(Editor’s note: This piece on Palmyra head field hockey coach Kristi Costello and her father and assistant coach, Kent Harshman, first appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in November of 2011. It was reprinted with permission.)
BY JEFF FALK
It goes well beyond using field hockey as a unique way to enhance their father-daughter relationship.
Kristi Harshman-Costello is proud of her father, she recognizes the role he has played in making her the person she has become and she embraces the duty, the responsibility, of passing on those learned values to her players.
You certainly don’t see a father serving as an assistant coach to his daughter everyday. But it really seems to be working for Harshman-Costello and her dad, Kent Harshman.
And at this point, the Palmyra field hockey program doesn’t have much to complain about either.
“It’s funny, he’ll say, ‘You’ve got to get this player in there. You’ve got to call this play. You’ve got to do this,'” said Harshman-Costello of her father. “And I’ll say, ‘I already did it.’ So we’re on the same page. He’s reassuring as a coach. Or he’ll agree with me and put a different spin on it.
“It helps give me confidence in my decisions,” Harshman-Costello continued. “But he doesn’t make all the decisions for me. He feels very strongly about me being the head coach. He’s a good supporter and we’re very complementary. It’s a good balance.”
“From an emotional standpoint, that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something like this,” said Kent Harshman. “We have peacefully co-existed. It’s interesting working for your child. But it’s worked out very well.”
How Kristi Harshman came to head the Palmyra field hockey program five years ago is a story in itself.
A former Cougar player, Harshman stopped short of saying she wouldn’t have taken over for Wendy Reichenbach in 2009 if her dad hadn’t agreed to come out of retirement to assist her. But she sure is glad she wasn’t forced to make that decision.
“Mrs. Reichenbach and my dad decided to retire after my sister Kayla’s senior season (2008),” explained Harshman-Costello. “I graduated from college, came home, obviously couldn’t get away from field hockey and I volunteered two years under Mrs. Reichenbach. One day she and I went out to dinner and she said, ‘I want you to think about taking over the program.’ Once I had that bug in my ear it was like, ‘How could I refuse.’
“Palmyra’s field hockey program is very similar to running a football program,” Harshman-Costello continued. “You have kids being looked at by big-time college programs. It’s not three months a year. It’s 12 months.”
“My retirement lasted five weeks,” said Harshman. “What do you say when your kid says, “You are coming back to help me aren’t you?’ It was a fairly unique set of professional circumstances. I know she’s my daughter, but honestly I thought it was a great choice. She knew Palmyra field hockey inside and out. If she was chosen, it was going to make the transition much smoother for the kids. And if Palmyra is fairly rich in field hockey tradition, Kristi was going to continue that tradition.”
Certainly Papa Harshman helped assure that the transition from Reichenbach to Kristi Harshman-Costello would be a smooth one.
“I just enjoy coaching with my dad. We enjoy hockey together,” said Harshman-Costello. “That was part of it too. I wasn’t sure, but I felt much more confident with him there. But I’m not sure I wouldn’t have taken it if he hadn’t agreed to assist me.
“I remember my first practice,” continued Harshman-Costello. “I took Mrs. Reichenbach’s shoes and laid them down in front of everyone. And I said, ‘Do you know whose shoes they are?’ They said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘They’re Mrs. Reichenbach’s shoes. They’re big shoes to fill, but I’m not going to try to fill them.'”
“In many ways I’m committing the Cardinal sin of coaching a sport, at a very high level, that I never played growing up,” Harshman. “But there are a whole lot of intangibles on how to play the game. Certainly Kristi didn’t learn anything from me about playing the game. But she learned the value of hard work. You can teach kids what they’ve got to deal with in life. I think Kristi has learned life lessons from field hockey and from having dad around.”
Before matriculating to Wake Forest and a very successful Division One collegiate career, Harshman was a Cougar through and through. From 1999 to 2002, Harshman was a prolific scorer for some very good Palmyra teams.
“My story is probably a lot different from my friends’ story,” said Harshman-Costello. “I played under Mrs. Reichenbach. He didn’t really coach me a lot. You know that fine line between parent and coach. It was hard for me to get a compliment out of my dad. It was tough love, but when I did, it felt really good. We wouldn’t talk for days if we lost and I didn’t play well. That helped me grow into more of a competitive person.
“Mrs. Reichenbach and my dad taught us dedication and commitment,” Harshman-Costello added. “They taught us so much about life lessons. They taught us you have to love the game, love your teammates and make memories along the way. And you have to appreciate your role on the team. They instilled that commitment in me. When our kids are done, they’re going to remember games, but they’re also going to remember the team bonding things.”
“I found out when I played collegiately what made our program special. They (Reichebbach and Kent Harshman) did it with their actions. Things like being at games all the time and being at pracitce all the time. They would spend hours in the gym on Sundays during the off-season.”
“I always kind of label myself as my kids’ biggest critic and their biggest fan,” said Harshman. “There is the notion that if you coach your children you’re going to cater to them. Wendy (Reichenbach) often scolded me politely about being harder on my children than other people’s children. But ultimately, I think it worked out well and neither is worse for wear.”
“I am extremely proud of Kristi and the fine young woman she has become,” added Harshman. “We have been able to bring Amy Bonnenberger in as an assistant and it looks like she is going to continue to help Kristi in the future. I’m very proud to be able to bring girls back into the program who have carried the principles of our program throughout their college careers. And you see them applying them now. That says to you, ‘You got it right.’ The kids have accepted it and are now returning. They are thrilled to come back and help because they have learned a great deal.”
But Kent Harshman isn’t your typical assistant coach. While he’s been coaching most of his adult life, he didn’t learn the game of field hockey until his daughters began playing.
“While my dad has always had the title of ‘assistant’, Mrs. Reichenbach and I have always considered him a ‘co-head coach,” said Harshman-Costello. “As far as knowledge of the game and the way he approaches the kids, he’s a head coach. But he doesn’t like being the center of attention. He likes it a little bit in the background. But he’s the king of details.”
“I think it’s a natural thought to have that I’m serving as a transition from Wendy to Kristi,” said Harshman. “The good part is that it’s been seamless for the kids. I jokingly tell people all the time that I don’t know what I can do to get fired and then become retired again.
“I think Kristi knows that if someone would come along, Dad would be willing to step aside,” continued Harshman. “I think it’s comfortable for them (Kristi and Amy Bonnenberger) to have an ‘Elder Statesman’ around. Ninety-nine percent of the situations that come up, she doesn’t need dad around at all. But I think she also feels comfortable knowing she can call me or Mrs. Reichenbach if something comes up. I think Kristi likes having dad around. I think she sees value in having dad around.”
As Harshman-Costello has matured, so has her relationship with her father. Field hockey is the one thing she will always be able to share with him.
“My dad and I have always been close,” said Harshman-Costello, “but hockey has tied us together. Now I’m an adult and our relationship is different. Now we can have a father-daughter relationship and a friend relationship.
“I’ve thought about it (the possibility of coaching without him),” Harshman-Costello concluded. “But I hope it never happens. I enjoy coaching with him. If my dad would say, ‘I’m done’, Amy (assistant coach Bonnenberger) and I would do a good job together. But it would be different. He just smoothed the transition. He was the and link between the two programs.”
“Honestly, I’d say no to that because I’ve always been very close to my kids,” said Harshman. “I’d characterize us as a demonstrative family. What I would say is that the fact that we are so close I often times smile to myself hearing some of the things she says on the sidelines. It’s made our opportunity to coach together more unified.”