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Clyde Washburne Back in Coaching Ranks

July 2009

By Lacy Lee Baker

One of the most colorful coaches in the Association, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Clyde Washburne has never had a problem speaking his mind. The 2006 NFCA Hall of Fame inductee laughingly says he enjoys bloviating, a term mostly associated with politicians that is defined as “to discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.” I guess you could say Clyde is a politician of sorts, but his discourse is much more grounded in solid principles than of a boastful nature. There’s a lot to learn from this master of softball Zen.


You retired from coaching in 1987, but here you are now, 20 years later, coaching again as a softball assistant at your beloved Eastern Connecticut State. How did that come about?


When I got lyme disease in 1987, the symptoms wouldn’t allow me to continue the full coaching responsibilities as I had previously done, so I retired. Then, a couple of years ago, I started coaching again as a high school boys basketball coach at E. O. Smith in Mansfield, Connecticut. One day, I ran into Diana Pepin (ECSU’s head coach) and she asked if I would like to work with the program again as an assistant coach.


I was thrilled to be a part of it, and it’s been great. As an assistant, I can still be involved but don’t have the overall responsibility of the program.


You said earlier that you think you’re a better coach now than you were as a full-time coach. Why is that?


These days I have the luxury of sitting on my bucket and observing. One of my favorite pastimes is to observe young coaches in action, and it’s very interesting. I’ve found that players are more susceptible to learning than coaches. The basic problem with young coaches is E-G-O. If the players don’t perform, then it threatens the ego of the coach – “Why do you embarrass me like this?”


The player will compete at a much higher level without the “got to” attitude. If she has a good feeling about herself, she’ll raise her own level. I’ve come to see that if a player is left to her own devices with “her vision,” instead of reacting to a coach yelling at her to stop or go, she will be much more successful. Coaches shouldn’t take away a player’s natural gifts, given to her by the Holy Maker.


I teach from an overview type of perspective, with the before, during and after all important to the lesson. Then you put some drills in between to emphasize certain points. Like a puma pursuing prey, all aspects are important. Coaches need to allow the gifted athletes to use their natural ability instead of trying to dictate every move. 


What else do you believe in as a coach?


I believe in repetition, and that positive self-image is the key. Several years ago I discovered a book by Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way To Get More Living Out of Life. Maltz, a plas- tic surgeon, became amazed by the dramatic and sudden changes in character when a facial defect was corrected. The book teaches ways to improve one’s self image, which in sport, as in life, can have drastic positive effects.


Have you seen this philosophy in action?


Yes, we’ve been able to retrieve a few players from the downslope. This one player would make boo boo, after boo boo, and had such low self-esteem, that she wouldn’t even look you in the eye. We taught her the concept of “before, during and after” and how to improve her self-image, and this past year, she was named to the all-regional tournament team. That was so uplifting.


Every year when you start a new season, each player should come in with a clean slate. Don’t just put them in their slots where they left off last year; instead, start anew. After all, you’ve also grown a year as a coach.


I’ve heard that high school kids have changed, but they really haven’t. There are still the same issues of wanting to be liked, figuring out how to get along with others... basically living with yourself in the world around you.


Since you coach both sexes – boys basketball and women’s softball – have you found there are differences in coaching techniques?


I’ve found I can get hold of boys earlier, since I was a pimply-faced boy once myself. With girls, at first I was a little too grumpy. Now, I’ve turned into the loving grandfatherly type.

What other Washburne-isms would you like to pass on to your fellow coaches?


  • Bench decorum is important; don't allow "cliques" to form. Girls can be a little cliquey, but the focus should be on the game.
  • Captains should mix with all players to keep this from happening.
  • Get the players to study the game, love the game. When I'm in the dugout, I get them involved by asking, "Okay, what do you think the other coach is going to do in this situation?" It's a beautiful thing when they get involved. After all, if I can still learn the game at this stage in my life - 78 years old - the players can too. I really don't think I'm a slow learner.

When I was a boy, I had the great honor of playing for Leroy Dissinger, who was a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. He coached us to teh 1948 state baseball title when I was just a kid from Willimantic, Connecticut. He also ran the local YMCA and kept us off the streets. To this day, they still call us "Roy's Boys" and we  have parties to remember the good times. He always stressed cleanliness, and I've talked the group into going to the spa. 

My mother used to say, "What are you going to do with your life? You can't play ball forever," but back then, ball was all we had.

And, now, you’re still at it.


Yes, but I’m also trying to write a book ... I paint, and then give the paintings to my relatives so they won’t forget my birthday. I also work out and have three springer spaniels. My wife, Cynthia Jean, who is the athletics director at Manchester Community College, and I live on 3,000 acres of beautiful woodland. We have three children (Leslie, Hillary and James) and six grandchildren.


In closing, do you want to share anything else with NFCA members?


Yes, and it’s a story from one of my grandchildren. He wrote me that his wrestling coach is a little crazy but is insanely dedicated “to giving us and our program every chance to be as good as we want to be.” I just think about how great it would be if every kid was playing with that philosophy. It puts the pressure right back on them to grab the gauntlet. I would love to have a pile of those kids playing for me; there would be no limits to how high you could go. And, of course, I think my grandson is very perceptive and philosophical.


Maybe another Zen master of sport in the making...