field. I have a “no ejection” policy. This includes the players, myself, and parents/guests. We are going to be known as a classy school because I believe that every girl on my team is a respectable woman and deserves to be treated as such. With that said, respect and class is something you earn and build upon. I told this group no cursing, no ejections, and no detentions. I’m a firm believer in not making the girls run as punishment, but rather making them miss portions of practice or a game because those precious things are something you earn. Building these positive attitudes and classy ladies is something I hope [for] my players.

7) How do you motivate your best athletes to work even harder?

I’ve been very fortunate with the group of girls that I have this year. I consider each of them my best athletes. I am a firm believer in unlocking that self-motivation. My first move as a new coach was to ask these athletes a few questions. After my first conditioning, I sat in a circle with the girls and just asked, “What do you want to learn more of?” and “What do you want to do more of?”. Phrasing the more questions and letting these players decide what they wanted to do more of was eye-opening. These kids wanted to run more, wanted to condition more, and wanted to learn more about their sport. These kids had the motivation and desires all along; all I had to do was ask to reveal what it was they wanted. By figuring this out, these athletes built their own practices and, through goal setting, they found their own self-motivation.

8) What is one mistake you’ve made in your coaching career, and what did you learn from it?

I feel like one mistake I’ve made already, having been a rookie coach of nearly three months, is trying to take on too much. As one person coaching 22 girls, there’s a lot of paperwork and organizing. I would have to say this coaching career is making me a much more organized person. The mistakes I’ve made is trying to do tons of fundraisers, tournaments, etc. Sometimes you’ve got to realize you can’t do it all and the more stressed you get, the more stressed the team feels. It’s best to do what you can and prepare/organize better for next year.

9) How do you handle criticism from parents, athletic director, the media, and others?

I can’t really say that I have received any criticism yet. Coming in as a new coach a little over a month before season started didn’t have tough expectations for me with such a tight deadline. However, when that time does come when criticism is offered, I really won’t mind. Everyone has opinions and ideas to make something better. As a new coach, I’m welcoming opinions with open arms and often ask my players, “What more can we do to make this practice better? What more do you want to learn?” So, I don’t really mind criticism.

10) What is the greatest philosophy you live by?

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
-Nelson Mandela

At the end of the day, education is powerful and the athletes are students first. I often talk with my girls, juniors and seniors, about college and that options for post-secondary education are out there for everyone. As someone who is still in college and will be pursuing my master’s [degree] after I graduate in May and eventually doctorate’s [degree] as a first-generation college student financing my own college, I have plenty of advice and tips to offer. I’m beyond willing to help these ladies begin their futures through applying at universities.

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