How Dave Turned a Passion into a Career

by: Nate Widom

Sports run through the veins of Dave Mulvena. Along with playing soccer, basketball, and hockey growing up, he would organize friendly games and get-togethers with the other children in his neighborhood. Now with a family and kids, he continues his passion as HAC’s Sports Director.

Growing up, Dave knew sports needed to be in his life. In addition to gathering his neighbors for games (mostly hockey, football, basketball, and baseball), he worked as a referee at the YMCA and filled in as a coach when needed. “I kept getting pulled back into stuff that had to do with sports,” Dave says.
“[I enjoy] being around sports all day and also getting to teach kids at a really young age.”

Once Dave graduated high school, he enrolled at Del Tech for his fire protection engineering degree. As a student, he worked part-time at Pike Creek Fitness (PCFC), HAC’s former facility, and joined his brother Paul in before and after school care. “I think I was working two other jobs at the time, and I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll help out for a bit until summer and go from there,’” Dave recalls.

And Dave indeed branched out as he moved to the youth sports department. He began as a coach and later assisted with managerial duties. When the director at the time left Pike Creek Fitness, Dave took the role temporarily to keep the program running. Later, Dave accepted the position full-time.

Once the Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors in 2007, there were more opportunities than ever to expand the youth sports program. Paul, who was still working and coaching at HAC, was an integral part of the startup of the sports program. There were more varieties of sports available for our young members to enjoy, like dodgeball, lacrosse, field hockey, volleyball, and inline skating. Not only that, but the number of participants more than tripled. According to Dave, a well-enrolled youth sports session at Pike Creek Fitness would hold around 120 kids; a well-enrolled youth sports session at HAC would have over 400 kids, with classes filling quickly!

And it’s no wonder why Dave’s youth sports program is so popular. The program teaches our youngest members the importance of sports fundamentals, teamwork, and sportsmanship while having fun. When these programs are conducted under the same roof as other adult and kids’ programming, that experience is rare to find.

“It’s all about having fun and learning the basics of each sport,” Dave explains. “Classes are only one day a week for 45 minutes, so you’re not requiring a big-time commitment, which most families with young children and busy schedules can appreciate. The program provides a more relaxed and inclusive environment for families to enjoy. It’s more about trying to build a positive experience with sports.”

Interestingly, this philosophy contrasts with how Dave felt about sports during his childhood. “Growing up, everything was a competition to me – [I] was trying to win,” he says. Now Dave’s approach to a sports foundation focuses more on learning and less on winning. “I think when it’s only about winning, you take shortcuts instead of learning how to do things correctly. I believe winning and a competitive environment is important, but it’s not the focus of our sports program.”

According to Dave, the program helps children figure out which sports they enjoy the most and help prepare them for a more competitive program if they wish once they’re older. “If you’re trying to play any sport for the first time with a group of peers, it can be intimidating. You might not give it a chance if you go somewhere where it’s very competitive,” he says. “If you come here, you could start a sport for the first time at ten or eleven; you’ll still learn and have fun. We’re still going to ensure that you’re included in everything we do, and it’s not going to be an intimidating atmosphere.”

To Dave, it’s a fulfilling experience to teach kids the beauty of athletics. One of his favorite sights is the face of a child with no previous sports experience scoring a goal in soccer or making a shot in basketball. “They get so excited, and you get to share that experience with them. You see them make it, their eyes light up, and they look around to see if mom and dad saw it, and that’s a fun thing to watch.”

Dave gets to share these feelings not only with his students but with his family as well. “It feels a little different now because I have two kids. My son (Ben) is three, and my daughter (Noelle) is six. I have had the opportunity to coach thousands of kids from ages two and up over the past 20 years. It has brought me so much joy and fun memories, but now having the opportunity to coach my own at this age is such a special feeling.”

Dave had the opportunity to work with many other family members at HAC over the years. His brother-in-law and nieces are currently part of the coaching staff. Additionally, his brother Paul (who introduced him to initially working in before and after school care) and his wife are both teachers and are presently involved in HAC’s summer camp.

Furthermore, Dave wasn’t only involved in youth sports — he created the HAC adult sports program. Over the years, the adult sports program has offered adult kickball, dodgeball, whiffle ball, flag football, and basketball. Currently, he is the director of HAC’s adult basketball league. Once a group of members expressed interest in a league, Dave participated in the process. “A group of us sat down in a room, got the names of everyone who wanted to play, split the teams up, and started from there,” he recalls. Dave and other staff would track stats, conduct video highlights, document social media content, and even have their own weekly show. Though participation in HAC’s adult basketball league diminished after the height of the pandemic in 2020, Dave is confident the program will return to its original level of popularity.

Overall, Dave loves the community of HAC. “I think the staff and members here are awesome. You walk in and can feel the positive energy. It really seems like everyone is enjoying themselves, from the staff that greets you as you walk in, to the staff engaging with our youngest and oldest members. It feels a lot like a community here. Throughout the club, there are members and staff that started here as kids, and then you see them now as members or staff at age 14, 20, or even older.”

“For many of these kids, I’m probably one of their first coaches. Even my staff—a lot of them have been coaching with me for a while. Some have even been here [as kids] years ago, went to college, and got a full-time job. Now they come back and want to coach. That’s pretty cool!”

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