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Coming Home: Coaching at Your Alma Mater
It’s not always easy to find a program and university that’s a perfect fit for you. Visiting campus, meeting with coaches, watching game film, talking with current players about their experience and learning about the history of a program — it all leads up to that ultimate decision of where you’ll play college ball.
For midfielder Connor Buczek, the decision was a big one. And now, Cornell University is home. After weighing his options, he started as a freshman for the Big Red in the 2011-2012 season and, eight years later, the Cincinnati native and three-time All-American midfielder still resides in Ithaca, NY and works for the program as the offensive coordinator.
As The Season 2019 comes to an end, we connected with Connor to learn about his journey in the sport, his love for Cornell and how it feels to give back to the program as a coach.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Shanahan/Cornell Athletics
Tell us a little about yourself, how did you get involved in the sport of lacrosse and what made you ultimately decide to attend Cornell?
My dad played lacrosse, so he got me involved at a young age. I really took a liking to the sport. Hanging out with buddies, playing pickup games and shooting in the backyard—it became a really enjoyable hobby. As I got older, I continued to progress in the sport and realized I had a real possibility to play in college.
Looking around, there were a lot of great schools to play lacrosse and a lot of very good academic schools. I wanted to use my platform as a lacrosse player to bolster my academics and get a chance to go to a school I maybe otherwise wouldn’t have. I came across Cornell and the program fit my personal values and goals pretty well. They did a fantastic job recruiting and the team was great at that point (the year I committed was the year they had just played in the national championship). When I visited, Ithaca was awesome. I loved the staff, the campus and everything the program was about, so I committed. I had a great college career and eight years later I’m still here, so it's a special place to me.
After graduating and being drafted into the pros, what led you to start your coaching career as a volunteer assistant at Cornell?
As I was graduating, I was pretty sure I wanted to stay in lacrosse. I wasn’t sure in what capacity, but I knew I wanted to be in sports full-time. My dad has a background in the NFL, so I considered that as a possibility too. Ultimately, I applied to Cornell’s MBA program and was fortunate enough to be accepted. I talked to my coaches and asked if there would be an opportunity to serve as a volunteer coach and they were happy to have me. For me it was the perfect scenario, I got to coach at my alma mater and continue getting a graduate degree while still playing professionally.
How has the dynamic changed for you going from a peer to a coach for some of the athletes that you had previously played with?
The dynamic definitely shifts moving from teammate to a coach, but in many ways, it was similar to my role as captain for the last two years of my playing career. A lot of the values and ideas were the same. At Cornell, you’ve got such a solid group of guys and staff—we preach in the recruiting process what we’re looking for, so making that transition was relatively simple. It’s different because you go from leading on the field, to finding your voice on the sideline, but outside of that, the dynamic wasn’t too different.
What’s your favorite thing about being a coach?
Having the opportunity to be a part of the sport that I love every day. I’m fortunate enough to wake up each morning excited, ready to tackle whatever is up for that week. Whether it’s another Ivy League opponent or figuring out how we should plan preseason training, for me, it’s great to be doing stuff I truly enjoy with people I really enjoy on a daily basis.
You graduated as the top scoring midfielder in Cornell's history, how has achieving that success on the field translated to your current position as offensive coordinator?
Being a player and being a coach aren’t necessarily synonymous with one another. I had some success on the field, so I hope that gives me some credibility with the guys. But now I have to figure out how to use my voice and how to teach guys through telling and describing rather than doing. I think that’s the toughest part of going from a player to a coaching role—breaking down some of the aspects that made me successful into simple, actionable items. It’s been a challenge at times but it’s on me to figure out how to communicate effectively.
How would you describe your coaching style?
I think I’m relatively laid back. I can be a pretty intense guy, but for me the most important part of this, especially on the offensive side where it’s a little less structure and a little more free-flowing, is creating an environment that’s conducive to success. Letting them play the game as they see fit but within the guidelines that we expect our team to play. For me, I like the guys to find their own place, to be comfortable out on the field, and comfortable talking with me about what they are seeing and experiencing as much as me discussing what I’m seeing. It’s a two-way street and very collaborative with the players.
What are a few tips you would share with your team or other DI lacrosse athletes to help them make the most of their college lacrosse experience?
At this level, what you get out of it is proportional to what you put in. If you give it everything you have and make the most of every situation, you are going to have a very fulfilling and enjoyable college lacrosse experience. A big thing we talk about here is giving all of yourself with no expectation of reward and in that journey, you will find reward. It’s not necessarily the wins and losses—it’s more about the process.
Who have been your top role models throughout your journey in the sport?
Growing up, I was a huge Mike Powell fan. He was the man at Syracuse and electric whenever he hit the field. And as a Cornell guy, especially as a midfielder, I also looked up to Max Seibald since he was one of the best to ever play for the University.
Looking for more college lacrosse program insight? Learn how STX athletes Will Manny and Marcus Holman are helping to build a DI program from the ground up.
Follow Connor and the Big Red’s journey through the year in The Season 2019.