Donata Grigienė, a long-time player of the Lithuanian national field hockey team, medal-winner of the Lithuanian and European championships, player at the Šiauliai Ginkstrekė team, coach of boys’ field hockey, and her husband, rugby player Mindaugas Grigas, who have just celebrated their 10th marriage anniversary, say that their marriage rests on the foundations of mutual understanding and unconditional support. There have been no disputes at home during their married life regarding the reconciliation of professional and family life, despite the fact that it is sometimes challenging due to Donata’s deep immersion in the sport. Instead, the family merely jokes about the place that field hockey occupies in Donata’s life.
“He For She” is a United Nations initiative that invites men to stand in solidarity and, together with women, actively strive for gender equality, change stereotypes, and be a united and visible force for change. In Lithuania, this campaign was initiated by the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania (LNOC), which approached the project through the lens of sport.
The stories of “He For She Lithuania” talk about women working in the area of sport and the men who support them, about problems and challenges they encounter, and look for ways to speak about it loudly, in the context of the current affairs of our country and athletes’ stories.
The story of Donata and Mindaugas is the fourth story of the second season of “He For She Lithuania”.
Where is the Male Coach?
It has been over a decade now since Donata became the first field hockey coach for boys. Her male colleagues noticed quite quickly that she was turning the page in her career among men, and that there would eventually come a point when the boys would grow up and it would be difficult for a woman to work with adult men. Donata herself did not feel that way at all – it was not gender that was the decisive factor when training field hockey players.
“The first boys I started to train have now grown into young men of 22-24 years old, and I can state with confidence that if you are professional, a good person and have that personal relationship with the player, it is irrelevant if are a man or a woman: they regard you just as a professional. The stereotypes that men cannot be managed by a woman are really common, but the current trend is to have a female referee at, for instance, a men’s football match. There is more and more talk about equal rights. As the results show, a woman can coach a boys’ team just as well as a man, or even more successfully,” she believes.
She had encountered the same attitude towards herself as a female coach when working abroad. Back then, while coaching the U18 national male team, she went to one of the first European championships in Belarus.
“The attitude in Eastern countries in general is that male coaches should coach male teams, while women should have their own place. I come, I say hello to the referees, the officials, the Bulgarians are having a training session and they are asking me where our coach is. I say: “It’s me.” Then they ask: “Where is the main coach?” I repeat again, that it’s me. It’s like in that movie, “Other Shurik’s Adventures”: I am instead of him, I am everywhere. Then they ask if we don’t have any men anymore. I say: “If I have been sent here, it means I am a better coach.” Even back then, they considered it weird that Lithuania came with a young female coach,” Donata shares her memories.
This year, at the championships in Portugal, she was asked again whether she was a physician. When she told them she was a coach, they were surprised to hear that she was coaching a young men’s team.
“That stereotype is still alive in the world. The first question is whether there are no male coaches in our country, and I explain that there are some great male colleagues who had previously coached national teams and are now coaching clubs, while it is me and my colleague who are currently in charge of the national team,” she says. The woman finds these questions strange because she even sometimes feels superior to some male coaches ‒ there are very few coaches in Lithuania who have experienced the sport of field hockey as players, while Donata herself still plays it, therefore when coaching, she can refer to her practical knowledge and apply it in a more diverse way.
Meeting at the Arena
Ten years ago, she not only started coaching boys but also met the love of her life, her current husband, Mindaugas Grigas, a rugby player and the father of their two daughters.
“We met at the Šiauliai Athletics Sports Arena. It was my first training session and the last training session for my husband, and we were being trained by the same coach. Our teams were doing warm-up exercises, our eyes met and that was it. When I got home, I turned on my Facebook and found a message: “Hi, could I have seen you at the arena tonight?’ We exchanged messages for some time, and later we met for coffee,” says Donata.
Mindaugas remembers running the warm-up laps with a team mate, and they started talking about the girls who were jogging: “Look, there’s a coach, she looks so young to me…” That night I searched for her on Facebook and I found her name and surname, and I wrote to her. That’s how we met”.
Their first date took place on 1 April, and exactly a year later they were already holding their first daughter in their arms. The woman is convinced that everything happened very quickly ‒ but when you find the person who suits you, you should not wait for too long. A happy marriage and two beautiful daughters are proof of that.
United by an Athlete’s Profession and Mutual Understanding
The family has not had severe arguments during the decade of their marriage; on the contrary, the two spouses share very similar hobbies and a passion for sport, which is the foundation of a strong family.
“When you’re so deeply in the profession of an athlete, you’re interested in not only your won sport, but also in what your better half is doing. We are similar as personalities. The unconditional support of each other is important, because if it were lacking, balancing family and career would be difficult if not impossible. Your spouse has to understand the passion of your life,” Donata believes.
Mindaugas immediately realised that it is impossible to talk about Donata separately from field hockey ‒ it is simply part and parcel of her and is the purpose of her life. Mindaugas had to make his first sacrifice when its Majesty Field Hockey took priority over their wedding date.
“My husband had planned our wedding date in the summer, but it had to be postponed because I had a field hockey championship coming up. The wedding could wait, while the championship couldn’t have been postponed; this is how we developed the saying that field hockey goes first, and all other plans will follow. It surprises even our friends, because for some people, the wedding is the most important event of their lives. So we postponed the date,” she says.
The family has some really funny chants about Donata’s sport and often jokes about the fact that everything else falls in the unequal fight against field hockey. And although Mindaugas insists that he does not have to make sacrifices because of this, Donata still believes that, despite her husband’s constant support, her lifestyle does not always make life fun for him:
“Naturally, it is sort of a joke that field hockey comes first, but in reality, it is the family that is my priority; however, anyone who knows me is aware that the sport which I have been playing for 19 years and coaching for 10 years runs very much in my blood. No, my husband does not always feel like “Cool, on my own again, this is so much fun”. Supporting and having fun are different things, and I am sure it is not always easy when I am away. Of course, before choosing to work with the national team, I always discuss that with him, and we both understand that I will be away during weekends and that I will have championships in the summer. It’s even more difficult for my husband, because I still play field hockey myself, therefore I have two championships rather than one. That’s why he jokes that hockey comes first”.
The woman understands that it is particularly difficult to live with someone who is fanatic about a certain sport and she says that her spouse can sense her moods very well if she loses a match. Donata laughs that if the weekend match did not end in her team’s favour, her husband jokingly thanks the opponents for ruining the weekend for the whole family, because he knows the mood that will prevail when the coach returns home.
Mom Gives a Hand
Of course, balancing work and family life can be a real challenge when you have two daughters of nine and four. Her husband Mindaugas is supportive, he comes to watch the matches or stays at home with their daughters. However, the spouses’ schedules often clash.
“We both have training sessions or competitions on weekends. When I have to leave for a match with the men’s team, and when my husband can’t be home at the time, we invite my mom to help. It’s hard to reconcile. The biggest challenge for me as a coach is probably the fact that training sessions take place in the evenings, when the kids have returned from school and kindergarten, and you have to find somebody to leave them with. Weekends are also busy. I work with three teams now, and one or another team always has a match. The workload is immense, because I am the coach of the national team, championships and preparation take place in the summer, I never have holidays,” she says.
But the family has got used to that. Donata says that she feels completely understood at home when she says that all the weekends in June will be busy for her and she will be away from home, and in July as well, andthat she will fly away on 31 July and will return on 21 August, and then, on the 23rd, she will leave for a summer camp with the children she coaches and will return on the 30th. Her husband’s unconditional understanding allows her to pursue a successful career and achieve her goals. According to Mindaugas, this rhythm of life quickly became the norm and he does not mind it at all. Especially when he does not work on a daily basis ‒ he goes to work every three days to work for almost 24 hours, he often has competitions on weekends, so he socialises more on working days when others are at work.
The Challenge of Cooking
The only challenge that Mindaugas encounters when Donata is away for a long time is cooking. “We joke that when I’m away for a month, his biggest challenge is what to eat. The food he cooks in principle tastes very bad. He cooked once and did not eat it because it was so bad,” Donata laughs. But the man doesn’t let that bother him.
“I can make a sandwich, and then I ask a friend who has a canteen to bring me food. Sometimes Donata leaves some food, sometimes Donata’s mother helps with that. I don’t see it as a big problem ‒ you can go out for a meal. As far as cooking is concerned, I strictly refuse to cook. I don’t like my own cooked food. Once I tried to heat the pasta, and Donata herself told me not to do it again,” Mindaugas laughs.