Building Connections as an Educator and Coach

At George School, Jaime Ginsberg ’95 played for four years on varsity teams, receiving twelve varsity letters, including a 4×4 run at the Penn Relays, three Friends Schools League championships in lacrosse, and one Friends Schools League championship in field hockey. “The athletic programs at George School were foundational for me. They highlighted a strength I had, which I then saw as something that could be more than just an after-school activity. It absolutely shaped the direction I went in next.”

Jaime spent eight seasons being coached by Nancy Zurn Bernardini. “Nancy was my coach for all four years of hockey, three years of lacrosse, and, I think, my freshman year on the basketball team. I also returned to GS as an assistant coach and got to share the sideline with her.”

“Nancy was a role model for me. Nancy was a strong and consistent female that I identified with when I needed it most. She engaged me in important ways and didn’t just teach us about the game, she taught us about so many other aspects of life. I had a sense that we were in it together, as coach and players, doing the work in practice and during competition together—that she was with us fully, minute to minute, wins and losses. I felt that connection because she was authentic and transparent about her emotions, competitive drive, and goals.” Jaime says, from her many years in sports, “Nancy was definitely the best coach I had.”

“I didn’t enter college knowing I wanted to be a coach, but it’s what I always went back to. I’d always go back to Nancy—the modeling of this job was instilled in me by Nancy. She made me believe that this was a job that was real. It’s often not seen as a profession, to the degree that other jobs are, and when I looked at her—this was a profession, this was a craft, this was a skill; and she took it to this other level.”

Jaime, a mother of two young children, also adds a note of gratitude. “I want to thank Nancy for her commitment to the game and for being a female role model in sports. I’d also like to thank her for being a mom. I think it was so important for young people to see a mom, fully engaged in her job—one hundred percent—with her children by her side. I did not realize it then but it for sure influenced my ability to mold my love for family and coaching together. It’s something I do now—my whole family is part of the game with me.”

Reacting to the news of Nancy’s upcoming retirement from George School, Jaime replied, “She deserves to be celebrated for all of her accomplishments. She has influenced so many of us in so many positive ways. I will do my part to keep paying that forward.”

As the Head Coach of Smith College’s Field Hockey program for the past fifteen years, Jaime has led multiple field hockey teams to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) tournament, including a championship title in 2018. She has received personal accolades for her exceptional coaching and leadership skills from the National Field Hockey Coaches Association, including Coaching Staff of the Year in 2018. But when talking to Jaime about her numerous accomplishments as a player and coach, she remains focused on the elements that continue to draw her back to a sport she’s deeply connected to, which is connecting with people and creating a community that allows each to thrive.

“I love the game, I love the sound of it, how hard it is, I love that I get to explain it twelve different ways to twelve different brains; I love that challenge,” says Jaime. “When you commit to something so fully, it’s more than just the game; it’s the people that play the game. It’s showing up for them and they also show up for you. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

After graduating from George School, Jaime went on to receive a BS in Exercise Science from Slippery Rock University and an MEd in Sports Administration from Temple University. She returned to George School from 2001 to 2004 as an assistant coach and 4th floor hall teacher in West Main Dormitory. Jaime continued coaching field hockey at Friends Select School while earning her MEd in Sports Administration, before accepting the Head Coach position at Smith. She came to Smith College with the clear-eyed goal of rebuilding a program. By year six, the team was back in conference tournaments. But her accomplishments have not been confined to the field hockey pitch.

When asked to explain an accomplishment she was proud of over the last two years, Jaime explained her work as a Smith Coordinator, a program that Smith College created to connect first-year students virtually. Jaime was selected as a member of a small team that was asked to create a curriculum designed to engage students with each other that would help them connect to Smith College. “While students were in their silo, grinding out academically, the social component of college life was deeply missed. Discussion topics in the program ranged from playful to informative, while also establishing a space to dive into the realities of our world, through facilitating dialogue around topics of discrimination and inequality.” The program has now become multiple full-time positions.

Jaime cites the Quaker education she received and the Quaker schools she coached at as instrumental to her work as an educator, particularly over the last few years. “I’m so grateful for my time in Quaker schools. I was tasked with leading conversations [at Smith] about race, gender, and gender fluidity. This work called upon me to think a lot about where I came from and how it prepared me for these challenging conversations. As an educator/coach, that’s your role—to be a community leader. We were tasked with that, and you have to follow through.”

Jaime’s dedication to her students is clear. She reflects, “It’s a total gift to watch people grow, on and off the field, over four years. They enter their four-years a version of themselves and sometimes they exit exactly as they came in, but stronger and more confident and a little more concise. And other people enter and then exit as a different version of themselves. As a coach, I am often the first person to see that new version and confidence explored. It is a gift to be a part of that growth over and over again. It’s just incredible. I love my job.”

Jaime is looking forward to returning to a normal state of play for her team, as they recalibrate from the setback of the last few years. She reflects on her own coaching style saying, “I don’t yell down the sideline. It is my job to coach during practice and to coach to the degree that the team owns what they know; that they have synthesized the information to the degree that they can go play the game.” Jaime recounts Nancy’s pregame/postgame poems, songs, and letters, many of which she still has stored away. “She let us in, in those moments. You could just feel how important this game was to her, too.”

It is apparent, through her dedication as an educator and collegiate coach, that the same investment in players is forefront for Jaime as well.