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New Alabama Coach Emphasizes Chemistry

 University of Alabama first-year Head Coach Pat Murphy is an outstanding teacher of all physical phases of the game of fastpitch softball. He proved that in stints as an assistant coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana during that school's glory days in the early 1990s, and at Northwest Missouri State University, where he guided the NCAA Division II Bearcats to their first winning season in eight years as an interim head coach in 1995.

But Pat Murphy has always believed that hitting, pitching and fielding are not always enough to guarantee success on the field, not at a time when NCAA Division I softball is becoming increasingly competitive. What it boils down to, Murphy believes, is the people who play and coach the game."

The talent is so equal that it comes down to team chemistry," said the Iowa native who came to Alabama as an assistant coach during the school's first season of softball competition in 1997. "I go with Tommy LaSorda's quote, 'contented cows give more milk'."

To begin this chemistry-building process, Murphy invited mental training consultant Jeff Janssen from the University of Arizona to speak to his team prior to this year's fall softball practices. "I'd heard great things about him," Murphy says of Janssen. "He does such a great job with the team building concept, with getting people on the same page."

Following Janssen's presentation, Murphy began what he called "Fellowship Friday", where, for a half-hour before each Friday's practice, the team and staff would gather in a circle in the outfield to discuss, well, just about everything.

"We weren't certain what it was at first," says Alabama junior outfielder Christy Kile. "But we thought it'd be good to get to know everybody and to help bring the team together."

What it was was a little more than that. Murphy recalls the first "Fellowship Friday."

"The first one, we all sat there and I said, 'tell us something about yourself that nobody else here knows, and I'll start,' " he said. "So I told them about the day my dad died. You know, I didn't intend for it to be a downer, but by the time I finished you would've needed about six boxes of Kleenex because everybody was crying."

"He'd never really talked much about his dad," Kile says. "It made us glad that he felt so close to us that he could tell us that. We were glad he experienced that with us."

While the tone and topics of subsequent discussions were lighter, the objective was always the same--getting to know each other as people and not just as softball players and coaches, building positive relationships and a genuine feeling of "family."

Expressing themselves in depth to the group didn't come easy for everyone.

"There are always a few who keep that curtain up around themselves," Murphy says. "It's tough for some of them to get rid of that steely-eyed, game face, they're so competitive. We're trying to tell them that you're going to be here for four years and we're going to be spending a lot of time together, so it's okay to let everyone get to know you."

"It definitely brought us closer together," Christy Kile says. "I learned new things about people I've known for three years."

And what about the proverbial "bottom line," the effect on the team's performance on the field?

"It all comes down to communication and trust," Murphy says. "When a person feels good about who she's playing with and who she's playing for, it can't help but give the team an edge."