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Fastpitch Coach: Q&A
This week's Q&A guest is Carol Spanks.
Current School/Team: None, retired effective 6/30/99 after 40 years of teaching and coaching.
Number of years in coaching/teaching: Twenty years teaching and coaching at high school level, 15 years head coach at Cal Poly University, Pomona, CA, five years associate head coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Coached ASA women's ball for many years, usually as assistant coach (Long Beach Desperados, Orange County Majestics). National team coaching includes: 1985 head coach USA to So. Pacific Classic (gold); 1987 head coach, USA Pan American team (gold), 1987 Assistant, USA Team, Tri-nations (gold); 1994 assistant USA, South Pacific Classic (gold), assistant USA World Championships-1994 (gold). Was a member of coaching pool for 1996 Olympics (1994-1996). Assistant Coach, 1976, Santa Ana Lionettes, Women's Pro League.Overall collegiate record as a head coach: 688-375-6. Ranked 12th all-time among NCAA coaches in victories entering the 1999 season.
Undergraduate school: Graduated from Pasadena CC in 1956 and UCLA in 1958 with undergraduate teaching credential and BS Degree in Physical Education. Secondary Administrative Credential earned through Whittier College.
Softball playing career highlights: Played for Buena Park Lynx (1954-1957) and Orange (CA) Lionettes 1958-1975. Women's Pro League in 1976. Earned All- American honors 13 times (third base once, shortstop 12 times). All-Pro Team, West, in 1976. Erv Lind Top Defensive Player several times. Member of 1962, 1965, 1969, 1970 national championship teams; runnerup many times. Member of USA team to World Championships in Japan in 1970 (silver). Member of 3 Halls of Fame: ASA Hall of Fame, 1981; Orange County Sports Hall of Fame, 1988; NFCA Hall of Fame, 1994. Also, recently named to Pasadena City College Court of Honor for athletic excellence.
Q: How did your coaching career begin?
CS: As a player, I was involved as an assistant coach for our farm team and coached high school softball while teaching. I knew I wanted to make coaching my career in 1979 after coaching at Cal Poly Pomona. I was no longer teaching high school and in 1980 Cal Poly made the position full-time and I was there until the program was dropped at the conclusion of the 1993 season.
Q: Who are some of the coaches and non-coaches you learned the most from and what did you learn?
CS: Every coach I ever played for, I learned from. Some of what I learned I incorporated into my coaching; other stuff I got rid of quickly. I learned a lot about the rules and strategies from a coach named Bill Allington. I learned perhaps the most about coaching and organizing a team from former coach, Shirley Topley. Her work ethic and team approach were invaluable lessons for me. I learned very much how to work with players as a result of teaching high school youngsters and learning how to deal more effectively with their issues. From Linda Wells, I learned to be more responsive and communicative with fans and players from the past. From my parents, I learned it was okay to be involved in softball to the extent that I was in a time when it wasn't particularly condoned or encouraged.
Q: What do you think you did best as a coach?
CS: Enthusiasm and passion for the game. Positive approach and emphasis on team play and never quitting. Always putting forth best effort. I think, too, I'm able to effectively adjust to adversity without looking to someone or something to blame.
Q: What makes for a successful season?
CS: To me, getting the most from your players and them playing, as best they can, with what they have talent-wise individually and as a team. Winning is definitely icing on the cake and usually comes if the above is there and they are competing in a fairly equally competitive arena.
Q: What do you think was the best coaching job you ever did?
CS: I don't recall the year, but once at Cal Poly we had a very young team and a starting lineup that had only two players in familiar positions or positions of experience. We not only had an excellent season of league play but went on to surprise all by winning regionals over Fullerton and advancing to CWS finishing quite high.
Q: What was your worst moment as a coach?
CS: In 1993, two days after school was out, being told that softball was to be dropped due to budgetary problems. I was coaching at Cal Poly Pomona and had 11 returners anxious for the next season to begin. The decision came out of the blue and having to deal with the players was the hardest thing I can recall having to do in my coaching career.
Q: What is the most memorable experience you and your teams have had on the road?
CS: I don't recall the year but Rhonda Wheatley was our pitcher. During a league game with Fullerton, on a force play at the plate with a ball going back to Wheatley, she winged it against the backstop. After game we talked about how errors happen to everyone and it was good that it happened to her at a time when it didn't cost us. I told the team it would probably never happen again for her because from now on she would just relax on that play and make it successfully. A few weeks later, we were in regionals against Fullerton. In the first inning they loaded the bases with no outs. I went out to the mound and told the infielders that this is what we were going to do. Rhonda was going to keep the ball low so chances are they'd hit it back to her for a double play, catcher to first. And, I emphasized to the first baseman, who was a rookie backup, to be alert for the runner on second who was quite fast and would probably keep coming home on the play. Why is this memorable? Because on the next pitch, the ball was hit back to Wheatley who made her perfect throw home and we doubled up the player at first. The runner kept coming from secnd and our first base player, just for an instant, forgot about her and made the play but just late. It was memorable (and eerie to me) that the play actually happened as set up and the players still talk about it. It's a good way to convince them to believe in what you say! Besides that, we ALMOST completed a rare triple play. But alas, not to be.
Q: How has the game changed since you first became involved?
CS: Lots of rules changes, probably the biggest being the re-entry rule, designated player, pitching distance, fence distance, and tie-breaker rule. Equipment changes have been huge. Much livelier ball, enhanced bats, requirement to wear helmets, and catching equipment requirements. Much more effective offense due to some of the above factors and also emphasis by many on the slap/short game. Besides that, there has been an influx of training tools to improve hitting and more time spent with that part of the game than in the past. As a player, I never wore a helmet, I used a wooden (and heavy) bat; hit a white ball, faced pitchers from 38 and 40 feet, played as many as 29 innings (first game of a doubleheader) to win a game, never saw a circle around the pitching rubber, had no university athletics available for women; played in very competitive softball leagues during the summer; didn't have sliding pads, long pants, knee pads, wrist bands, hats or visors, only wore metal cleats (black), used the same glove for years and years, and didn't have machines to hit off of (no one had invented soft toss yet), played a lot of pepper which was our pre-game hitting warm-up; wouldn't think of drinking water while exercising (would take drinks but always spit it out). Icing was unheard of as was any kind of weightlifting for women, and we played a lot of league games on the road driving to all destinations. If games were on Saturday and Sunday we would drive all night to get back in time for school or work unless we were lucky teachers or students and had the summers free. I played only night games until nationals. An interesting fact: I never saw a player hit in the head with a pitched, batted or thrown ball until helmets were required.
Q: What's your take on the bat and ball issue? Are the balls or bats at fault, or both, or neither? Is there a problem? If so, what would you like to see done?
CS: I think there's a problem probably with both bat and ball due to the current technology. The ball, in my opinion, is deadly. It is so hard it's like a 12" golf ball and causes injuries that would not be the same severity of a less hard ball. Currently, the college game is a potentially deadly situation, particularly for the corners, pitchers and coaches. I love the yellow color and red seams for visibility and I like the increased offense in the game today, but there has to be a way of getting that without undue danger to players and coaches. More offense could come from just the improvement of the bats and back to a safer ball; moving pitching distance, or shrinking the strike zone. And, of course, hitting skills are more developed today, so perhaps the offense would still be intact with just partial adjustments in equipment or rule changes.
Q: What did you love most about coaching?
CS: Interaction with players and competitive games.
Q: What did you love least about coaching?
CS: Necessity for mercy rule. I hate games that are lopsided in score whether on losing or winning side. I prefer the close, exciting, competitive fastpitch game. The score doesn't have to be low; just close.
Q: Please complete this sentence: "My coaching career has been successful if the majority of my players..."
CS: Learn how to be effective team members; have had fun playing, and have been able to give 100 percent effortuntil the game is over, regardless of the score. It's also nice to see former players enter the coaching profession.
Q: If you could go anywhere in the world for a week, all expenses paid, where would you go?
CS: If all expenses were paid, including the golf, I'd head to Pebble Beach.
Q: Who is your favorite movie star?
CS: I Liked Katharine Hepburn. More currently, Meryl Streep.
Q: What is your favorite television show?
S: I Like Oprah and Rosie O'Donnell.
Q: What haven't you done yet in your life that you still want to do?
CS: Try my hand at drawing and/or painting (will have to take some courses) and see what comes along in this retirement phase and do whatever sounds appealing. Also, do some travel.
Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to coach softball?
CS: Learn all you can about the game (playing competitively is a huge advantage to understanding what players go through). Be enthusiastic and positive, and make sure your players aren't being blamed for mistakes that you, as a coach, haven't spent enough time teaching. Have fun.
Q: When "The one Great Scorer comes to write against your name", what would you like to see written there?
CS: "She made some mistakes but learned from them. She did a good job giving back to the game she loved the most - softball - her true passion in life. A person with integrity."