Wilson’s coach Kim Underwood, and daughters, share what it’s like to embrace competition, play field hockey at the highest levels

When you ask the Underwood women if their family is competitive, they each give a similar response.

“Um, pretty competitive,” Kim laughed. “Oh, very competitive,” Reagan said. “Oh my gosh,” Bryn said. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”

Kim was the field hockey captain of the undefeated 1995 NCAA Division I National Championship team at North Carolina and now coaches the game at Wilson High School. Her husband, Bill, also played Division I baseball at Kent State, and had a stint on a Yankees minor league team. He coaches junior high basketball and high school baseball.

Their son, Jake, ran cross country at Liberty University. And, their 21-year-old twins, Bryn and Reagan, both play Division I field hockey.

“My mom has always been really passionate about not just hockey, but just building women up through sport,” Bryn said. “She was definitely the person who not only got me started in sports, but specifically hockey.”

While competition is often viewed as always having to determine one winner, that’s not necessarily the message the Underwoods are trying to convey. They have learned that, to figure out who they are individually, they have to stay in the game.

Kim coached the twins in her youth league up to the high school level. The journey, at times, created friction.  

“It’s really hard to separate yourself completely,” Kim said. “Just the effort and time I would put in to separate being a mom and seeing my kids as just athletes on the field as their coach. It just took a big emotional toll just trying to separate the two. When we’d come home, we wouldn’t talk too much about it unless they initiated it, and then just trying to have as much of an objective perspective as possible as a coach looking at your own kids mixed in with other kids.”

The lessons Kim wanted her daughters to learn were the same lessons she had to learn. The game was discovering each person’s “emotional strength,” having “confidence in preparation,” and understanding individuals to “get the most out of each person.” Encouragement is not mutually exclusive with dominance.

Last season, Kim earned her 200thcareer win when her 2022 Bulldogs pulled a 3-0 shutout on September 2. Her team wanted to celebrate her accomplishment, but as seen a few times throughout the season, Kim was running off the field.

She said she “literally had no idea” it was a milestone win.

“I was just trying to get out of the game quickly, as soon as the game ended, because my husband had the car ready to go, and I was jumping in the car to get to American University to watch Bryn play,” she said.

The Underwoods easily drove hundreds of miles last year to watch their daughters compete. It’s something the twins said they don’t take for granted.

Bryn is a goalkeeper at American. Reagan is a midfielder at Liberty.

“I think it’s really fortunate that we both chose different positions because a lot of that competitiveness can come out between the two of us,” Reagan said.

Growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, where field hockey is a popular sport, they said their mom shaped their values. Bryn said she chose American because its head coach Steve Jennings has standards like her mom’s. Reagan said the same thing about choosing Liberty because Nikki Parsley-Blocker reflects the lessons her mom taught her since age 9.

“Steve was a big reason that I chose AU,” Bryn said. “I wanted a coach that reflects similar values to that of my mom because my mom really prioritized building up the female athlete for her character and her esteem, and her work ethic and all of those qualities that make women of character, and Steve is a huge advocate for that.”

Reagan also called her Flames coach “amazing.” 

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“I could say so many amazing things about her,” she said. “You can just tell how passionate she is about the game, and how much she cares about us as not only athletes and field hockey players, but as people and caring about both our mental and spiritual lives and that’s just huge.”

The Underwood women are seemingly unstoppable at times. But, they do pause to recalibrate.

 “Well, I come from a family that quite literally never stops, so I’ve always lived my life going pretty much at 100 miles an hour,” Bryn said. “It took me a while to understand that not doing so much is okay and knowing how to balance my going time with my being still.”

Bryn works several jobs on campus and is active in theater.

“Sometimes I let that standard and my personal standard get the best of me,” she said. “I put too much pressure on myself to perform, and it was when I got too much in my head that I struggled. When I wasn’t focusing on the stakes and this invisible wall of anxiety I pushed myself into, it was when I thrived.”

Bryn was specifically talking about her U-17 Junior National team tryout when she was the only goalkeeper to be cut after making it to the last tryout.

“It took me a while to realize that I was there,” she said. “I let the pressure get the best of me and I wasn’t able to perform to the expectations that I had for myself. And it took a couple years to rebuild that confidence and not let that pressure overwhelm me when I got into big stakes situations.”

The situation recently presented itself again, she said.

“I just had the opportunity to go to Chula Vista to try out for the U-21 Junior National team,” she said. “I didn’t make it onto the roster, but despite ending in the exact same spot I did when I was trying out for the U-17 team, I was able to leave that experience with such a greater outlook, and feeling like I was able to takeaway learning opportunities and a really, really good experience that I kind of robbed myself of five years ago. So, despite physically ending in the exact same spot I did back then, I feel like, as a person, I’ve learned so much more.”

Reagan, who is attending USA Field Hockey’s U-21 Junior Pan American Championship selection camp Feb. 17 to 19, said she’s sacrificed a social life for her sport.

“When I play field hockey, my best aspects of myself really come out and shine, and I just want to implement that into everything else that I do,” she said. “Whether it’s in school or in life, if I take the time to prepare myself and put effort in, I shouldn’t be worried about myself once ‘game time’ rolls around, whatever that is in life…And I think also just knowing what my strengths are and with whatever situation I go into in life, go into it knowing my strengths and just highlighting those in the moment. I found success with that in field hockey, and I would just love to implement that in life.”

Kim has been the example for hundreds of field hockey athletes. Not only is she a NCAA Division I National Champion, but she has also taken her high school team to the PIAA Class 3A Championships twice, where they finished as finalists. She said she knows that her daughters are watching.

“My goal for them isn’t to have the same experiences as me or to necessarily win a national championship,” Kim said. “My goal for both of them is that they continually work to be the best teammate they can be so that they can be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. I want them to walk off that field at the end of any game during the season or postseason and say, I gave it everything I had today. I trained well. I was conditioned well. I prepared myself well mentally. I ate well. And I did all those things so I can walk off that field no matter what.”

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