Vol. LXV, No. 38
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
FRANK ASSESSMENT: Nate Franks surveys a pregame drill last season as an assistant coach for the Bucknell University field hockey program. Franks, a 2007 Princeton University graduate who served as a student volunteer coach for the Tiger field hockey program, is back at his alma mater in an assistant coaching role. (Photo Courtesy of Bucknell Athletic Communications)
Nate Franks has taken a circuitous route as he has carved out a niche in the female-dominated world of American field hockey.
At the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., Franks was the only boy on the high school team and was only allowed to play in non-league games.
After honing his skills with adult club teams in the D.C.-area, Franks arrived at Princeton University in 2003 where he trained with the field hockey team.
During his college years, Frankss role with the program morphed into a student volunteer coach.
After graduating from Princeton in 2007, Franks got a job as an assistant coach at American University. Scrimmaging at team practices with American head coach Steve Jennings, one of the top U.S. male field hockey players ever, gave Franks the itch to start playing again.
Following that desire, Franks played for a semi-pro team in Dublin, Ireland before launching an unsuccessful bid to make the U.S. mens national team.
Hooking up with Bucknell in the summer of 2010, Franks resumed his coaching career.
Now, Franks has come home, recently rejoining the Princeton program as an assistant coach.
For Franks, assuming a new role on the staff of head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn was a no-brainer.
I am tremendously excited; I am absolutely thrilled, said Franks, whose road back to Princeton started when Holmes-Winn reached him early this year after assistant coach Rachel Dawson left the program to train full-time with the U.S. national team. It feels like coming home, being back with Kristen, Melissa [Meccage], and the trainer Natalie [Senise]. There is a comfort level.
It didnt Franks long to gain a comfort level with playing field hockey when he took up the game in seventh grade to fulfill his fall sports requirement at Sidwell Friends.
My father wouldnt let me play football and I didnt like soccer; I did cross country one day and hated it so I went to field hockey, recalled Franks.
I thought it was fun. I had good hand-eye coordination which helped with trapping. I had played baseball and tennis and I liked playing a faster sport.
Franks stuck with the sport and made his high school team, not wanting to be a pioneer even though he was the only boy in the program.
I knew I wasnt going to play in league games but I got to play in out-of-league games, said Franks. It was extremely frustrating at times but I was not fighting the system. I was happy with what I had.
During the latter stages of his high school career, Franks trained with the U.S. national team but injured his shoulder and knee.
Upon arriving at Princeton, Franks was welcomed by Holmes-Winn and her program.
When I got to Princeton, I was coming off a separated shoulder and a knee operation; I thought I was done with competitive playing but I still wanted to be on the field, said Franks.
When you have been doing something so long, you dont want to stop. I wanted to train with the team. I started helping out with the goaltending and I played defense in drills.
In the process, Franks got the most out of his Princeton experience.
A lot people have a stereotypical view of Princeton that it is elitist, said Franks.
For me, it came down to figuring out what you were going to make of it.
I wanted a school that was academically challenging and a place where I could practice field hockey. I got both of those things. The most important part was figuring out how to cope with academics while devoting 20-30 hours a week to field hockey.
A death in the family helped Franks figure out that he wanted to pursue a career in field hockey.
My mom died the fall of my senior year; it got me thinking about what I enjoy in my life, said Franks, who also worked as a manager for the Tiger womens lacrosse team and received the Princeton Varsity Clubs Distinguished Undergraduate Athletics Service Award as a senior.
I decided I didnt want to follow my classmates and work as investment banker. I liked doing field hockey camps; I liked working hard outdoors.
After graduation, Franks took a position as an assistant coach for the American University program.
I was a full time assistant, said Franks, who was a full-time assistant for two years and served as a volunteer in the third fall as he got back into playing.
I was working with the goalies, I did all the video and helped with the scouting and recruiting. It was a good fit. The Patriot League has a similar viewpoint as the Ivy League when it comes to student athletes with the emphasis on the student part.
In the summer of 2010, Franks moved on to another Patriot League program, Bucknell, after not making the U.S. mens national team.
In terms of results, it was the toughest season I have ever been through, said Franks, reflecting on a fall which saw the Bison go 7-12.
The coaching experience was unbelievable. We had to work hard to prepare the kids and teach. It was a front-loaded schedule. We didnt do well in the beginning and spent the season catching up.
This season, Franks is doing plenty of teaching as Princeton has gotten off to a 2-4 start going with a bunch of new faces by necessity.
It is definitely a different challenge; we graduated four seniors and four stars are away with the U.S. team so we are losing a good portion of the team from last year, said Franks, who also serves as the video coach for U.S. mens national team.
I am involved with the defense and work on defensive corners. I also help with scouting and recruiting.
Franks sees himself remaining involved in field hockey for the foreseeable future.
I would like to be coaching in D-1 for a while, said Franks. I like working with players who are committed to play hockey and to their studies.
And based on the winding road Franks has taken in field hockey, he has proven his deep commitment to the game.
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