Jesse M Cox
For the first ever interview on Across the Board I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lacrosse Coach Maiah Bartlett. Coach Bartlett recently was hired as an Assistant Coach for Division 3 Denison College, which likely makes her the highest profile female coach in the men’s game. Previously she worked as the Head Men’s and Women’s Coach in Frankurt, Germany, and is still the Head Coach for the Men’s Luxembourg National Team.
Before she heads to Denison we talked about what it was like growing up in a lacrosse family, coaching overseas, how she got on the staff with Denison, and discovering how to be comfortable with yourself when coaching in the unique positions that Maiah has continually succeeded in throughout her young career.
I started playing lacrosse basically, from birth. With both my older sister being involved in this sport, and then my dad being a coach for 21 years, it was kind of inevitable that at some point, I’d pick up a stick. I remember I started playing with the middle school team when I was eight. So I was playing with girls who were 11 or 12, a lot older than me.
So that definitely got me to be a little bit more gritty, given that I was always a little bit smaller than the rest of the girls I was playing. That’s when I first started formally playing and then from middle school, and then into high school, club, lacrosse and all that good stuff, and eventually led me to Mary Washington, where I spent four years playing there in Division Three level.
There was only ever one time where my dad actually coached me. In middle school, we were usually coached by some of the university players at Washington and Lee. And during spring break, they were all traveling. So we needed a parent to step up for one of our game days.
And then my dad said, you know, all right, I’ll do it. I’m a coach. We’ll see how this goes. We were playing in a Sunday tournament kind of thing. So we had multiple games, we landed in the championship, which was awesome. And I remember we lost that game and you know, at the end of the game, my dad’s doing the coach’s talk, and all of us were crying, we’re a little sad, we lost the championship.
Then my dad goes, “You know If you put as much effort into ground balls as you did these tears, you would have won the game!”
And I was just so mad, like “You can’t say that to us!” You know!?
And you’re what? 6th graders at the time?
Yeah we’re 6th graders! We’re 6th grade girls, c’mon now.
So that was the only experience I had my dad coaching us. I mean, he was right, we sucked at ground balls in that game. I remember it specifically. So, you know, not a bad coaching point, just wasn’t very well received, for middle school girls. From then on though, he was always just my number one fan on the guidelines.
It was great because his experience as a coach gave me a lot of perspective in the recruiting process. Then, in my college games, if there was something I wasn’t seeing, or leading up to a scouting report, I could always break it down with him and be like, alright, “This is my mark for the game. This is what I’m worried about. “
He would be my sounding board throughout my lacrosse career and still is. I’m extremely grateful to have him as a mentor, a dad, and at this point in my life as a best friend. It’s been a great experience. But you know, there’s definitely some push and pull. As we were growing up with him being so knowledgeable about lacrosse, I was a little bit stubborn at times to receive the coaching but definitely was more receptive as I got older.
Kelsey is three years older than me and Jessie’s six years older. Jessie was my lacrosse idol, and still is, when anyone else asks, “Who’s your favorite women’s player?” There’s a lot of names out there, like Taylor Cummings and Sammy Jo Tracy, they’re all rock stars. They’re top athletes.
But Jessie’s always been the top women’s lacrosse player in my mind, she’s just had this way about her on the field where she could see a play develop three steps ahead of everyone else. Even my dad would be on the sideline like, “Hey, make this pass, make this pass!”
Then she would make a different one to someone else that would be a better angle shot that none of us saw. So that’s something I really admired about Jessie was that the game just came to her so naturally, and she had this incredible, lax IQ. That was just I mean, unmatched. Unfortunately she had an injury in high school that kept her from playing in college, but yeah, I mean, it was always fun playing in the backyard with those two.
Jessie, she always dominated me. Even when I was doing my offseason workouts in college, I’d convince her to come to the field with me a couple times and just do some one on ones.
Here I was thinking I’m in the prime of my life, absolutely crushing it. You know, I was like, “Ah, Jessie’s not gonna break my ankles.” Then we take a one v one and it’s like, three seconds and I’m just burned. Like, “How? When was the last time you even ran Jessie? “
So yeah, to this day, she’d probably still probably beat me in a one v one if we tried.
You got done with college, and did you know late in college that you wanted to coach or, when did you make that decision? Or was it a decision as opposed to just something that happened?
It was a pretty cognizant decision. I was studying geography in my undergrad and I wrote my thesis about gender development in Latin America, and actually went to Guatemala for two weeks to work with a nonprofit organization there. I kind of thought that was what my career was going to be after Mary Washington, working in this non profit sector, especially in Latin America with women. On my trip, it was incredibly rewarding, but I felt like there was something missing.
I got back after that trip, junior year, and going into my senior year, I was really considering, I love what I’m studying and I love this thesis that I was working on, but, it just felt like there’s something missing. And so I was trying to identify what that was, and in the process kind of figured out that, maybe coaching was what was missing. So I thought talking with my dad, and going through my options after college, we kind of came to the agreement, like, “Hey, maybe try a year overseas, you’ve had some friends who have done that, you know, there’s an opportunity to coach see the world and if you love it, then maybe that’s the hole that’s kind of missing in your professional career and continue on that path. If you hate it, and it’s not what you’re into, then come back,
So that was kind of how my plan started to formulate senior year. I thought, I’m gonna give this whole year abroad a go. I had some friends study in Australia and England. That was where I first started looking. Then randomly enough, my college coach forwarded all the graduating seniors this job offer in Frankfurt, Germany to coach women’s (lacrosse). And that was what it was offered as, just a women’s (lacrosse coaching) position.
I applied kind of on a whim, didn’t think too much of it. Then heard back, and during my first interview with Frankfurt, I went off on this tangent about how I have this crazy dream of coaching Men’s Lacrosse . As you know, coaching in Germany, they’re like, “Hey, well, we can only really afford one coach, so if you want to do it all, do it all.”
I was like, “yeah, sign me up.”
Summer 2017 I was in England playing on a development team in the World Cup festival for the women. There I met Adam Eakins, who at the time, was the German women’s team development head coach. I was talking to him, like, “Hey, what can I expect going to Germany?”
He kind of gave me this rundown. “This is what you can expect, some practices you’ll have five guys, other practices you’ll have 20, not too much rhyme or reason, hard to find consistency.”
I had this, somewhat of an idea of what German lacrosse would be like, but it was entirely different once I got there. My first practice, I remember being just so unsure, you’re not sure if you can catch if they can throw. What’s our foundation going to look like, and how can we build from that? With my first practice with the women, the most apparent thing to me was stick work. The majority could catch and throw, especially with their dominant hand, but the minute we went left handed doing our stick work, it was maybe one in 10 balls was successfully caught.
After my first week of women’s practice, I started doing men’s practices as well. It was the same thing. Wow, there’s some hidden gems, some hidden talent in German lacrosse that I was totally unaware of as an American.
Also the spectrum was super wide, people who played lacrosse for a month and then you have people who played lacrosse for 10 years on the same team. So for me, I think my biggest adjustment that first year was how to find an efficient and effective practice with this range of experience, and age.And I think that’s something you know, As Americans, we don’t really realize, right, like, I’ve never played on a team as a 16 year old with a 35 year old woman. What they’re doing in Germany, they’re playing with that age difference. You also have some divides and clashes because someone who’s 35 has a lot of different things on their mind than someone who’s 16 years old. So that was definitely surprising.
Are we allowed to talk about Denison?
Actually, the press release should be coming out.today. This morning. I just did an interview with Terry Foy and Eric Koch, the head coach at Denison for inside lacrosse. So yeah, officially on staff with Denison University as their assistant coach, so I’m absolutely thrilled about that!
That’s amazing, so what was that process like? Where did you hear about the position?
The process was pretty interesting. When I came back to the States I went straight up to Princeton, New Jersey to work at the Hun school for Coach Jim Stagnitta.He had an event, Spotlight Camp events going on. It was awesome, the first day and a half was old school, positional academy, and then the next day and a half was more game-like structure. Really implementing what we practiced those first day and a half.
And during that I met a lot of coaches, and at that time, I was already getting my name out there with different applications. But during the coaching phase with the games, I was working with the WNL (Washington and Lee) Head Coach Gene McCabe, and had a phenomenal time working with him. I mean, he’s from Lexington, Virginia, so I used to babysit his kids growing up. His assistant, Eric Koch is the one who took over the position at Denison so I heard that he had taken over the position and, from working with Coach McCabe I felt like this connection was just too too strong to not jump on this opportunity.
So Eric reached out to me and, you know, let me know that he was the new head coach, and he’s looking to hire his staff, and if I was interested, he was in Lexington at the same time I was, let’s grab a coffee and talk about it. So we had an initial conversation over coffee in Lexington. At that point, I was so bought into the Denison program, mostly because of Eric and what he stood for as a coach and the opportunity to be mentored by him was such a great opportunity that I had to jump at it. I mean, he’s just had so much success at WNL.
But I love that he’s a really, really, really big proponent about service to others, and building that connection with the community and being a good person first and foremost, and being a good lacrosse player. So after meeting with him and that initial conversation, I went through the formal interview process and had another conversation with Eric more formally set up this time. From there, I met with the assistant Athletic Director, who was amazing and yeah, they offered me the position and I jumped on it!
I remember the phone call. I was actually with my oldest sister Jessie hanging out with her and my little nephew, and I got the call. And Eric said, “I’d like to offer you the assistant position.”
And I said, “I’d like to officially accept” and, you know, I think he chuckled a bit.
He was like, “Uh, you know, you can think about it, you don’t have to get that right away.”
I was like, “ No, I’ve thought about it. I thought about this a lot. Since the minute we talked and like, I want this position more than anything else . “ So yeah, then I then formally accepted and signed the offer letter last week. So just waiting for the news to break a little bit more publicly.
You’re 27, and you’ve done a lot since getting out of college. You coached the Men and Women in Frankfurt, you coached the Luxembourg National Team and now you’re coming back and doing the Denison thing. Did you ever feel intimidated along the way? I know for me, I got to Germany, I was 27, and I’m coaching guys, or girls in their 30s and 40s. I couldn’t help but feel weird.I was used to yelling at teenagers, but I felt weird yelling at a 30 something year old with a wife and kids, you know? What that a weird transition for you as well?
Yeah, 100%. It was like the weirdest transition, you can imagine, not just being comfortable for me, first time coaching men, so the opposite of you.But, you’re coaching men who are distinguished lawyers, doctors, businessmen running multibillion dollar companies, and I’m like, “Hey, get on the end line!” Um, that was super intimidating.
I mean, especially my first practice, some of those Frankfurt guys who were there could probably tell you, I was yelling so much, I was so aggressive. I thought I had to be, in my mind, this kind of coach, as a female with men’s players. I thought I had to be overly aggressive, angry and hard. And you know, after my first practice, one of the men’s players was like, “Hey, you know, we wouldn’t have hired you, if we didn’t respect you, you don’t need to do more than you think .Like, just be you because that’s why we hired you. “
It was the best reality check I could have had that early on, because it really taught me, “ Just be you. Be you as a coach, and players will gravitate towards that. ” So it really helped me be it kind of access that more authentic side of myself as a coach early on. But even after that point, like there’s still moments that are intimidating. For me, I was super lucky to have some of these amazing talents.You know, national team players, box and field on the Frankfurt squad.
So it’s not just intimidating, dealing with people who are grown adults with successful businesses, but also intimidating working with top tier lacrosse players. Some of those guys like they’ve been playing for so many years, and they definitely knew what they’re talking about. So when someone like me comes in and says, “Alright, this is how we’re gonna do things.”
There were moments where there’s a lot of pushback and having to deal with that pushback was the defining moment for me as a coach in the men’s game and where I felt like my most growth came from what those really tough moments.