A standout, multisport athlete and coach, Lisa Joel arrived at Andover in 1993 as a teaching fellow in the athletics department. And never left.
How tough was it to plant roots somewhere so early in her career?
“From the start it felt like home,” Joel says. “I love having an immersive experience in a residential community. I think making a commitment to a place like Andover is a calling, a passion, and it’s something I feel very strongly about—the ‘360-degree experience’ of living where you work.”
A graduate of Amherst College, where she captained the women’s soccer, basketball, and lacrosse teams, Joel is known by students as a mentor, friend, and the ultimate motivator capable of cultivating a championship culture in which the sting of loss is just as significant to learning as the glory of a win. During her 26 years of working at PA as a coach, teacher, and administrator, Joel has played an integral role in transforming girls varsity soccer into a successful, highly respected New England Preparatory School Athletic Council team. As she begins a new school year with the new title of athletic director, Joel is confident that the notion of we, not me—a hallmark of the PA community—will continue to carve out a path to success for Andover athletics.
What is the first sport you ever learned to play and who taught you how to play it?
Soccer was the first formal sport I played, on a coed team, followed by Catholic Youth Organization basketball. My first coach was my dad, Manny. I was more inclined to sports than my older brother. And my dad was an athlete so sports was a natural connection between the two of us. When I was younger, I did a little of everything and it was really all about playing outside and having fun with the neighborhood kids.
What is your favorite sport?
Because of my 20 years coaching the team, those who know me here think soccer. But the truth is basketball was my first and true love. It was also the sport through high school that I had the most success with and the most aspirations for. As a kid, my heroes were on the Providence College basketball teams. I grew up attending the [basketball] camps and Doris Burke, who was one of the premiere news sportscasters covering NBA games, was my first camp counselor in the ’80s. I always imagined myself staying in Providence and playing basketball there but basketball afforded me an opportunity to leave the state, and I wound up playing multiple sports.
How did you end up pursuing a career path in education/athletics?
Timing and chance. Athletics was such an important, formative part of my college experience as well as my childhood. Sports were all around me and I was fortunate to play three sports in college at a time when club sports weren’t prevalent and you didn’t miss preseasons if you were playing a different sport. Sports was a part of my daily experience. It was what I knew and what I loved. My coaches and my teammates were as important to me and as influential as my classroom teachers. I was eager to figure out what came next [after graduation] and an opportunity to be a teaching fellow in the athletic department opened up at Andover. It seemed like a perfect fit and transition, and was a place where I could, in the afternoons, still go and do what I love.
Can you describe your journey at Andover since joining the staff in 1993?
I’ve always moved through life believing that having goals and aspirations is super important, but I also believe life kind of reveals itself to you. I think my life story informs the work I do with students here who often feel overly pressured to know what they want to do in college and in life. What I know is I love working with high school students and I am energized by the high-paced environment of a residential community. Athletics has been so formative to who I am as a person. The best moments I’ve seen have been on playing fields, either as a coach or just being on the sidelines observing. The playing fields are a really important classroom at Andover. I love that we see athletics as part of the Andover educational experience, that it complements it, and the opportunity to step into this role and come back to where I started feels like an honor.
How does your experience as an athlete and a coach help you as athletic director?
I understand the power of team, my team became my best friends, my family. I tell the GVS girls all the time that the girls around them will likely still be around them in the years to come. My former teammates are the godmothers to my daughters, the friends whom I lean on all these years after, and all of that is because of our experience coming together on playing fields. But all that we took away off the playing field is important too. I understand the impact that teammates and team can have on your life and it’s transformative. I also believe that being part of teams—whether it’s sports, workplace, family—you understand how everyone works together in pursuit of a goal. We do nothing alone in this life and our strength comes from the sum of all the people in our group—all of us are greater because of that sum. That informs me significantly in coaching. We’re in a time where we idolize athletic superstars but the reality is we all need each other to meet with success and achievement. I see all sides too—I’ve been the parent of student-athletes, standing on club soccer sidelines. I’ve played tight games. I’ve won and lost. I get all of the emotions and the challenges and the hopes that goes with being a part of athletics. At the end of the day, all it should be is steps toward a positive experience…even through disappointment and losses and being cut from teams, it’s ok. It’s essential.
Are there any changes you’d like to make to the program moving forward?
I am so lucky to inherit this athletic program. Following in the footsteps of Leon Modeste, Mike Kuta, and Martha Fenton. They’ve built such an incredible athletic program grounded in a philosophy of athletics for all. I think what’s most exciting is the upcoming Pan Athletic Center. Being involved in the design and vision of a new athletic facility is one of the most exciting things about my job right now. Andover will have facilities that will be unmatched by peer schools. But it is more about the people and the program than the facilities. Athletics as a space that is seen as inclusive in its programming and in its daily execution of showing students—who might not have imagined themselves engaged in an athletic world—how they can thrive in these spaces. I benefited hugely from female coaches who did the work of Title IX before me. Right now, seeing how we can be inclusive of LGBTQ+ athletes in terms of their experiences on our teams, in our athletics offerings, our coaching staffs, in every way—I’d like to see Andover be a leader in that area and I’m excited about that.
Tell us why your job rocks?
Andover students are amazing. They’re passionate about everything they do, whether they’re on a varsity sport, dance, or rock climb, they give 100 percent to the Andover experience and it’s fun to work with students who are so amazing in every way, in and out of the classroom.
One thing that would surprise people about your job?
How broadly defined athletics might be. We have this unbelievable dance program that is under the umbrella of athletics and those dancers are some of our best athletes. Modern and ballet. Kids can meet their athletic requirement at Andover by taking four years of dance.
Half of our students are involved in the interscholastic program and over 500 students will never participate in interscholastic sports here but will find great joy in dance, life sports, intramural sports, and Outdoor Pursuits.
Favorite place on campus?
Graves Soccer Field. To be out with the soccer team on Graves in the fall is just really special.
Who or what inspires you?
I couldn’t do any of this without my family. I have an awesome family. My husband (Chris Joel ’88, PA’s director of business services and risk management) has been supportive of every path I’ve wanted to travel, personally and professionally, and tells me to go for it. I never forget that to be raising three daughters and committing myself to a job, I can’t do that alone and my family has always encouraged me to follow what I love to do.
Best advice you ever received?
My college coach Michelle Morgan, who was a pioneer as a female coach and who was a real role model to me, used to say, “Control the controllables.” That was her mantra to us and I have adapted that in different ways. It’s important how we react to the things we can’t control. Life is tricky in big and small ways, and trying to stay balanced in the face of it all is really important to me.
What is a mountain you moved that you’re especially proud of?
I ran the Boston marathon in 1999. I was doing something that was way out of my comfort zone. I had the opportunity to run for Brigham and Women’s charity team, sort of late in the season in training and I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.” So that was a huge accomplishment. It taught me that we can do things we don’t always think are possible. Maybe I’ll do it again with my daughters someday.
You do what you do at Andover because?
I love it and it brings me joy. That’s really all that should drive us. We all should love what we do because it makes it fun to get up in the morning. I feel really lucky to have the life I live and get to do something I love.