Coach celebrates students' success - and failure

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Cherry Hill FC Daredevils U-10 travel team soccer coach Danielle Senior explains a drill as she coaches the girls during practice at DeCou Field in Cherry Hill on October 17, 2013. Danielle Senior, named field hockey coach of the year by the NJ Scholastic Coaches Association, coached Eustace to a state championship last year. She also believes that winning isn't everything, and that losing is good for kids. ( ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer )

The light is fading and the temperature is falling, but the Daredevils have energy to burn. A love of soccer to keep them warm, too.

And if all that fails, they've got a coach named Danielle Senior.

"As a player, you have to work hard, focus, and do what you're supposed to do," Senior, 42, explains as I chill (literally) on the sidelines at DeCou Field in Cherry Hill.

"Sometimes you're rewarded," the coach says. "And sometimes you're not."

In 2012, varsity coach Senior led the Bishop Eustace girls' field hockey team to the Group 2 state championship, and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association named her field hockey coach of the year.

Although she surely knows a thing or two about winning, "you have to learn how to lose, too," adds Senior, who coaches girls' soccer for the Cherry Hill Football Club. The nonprofit serves 1,600 boys and girls from ages 4 to 18.

The Daredevils, a small (in stature) but spirited group of 9- and 10-year-olds, are one of the club's 43 travel teams. They play competitively throughout South Jersey; so far in this 10-week season, their record is two wins, one loss, and three ties.

"Danielle really cares about the kids, and not just the kids on her team," longtime club president Alan Feldman says. "She orders all the uniforms, she coordinates all the travel teams. She's an integral part of it."

Senior also is known as a critic of "participation medals" and other feel-good commendations that have become common in some youth-sports circles. She believes players build their skills through hard work and their self-esteem through success, as well as coping with - and learning from - failure.

"Why are we rewarding kids for something they should be doing on a normal basis?" Senior wonders. "It's like your boss giving you a medal because you show up for work."

(Lovely notion, that.)

Senior grew up in Cherry Hill, an only child and a tomboy. Although she played a variety of sports, she was not naturally gifted. "I had to work harder," she says.

After discovering field hockey in eighth grade, she went on to play for Eustace and Pennsylvania State University, which recruited her.

"I'm a scrappy, feisty, hate-to-back-down athlete," laughs Senior, who lives in Marlton with her husband, Shawn, who played AAA baseball for the Red Sox and now works as a financial adviser.

Their son Nick, 11, and daughter Alexandra, 10, play all sorts of youth sports; Alex is a Daredevil.

"The most challenging part of being a coach nowadays is that every parent wants their kid to be on a super-team," Senior says. "They want their kids to be the best. They want it all.

"But sports is about more than immediate gratification. It's about the development of the player and, most of all, the person."

Generally, club parents like Senior's style.

"Danielle is dedicated, highly competitive, and highly passionate about girls' sports," says Beth Alcamo, whose daughter, Julianne, 10, plays for the Daredevils.

"She relates to the girls at a level that is not possible with a male coach," says Lewis Lazarus, the parent of a player (Lily, 9). "They look up to her."

Senior passes on to her players the lessons she learned as a member of close-knit Eustace field hockey teams in the late '80s, says Alice Penza, who was and still is an assistant coach at the school.

"Athletics should teach [players] about life," Penza says. "How to be a good, strong woman, sister, mother, friend."

Says Senior: "Being a female athlete is such a great asset . . . and sports have been a source of joy in my life.

"You can learn what's most important in life from sports. Lessons that maybe you've been taught by a good coach."

 


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