When Melissa Brody took over as freshman field hockey coach at New Trier High School, her boss, Randy Oberembt, gave her a clear outcome to strive for: make sure they love what they do.
Brody coached Field Hockey for eight years. During that time, she showed hundreds of young athletes how fun it could be to play and compete and care about each other. With that strategy, she built a record of 102-3-5… a winning percentage of 95%.
When asked about her success, she credits her athletes first. Then she credits her assistant coaches, the parents of her athletes, and her bosses. That’s just how she is.
She is constantly grateful for her mentor, New Trier Field Hockey coach Stephanie Nykaza. They have a special relationship. Brody played for “Steph” in high school. She was a leader on a team that played for a State Championship and received 1st team All-State recognition in the process – as usual, she is quick to give credit to Steph for helping her achieve her highest potential.
Steph went from coach to professional mentor to friend, and was invited to Melissa’s wedding. Truly, this is a mentor-mentee relationship done right.
After high school, Brody went on to DePauw University, where she was a four-year starter and Captain of a team that won a SCAC Conference Championship.
Her first job after college? Field Hockey coach… in Steph’s program.
She started out as the head freshman coach, then became the head JV coach, and amassed a record that is nearly untouchable. She did so using a simple method: make things engaging and fun.
Engaging and fun does not mean easy. Brody’s focus on fitness gave her teams confidence every time they walked onto the field. “I wanted them to feel like they were prepared to go harder and for longer than anyone we played… that’s an empowering feeling,” she says. Training for that sort of confidence take discipline and high expectations.
Melissa teaches young people to believe in themselves.Asst. Coach Molitor
“But you can only push people if they know you care about them,” she said before acknowledging that “otherwise when things get hard, a kid just stops, they don’t put everything in it because you haven’t put everything into them.”
One of Brody’s assistant coaches, Melissa Molitor, attests to that fact. Molitor adds that “it’s no secret that [Melissa Brody] loved to win! She helped the girls prepare for games by working incredibly hard in practice… the teams she coached never quit – the played hard until the last second, even if they were up by 10.”
Effort and enthusiasm were the norm on those teams. By creating an atmosphere of trust, feedback became easier to distribute and turn into growth. On the field, mistakes were accepted, respected, and corrected. There was no space to back away from missteps. To be successful, her players had to assess where a strategy went wrong, be willing to acknowledge difficult truths, and adjust.
When you can create a culture where people know they are cared for, you can work toward an understand they are being assessed, not judged. As a teenager, judgement is a terrifying position to be in. On the other hand, assessment is healthy, especially when everyone is working toward a shared purpose.
She takes that same mentality into her classroom.
Melissa Brody has taught everything from kindergarten to 5th grade. She is currently a 3rd grade teacher at Crow Island School in Winnetka, IL. “It’s the same sort of process,” she says, “care about the people you work with and make your classroom enjoyable and fun… which doesn’t mean there aren’t rules.”
One of her rules is that in the classroom community, everyone deserves respect. She explains that a student does not have to like everything they do or everyone they interact with, but they must respect the process and each other.
Among other leadership distinctions, Melissa currently serves on the SEL District Committee. SEL (Social Emotional Learning) has become a hot topic in education. Character strengths like Emotion Regulation, Grit, and Growth Mindset highlight this important area of study. Melissa comes to this sort of education naturally.
As an individual, she has built SEL capacities over a lifetime, many through her time as an athlete. As an educator, she believes that an SEL aptitude should be common sense to an educator, though it helps to be able to name the capacities and create strategies around them.
For example, Brody recently noticed that one of her students was having some trouble with Self-Talk. The student’s inner narrative was inhibiting her ability to “let her brilliance shine through.” So they worked on it. Brody and the student now begin each day with affirmations. First thing in the morning, they remind each other that they are smart, kind, and hard-working. They cultivate self-talk that is empowering and grateful, and take that mindset into the rest of the day.
That strategy doesn’t surprise Molitor, who saw that quality on the field. “Melissa teaches young people to believe in themselves… when we coached together she showed athletes that being a good teammate and friend wouldn’t take away from winning, it would make the winning even more meaningful.”
Recently, Brody took a step back from coaching to start a family. She and her husband Jim Brody spend much of their time caring for their first son, Charlie. “I love every day of being a mom,” says Brody.
Her leadership is contained in the classroom these days, and although her successes cannot be measured in wins and losses, her impact is obvious.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a field or a classroom, education is all about relationships.
“I loved coaching and I love teaching. The only thing that’s changed is the way the outside world measures my success,” she says, noting that there is no conference championship for 3rd grade educators.
“But for me,” says Brody, “it has always been about the same things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a field or a classroom, education is all about relationships.”
If you get the relationships piece right, performance results will follow.
“There’s that old saying,” Brody reminds us, “that if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life. That works both ways.”
Love what you do. It’s a mindset. Apparently, it works.