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What do players learn from their softball experience?

It has been 20 years since Texas Woman's University, my alma mater, won the 1979 AIAW National Championship. It feels like a lifetime ago.

I was on a pitching staff that year which included Kathy Arendsen (two-time Broderick Award Winner) and Kathy VanWyk (Broderick Award Winner). Needless to say, I was the short pitcher on the tall totem pole, but I understood my role and worked hard to contribute when called upon. My teammates appreciated my pitching because they knew the ball was certainly going to be put into play in the infield, through the infield, over the infield, through the outfield and potentially over the outfield. Let's just say that the "yellow" ball wasn't needed for offensive output when I was on the mound!

This article is not meant to extol my pitching prowess or lack thereof, but instead to share what my college career meant to me then as a player and shapes me today as a coach.

I believe the single most important factor that gives any championship season, or really any season, its substance are the people involved in that particular season. The dynamics of our relationships with those people breathes life into our joys and our failures. It is indeed the very element we carry with us throughout our lifetime.

I have attended a very special reunion almost every summer for the past 10 years. My former teammates at Texas Womanís University from the late 70ís gather independently not to celebrate the glory of winning a national championship, but instead to celebrate the glory of our long binding relationships with each other and with our then head coach Donna Terry.

Some of my teammates and I have at one point in time felt bitterness about the methods Ms. Terry used. Some are more forgiving, but none are indifferent. For me, this gathering reinforces how we as coaches have the power to influence and shape our young players. Those impressions can sometimes last a lifetime.

I would like to think that I have evolved as a coach and that many factors have influenced my philosophies. Sixteen years ago following my graduation from TWU, I began my coaching career as a first year part-time assistant. Since that early beginning, I have coached off and on for 12 years, both as an assistant and head coach. Throughout those years, I have been fortunate to experience championship seasons, as well as losing seasons.

Most people would question why I say fortunate in referring to experiencing a losing season. I think both winning and losing are invaluable sources of information that can help us truly teach our players what the real world is all about and where success and failure are constants in our daily life.

What exactly constitutes success? How can we as coaches shape the external and internal environment of our student-athletes to ensure those varying concepts are being learned?

I believe that is the greatest challenge we face as coaches. We must learn how to maintain a high degree of self-worth within ourselves and then promote that self-worth to our players in spite of our shared failures, shortcomings, or win-loss records. The idea being that the effort to succeed is more important than the actual winning.

I am a product of my own beliefs, but I also had the opportunity to work with or play for numerous people with differing coaching styles, including Donna Terry, Deb Kuhn and Gayle Blevins. These great coaches taught me many lessons about hard work, selfless dedication and sportsmanship. The most difficult lessons learned were the lessons I faced out on my own as a young head coach. Through my past experiences with my mentors and my own lessons, I have come to realize the importance of my position as a head coach. That power we possess can be used to build up or tear down our players. The reunion I recently attended was a testament to that power because what happened to us almost 20 years ago still affects us to this day.

Many players expect their coaches to be perfect. We are far from it. We are like everyone else in this world. However, I do believe that we are obligated to strive for the betterment of our values, which we in turncan convey to our players.

We must learn how to experience and rejoice in the essence of success, without garnering a championship ring. As head coaches, we must find our own way and be respectful of that power we hold over our athletes. We must strive to teach them not only the virtues of a good swing, but also the virtues of responsibility, dedication and sportsmanship. In our powerful role we make an impact in helping these young women understand and grasp these virtues, whether we are first in the nation, last in the nation, or anywhere in between.

Every day is a new learning experience as situations arise with each uniquely different player I encounter. I see myself coming full circle through my experiences as a young athlete and now as a coach, and I wish my former and deceased coach were here to share in my coaching joys and sorrows.

The greatest legacy Donna Terry taught me and that I can hopefully pass down to my players is to be ferociously persistent in every endeavor you attempt. Learn to give your players only your very best. The championship rings are eventually lost or end up in a drawer somewhere, but the memories and lessons learned are carried for a lifetime.