Coaches; you and your players receive a great deal of attention, recognition, and credit throughout the year. When a student-athlete blasts a game-winning RBI, they get the credit. When you earn a milestone victory, you get the credit. When your team earns the highest department GPA, they get the credit. Administrators, fans, and the media are all lined up to give you a pumped-up high five after a big win.
The 'praise and recognition' - or as I like to call it 'the warm and fuzzies' - are well-deserved. After all, there is a lot to be said for being able to perform in the moment.
However, there are lesser-known people in your program who set you up for success in preparation for these big moments. They are not on the front lines. Most people rarely see them or know their names. Yet they are the people you trust the most. They are reliable and dependable, a confidant, always thinking one step ahead, and most important get things done! They know how you like your coffee, the sizes of your favorite coaching clothes, and what topics to avoid at all costs during a tense game.
Need to find a Thai restaurant in a new city? Done. Need to replace a torn uniform during the game? Done. Need to get your team home after flights are canceled? Done. Need your calendar organized? Done. Need your favorite snack waiting for you in the dugout? Done.
They have all the answers and get things done quickly. They are the glue that keeps things together.
This is your Team behind the Team.
Most of you know our NFCA team. This is an amazing group of people who represent our Association and are 'out in front' on a daily basis. They are the faces you see at our events, the smiles on your screens during webinars, and the friendly voices on the other end of the phone. They are amazing people who love their job and work every day to give well…YOU…a fantastic experience.
But that is only part of our team.
We have a Team Behind the Team too.
Let me introduce them.
NFCA position: Legal Counsel
Softball position: Starting pitcher
Just like the starting pitcher in a softball game must take action before the game begins, the same goes for Samantha and the NFCA. Anything of importance goes through Samantha. Although her top expertise is as legal counsel, her talents go much farther. She is a strategic and critical thinker, an exceptional writer, and provides support to our softball community in a variety of ways. Samantha assists with our bylaws, policies, ethics, recruiting, and loads of other items weaved throughout the NFCA.
"The opportunity to support the NFCA Board, coaches, and staff has been a career-defining professional experience for me. The exceptional leadership of this group, the passion for learning, and the inclusive environment are inspiring and draw you in — even if you have never played the sport before. I love working with the softball community. And I look forward to the energy and excitement of the Convention every year."- Samantha Ekstrand
NFCA position: Legislative/Compliance Consultant
Softball position: Catcher
Jody provides legislative and compliance guidance for our coaches and our Association. Just like a catcher needs to know what every defensive player on the field should be doing, Jody knows what coaches can and cannot do in terms of legislation and compliance. This comprehensive understanding helps point coaches in the right direction. She is our compass. Jody is an expert in her field, an excellent communicator, passionate about helping people, and loves the sport of softball.
"I am so grateful to be part of the NFCA team and play a small role in navigating the rules for the softball community. This team and this softball community want to grow the game and continue to push meaningful progress. I look forward to continuing to help with these goals." -Jody Sykes
Author's note: Effective January 1, 2022 the NFCA expanded this position, allowing Jody to focus on Division I legislation/compliance. The NFCA approved a similar position for Division II and Division III.
NFCA position: Technology Partner
Softball position: Director of Ops
Twenty years ago, a technology partner position did not exist for most organizations. Today, it is critical for success to have a solid partner in this area. The same could be said for the Director of Operations position in softball. For a program to function at a high level, all things must 'go through' the Director of Ops and for us, things must 'go through' our Technology Partner, Honeywick. The Honeywick team, led by Jeff Watts-Roy, keeps our NFCA website functioning at a high level. Their team is intelligent, professional, and responsive. We have been able to enhance the functionality of our website and therefore serve our members at a higher level, thanks to Honeywick.
"Here at Honeywick, we LOVE the NFCA team and are proud to be their technology partner! It is so rare to find a client who works so hard, pushes the technological envelope farther than most and yet keeps it fun and engaging at the same time. We admire the family feel that the NFCA has toward its employees and the cheerful way in which they conduct business. Working with this highly-effective group makes our interactions and work for them very rewarding!" –Jeff Watts-Roy
NFCA position: Conference Direct; Convention contracts
Softball position: Leadoff hitter
Wonder where and how the Convention planning process even starts? It starts with Mary Flynn. Convention contracts are signed four to five years prior to the actual Convention date. Mary does all the work in finding host cities, hotels that are large enough, yet fiscally reasonable enough, to host our Conventions. After all, no coach is paying $350 night for a hotel room at Convention! To find the right combination of hotel room rates, meeting space size, Exhibit Hall space, and amenities, is a true talent! There is a great deal of time, effort and attention to detail required for this massive job and we couldn't do it without Mary. She also attends various site visits leading up to an actual Convention to assist with all the details of planning this enormous event. Mary is a terrific negotiator. One of the best things Mary says during the negotiation process is 'sharpen that pencil and try again!' She 'sets the tone' - sweet on the outside and tough on the inside - as any great leadoff hitter does, for our annual event each year.
"Being considered a member of this impressive team is an honor and privilege! I cherish the life- long friendships that have been made as a result of working with the NFCA. Joining the Team at the National Convention is the highlight of my year and extremely rewarding. The energy and buzz created during the convention is like no other. A special culture of learning, mentoring, networking and so much more. It was especially exciting this year to reconnect in-person after not being together last year. It was NFCA or Bust in Las Vegas!" -Mary Flynn
NFCA position: HelmsBriscoe, Coaches Clinics contracts
Softball position: #9 batter
See 'Mary Flynn,' but for Coaches Clinics. Sandy initially worked with the late NFCA Hall of Fame member Mary Nutter for the National Softball Clinics (NSC). After the NFCA purchased the NSC clinics, we hit the jackpot by 'inheriting' Sandy and her expertise. Quick to act and ready to make things happen, she sets the table, like every productive #9 batter, for success at our Coaches Clinics.
"In my 21 years working for HelmsBriscoe, it has been a privilege and honor to represent such an amazing portfolio of clients like NFCA. I'm humbled by the trust that Carol and her staff have in me to negotiate the very best hotel rates and contract concessions for their events. Although I'm not on NFCA's payroll, I'm treated as though I am a valued member of the NFCA staff." – Sandy Graves
NFCA position: Statistical expert
Softball position: Assistant Coach (of course!)
If you've spent some time in the softball world you know one of the leading statistical and analytical experts in the game is Matt Meuchel, the current assistant coach at Arkansas.
To say our All-Region and All-American process for all divisions has gone to a new level with his analysis and expertise is an understatement. You would NOT believe the Google sheets, spreadsheets, and in-depth numbers! An assistant coach may not always be 'out in front' like the head coach, however their decision-making and expertise plays a huge role in running a successful program. Matt is the 'key' to our All-Region and All-American process validity, integrity, and overall success.
"Working with the NFCA is always a great honor. I love the opportunity to work with such great professionals (staff and coaches) in an effort to honor all of the student-athletes that give so much to our sport." -Matthew Meuchel
NFCA position: Marketing Agency, SEO and paid digital advertising
Softball position: Steals lots of bases… :)
Role players are critical to success in the dugout and on the field. When you find a role for a talented member of your team…you do it! As you know Emily Allard was a full-time NFCA team member for several years as our Director of Marketing. Now a marketing agency executive, she shares her knowledge and talents as an outside contractor for the NFCA. New things learned: website crawls, meta-tags, tracking galore, and more! Someone who steals bases can make an immediate impact on the game … which is exactly what Emily's digital marketing contribution has done for the NFCA.
"After working full-time with the NFCA for 6 years - experiencing the ins and outs of not just the organization, but the softball community - it brings me immense joy to be able to help the Association grow in a different capacity now. The NFCA is a vital piece for the sport of softball, and it's been an honor to be a small part in spreading its mission further."-Emily Allard
Board of Directors
NFCA position: Leadership
Softball position: Athletic Director
These elected leaders run the show. Like the North Star, they guide the way. They are visionaries, dedicated to the sport outside of their own programs. We call them 'movers and shakers' as they get things done and do it with class. It's also the 'cool kids club' … just ask any current Board members! Interested? Get your name on the ballot next fall.
"I am excited to give back to an association that has had such a tremendous impact on me."- Kate Drohan, NFCA President
May you all have a 'Team Behind the Team' as amazing as we do.