Inclusivity is the number one thing on Maureen Chopra’s mind when she’s coaching at her local hockey club. As a founding member of the Nepean Nighthawks, community inclusion comes first.
For decades, Chopra has worked in the Canadian field hockey community, organizing leagues, coaching teams, and supporting local hockey initiatives. It’s with great pleasure that Field Hockey Canada announces Maureen Chopra as this year’s recipient of the Grassroots Coaching Award.
Chopra got her start playing high school hockey in Calgary and quickly progressed to the provincial team. She then went on to play university hockey. She had stints with the junior national team and attended the 1987 Pan American Games as a part of the Women’s National Team.
It was with her Alberta provincial team where she was first introduced to the prospect of coaching. Led by Jan Crook, the provincial team would do outreach programs for smaller communities in Alberta. She may not have recognized it at the time, but she was developing the skills to coach and lead at the grassroots level.
“Jan would take us on the weekends, and we would coach in various towns,” Chopra said. “I was probably 16 or 17. At that time, I would rather have been running around and playing but that’s when I was introduced to coaching.”
When Chopra moved to Ottawa in the early 2000s, she quickly got involved with the high school hockey programs as a coach. Now, being a coach felt more natural and she developed a passion for the grassroots development of the game.
“It was a two-month intense season, the kids were invested, the schools were invested,” she said. “That’s where I fell in love with coaching. It was invigorating and exhilarating.”
Shortly after arriving in Ottawa, Chopra became a founding member of the Nepean Nighthawks Field Hockey Club in 2002. The club formed out of the Indo-Canada Field Hockey Club, which Chopra was playing for at the time. The club continued to develop — broadening its scope from one team and started focusing on including more community members. Today, the Nepean Nighthawks offers youth programming for boys and girls and adult programming for women.
Maureen Chopra is involved at every level of the game with the Nepean Nighthawks. Photos/Provided
Chopra has coached every age group over the years. This year, Chopra coached the U10 Nighthawks. She said that every time she gets a cohort for the season, she finds a way to connect.
“I think the U10s have to be my favourite age group,” she said. “Although every time I get a group, I think I say that,” she laughed. “The young kids are just fascinating … they are so thoughtful, the want to learn …. They are so genuine.”
Another example of Chopra’s focus on inclusion is founding the Moms Learn to Play program. She said the parents of the players are invested in the community and in the club so why not offer them a chance to learn to play.
“I think my husband [Sandeep Chopra] just said one day, ‘you should do something with the moms,’ and so I asked them all out to come practice while their kids were practicing. The parents are always on the sideline anyway. The parents want to be involved….and I’ve really enjoyed coaching that group.”
For Chopra, no matter the level of play or the age group, the value comes in community connection. She said she’s thrilled to see people of different backgrounds joining the club and enjoying the sport.
“Our differences are what brings us together,” Chopra said. “This is a community we are trying to develop here. It’s not about getting people to sign up and rush them through. It’s so much more than that … And it’s the community that keeps me coming back.”
Chopra’s family is a field hockey family. Her husband Sandeep, and her kids, Halley, Marek, and Rohan all play hockey at various levels in Ontario. As a grassroots coach, the community is Chopra’s second family. For Chopra, she sees a bright future for Nepean, and hopes that the athletes that came through the program give back to the community.
“It’s all about getting these kids who have gone through the program to come back and give back as a coach,” she said. “I love coaching the kids. But the real win is when you see the kids you coached back in the system in a mentorship role, that’s super rewarding. If they’ve come back, you know we’ve done something right. And that’s how we’re going to continue to be successful.”
Chopra gets the most reward when she sees the community thriving. She believes in the hockey community in Ottawa and is looking forward to what comes next.
Congratulations to Maureen Chopra for being selected as this year’s Grassroots Coach Award winner. We look forward to celebrating all coaches in Canada this week. Use the hashtag #thankscoach and #fhcteamofteams to join the community this week in saying Thanks Coach!