New Wilmington tech startup makes major waves by bringing the longest-running baseball and softball convention to Wilmington for its 50th Anniversary
Wilmington, N.C.—Be The Best, the country’s longest-running baseball and softball show is making waves and moving to Wilmington, NC. The Be The Best Baseball and Softball Convention will take place January 13-15th, 2023 at the Wilmington Convention Center. Owners Lindsay Mayer and Diego Ibarra acquired Be The Best as part of their Alphas Alliance venture, as a way to further connect coaches, athletes, and businesses, and create opportunities that extend beyond the sport.
“The Wilmington and Beaches CVB and its travel partners are excited to be selected as the new site for the ‘Be The Best’ Baseball and Softball Convention in January 2023. Hosting the longest-running baseball and softball coaches’ clinic in the country during the organization’s 50th anniversary is an honor. We look forward to welcoming attendees and sharing with them all our destination has to offer, from Wilmington’s pedestrian-friendly Riverwalk and historic district to our three colorful island beaches,” stated Kim Hufham, president/CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority.
“Our riverfront convention center is within easy walking distance of hotels, inns and vacation rentals, as well as restaurants specializing in locally sourced seafood and produce. And, it’s only a few minutes’ drive from the beach. From the river to the sea, Wilmington and our beaches offer a variety of family-friendly attractions, museums, tours, cruises, parks, gardens, and sports facilities that make it the ideal destination for attendees to bring along their families for a memorable coastal convention and vacation.”
Each year, Be the Best, attracts approximately 1,500 people interested in learning more about coaching, and bettering themselves in the world of all things baseball and softball. Athletic coaches of all age groups from Little League through college participate in the clinic.
CEO of Wilmington’s Chamber of Commerce, Natalie English stated, “The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is pleased the ‘Be the Best’ Baseball and Softball Convention has selected Wilmington, NC for their 2023 event. Baseball and softball are America’s pastime and we can’t think of a better place to host members of this special athletic tradition than Wilmington, NC. Our vibrant collegiate and amateur level sports scene combined with our beautiful beaches and historic downtown have long been a draw for athletes of all skill levels to train, recover and refocus.”
Be The Best is known for its expert guest speakers that include former professional baseball players and managers, decorated Olympian athletes, college and university coaches, and other credible baseball and softball professionals who offer tips and tools to enrich their art of coaching. Guest speakers cover topics like how to build a championship program, pitching mechanics, hitting drills, and defense skills.
“The athletes these coaches interact with on a daily basis will not only represent our county in some of the most hallowed stadiums and competitions on the planet but will also develop into skilled entrepreneurs, business leaders, elected officials, and coaches themselves – we are excited Wilmington gets to play a small role in that development process,” stated Josh Hallingse, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President of small business development and business retention.
Approximately 100 vendors attend the yearly event, showcasing new products and technological advances in their sport. Exhibitors make sales and contacts at the clinic and continue to supply coaches with products and information throughout the year. For more information on becoming an exhibitor and/or sponsor, please visit www.BeTheBest.com for more details.
Registration for Be The Best Baseball and Softball Convention is now open for the event taking place in January of 2023. The registration rate for an adult pass to the event is $175 (Early Registration $125), and there are many different discounts offered including full staff rates, student rates, and club/organizational rates. Coaches and other interested parties are encouraged to sign up now at www.BeTheBest.com where more details are available.
Throughout this three-day event, Lindsay and Diego plan to provide attendees with an experience that will leave a long-lasting positive impression on everything that Wilmington and Be The Best have to offer.
In her announcement, Alphas Alliance CEO Lindsay Mayer states, “We are beyond excited to move our event to the beautiful Wilmington, NC! Not only is this region of the country an enjoyable and affordable escape, but it is also a staple to the youth baseball and softball travel community. Our goal is to add value to the community through our educational networking event, and we know that by moving Be the Best to Wilmington we will be connecting thousands of coaches and athletes as well as bringing business creating opportunities that extend beyond the field.”
For more information, please contact Lindsay Mayer or Diego Ibarra, email@example.com, or visit the website at www.BeTheBest.com or www.AlphasAlliance.com.
Lindsay Mayer and Diego Ibarra founded Alphas Alliance in May of 2021 after being encouraged by their Head Coach Jay Miller while at Hofstra University. By December, their first product, AlphaSigns has attracted some of the best softball and baseball programs in the country, and hundreds of travel organizations. Read the Alphas story here!☺️
Washington Nationals Organization
Baseball disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it has to do with a missed sign. Sometimes a passed ball. And sometimes, a dropped kid. Mack Jenkins recalls with a touch of horror, his biggest coaching disaster, that had nothing to do with any of his players.
Once, when Mack was coaching third base, there was an on-field promotion with kids running the bases. One small child was having a hard time making it home, so being the good guy that he is, Mack picked him up. As he raced toward home plate, Mack tripped and fell, terrified kid in his arms.
But, the kid was fine. And, except for a bit of a bruised ego, Mack recovered, continuing to make a difference on the field and off, as he coached hundreds of players over the course of 30 years.
During the 1989 World Series, after retiring from playing professional ball himself, Mack was offered a job with the Cincinnati Reds. For the next 23 years, he made his way through the system, coaching all levels from Rookie Ball to AAA. He traveled the world – working in cities such as Billings, MT; Cedar Rapids, IA; Charleston, WV; Chattanooga, TN; and Louisville, KY, as well as stints in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In 2012 he became the assistant pitching coach for the major league Reds, before becoming bullpen coach, then finally, pitching coach..
In 2019, he made the move to the Washington Nationals organization, working in Class A in Hagerstown, MD.
A valuable lesson learned throughout his baseball tenure is that failure is not fatal. Mack’s players learn early on that uncomfortable feedback is just part of the game for a professional athlete. They have to accept it, embrace it, and learn from it. His players know they have to show up every single day. With enthusiasm and energy, ready to compete fearlessly, no matter how they feel physically.
Mack does not compromise on certain beliefs. Preparation leads to performance. Enthusiasm is the mother of effort. Building relationships is crucial in driving talent and growth. Mack believes in challenging his players. Asking a player to make a dramatic change when necessary, expecting to be trusted, and not needing to be thanked when that pitching change ended up reenergizing an entire career.
Mack understands that the right team culture is key. That a good coach speaks well and knows how to say the same thing with different words. That the thirst for knowledge is never quenched. And, that sometimes, even the best of the best drop a ball.
Or, a kid.
Director of Coaching Development
Some coaches take a straight path while others zig zag their way into their niche. Andrew Bartman’s coaching history had many jumps and joys before landing at USA Baseball.
Andrew started young – as a high schooler he was already helping out at his old junior high school. By college, he was assisting a Legion team in Lincoln, IL, as well as serving as head coach of the Central Illinois Cannons travel team. After he graduated, he got his first stab at the collegiate level as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at a perennial powerhouse JUCO, Wabash Valley College in Illinois. While there, he worked with dozens of players who went on to play professional ball, with two making it to the big leagues.
After three years at WVC, Andrew headed home to take the job as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Lincoln College, where he had played himself for two years. Working for a former coach allowed him to learn lessons through a different lens as he coached and completed his Master’s degree.
Just as he had done as an undergraduate, Andrew transferred from Lincoln to his other alma mater, MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL. As head coach, he was faced with a complete disaster, but was able to turn the culture around and in his first season, tripled the team’s win total from the previous year. The AD who hired him left two years later for Bethany College, an NAIA school in Kansas, and offered Andrew the job as Head Coach and Associate Athletics Director. Proudly, the baseball program performed over 5,000 hours of community service each year as well as qualifying for the KCAC tournament three out of four years.
After four years at Bethany, American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) offered him the Youth Division Liaison position. For the first time since starting his career, Andrew wasn’t living by a coach’s schedule which was a big boon for his family. While at ABCA, he worked with USA Baseball which is how he eventually morphed into his current position. As Director of Coaching Development at USA Baseball, Andrew coordinates over 150 free Community Coaching Clinics and has recently launched a Regional Clinic program as well.
Andrew is a big believer in giving back and has incorporated that philosophy into his team cultures throughout the years. He subscribes to the theory that giving back to one’s community is not only humbling, but allows players to gain a greater world view as they grow as people.
Along the way, Andrew has been influenced by Coach John Stoltzenburg, who taught him how to be firm, but available, and Coach Rob Fournier of Wabash Valley College, who made a national powerhouse out of nothing and continues to raise the bar every single year. Tony Thomas who taught him to care about the person and not just the player. And Kevin Vest, who guided him throughout his career in navigating the baseball coaching landscape.
While a coach has to be a good listener, motivator, and learner, Andrew Bartman realizes that being an effective communicator is just as important. If sharing stories, skills, and journeys can help change the life of just one player or coach, then regardless of runs and records, it’s a win.
Head Baseball Coach
West Chester University
Like just about every kid out there, Jad Prachniak dreamed of going pro, playing in Game 7 of the World Series, maybe even winning a Cy Young. And like 95 percent (give or take depending on who’s doing the stats) of those kids, there comes a time when reality hits you in the glove and you realize it just ain’t gonna happen.
Some people spend a lifetime lamenting the what ifs and the coulda beens, and others, like Jad Prachniak, get out there and put their time and talents to good use.
Jad was a sophomore at University of Rhode Island when he realized there weren’t many MLB teams calling for an undersized right-hand pitcher throwing 83-86 mph with command issues. He began looking at the game through a different lens, taking in every facet of the field and absorbing as much as he could.
Jad spent his fifth year at URI student teaching and working as an undergrad assistant under Coach Frank Leoni. When Leoni accepted the Head Coach position at The College of William & Mary, he asked Jad to join him as the pitching coach. Knowing what a great opportunity it was for a 23 year old, Jad fully embraced the experience, spending the next six years listening and learning as much as he could.
As an assistant, Jad traveled a good amount, working camps, and attending conventions and clinics. While in each of those different coaching environments, he kept his ears open. And, because he listened, he developed as a coach AND regressed as a coach. He learned along the way that along with the great strategies and killer drills, there’s a plethora of good information out there. But, he also learned that coaching baseball is not a one-size-fit all. The best of the best wasn’t necessarily going to be the best fit for him or his team. When Jad took ownership of finding what was right for him and right for the team is when he took his biggest step forward as a coach.
In the summer of 2011, Jad was offered the head coaching job at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and he’s been there ever since. He started building a positive team culture immediately and knew instinctively that for every individual to be taken care of, he had to figure out exactly what they needed in order to thrive. He knows that players need to know that they are cared about, by the coach, and by each other. When he sees his guys taking care of each other away from the field, that’s when he knows the team is in a good place.
From day one he’s always asked his players to DO THE RIGHT THING, which means in the classroom, on the field, in the community, and everywhere else. He tells them, “Be at your best,” when dealing with adversity, and circumstances aren’t the best. And, “Be at your best,” when dealing with success, when it seems like everything’s going the right way.
When Jad was asked what he believes to be the most important quality of a coach, he took a line from the late sports psychologist, Ken Ravizza:
“What is the most important moment of your season? ….Answer: Right Now.”
While it’s important to learn from past experiences and to look ahead to see what the future may hold, the best way to get to where we want to be is to take care of the NOW.
For Jad Prachniak, NOW also includes his wife, Kelly, and daughter, Emilia, who as she toddles about, demands, “Ball, ball, ball!” They are his biggest fans, along with his parents and siblings who supported his baseball endeavors throughout his journey.
With the now that Jad Prachniak is living as a husband, a father, a coach, and a friend, it’s abundantly clear that his future is also going to be pretty darn bright.
Back before some of us were even born, Jack Hawkins was laying the foundation for the rest of our baseball lives.
Just a regular guy who loved the game, Jack came up with an idea. Why not build a base for coaches to come together and share their knowledge, skills, and friendship? Well, that idea became a reality and out of his vision, Be the Best You Are Coaches Clinic was born in 1972.
From the beginning, Jack was committed to making this annual event a clinic run by coaches FOR coaches. And, that’s exactly what he did for 43 years. He was a charismatic creator who, every year, put together unparalleled lineups of professional, college, and local coaches for a few days of instruction, interaction, and a whole lot of fun.
Be the Best has endured the test of time despite the ever-changing culture of youth sports.
Jack was a three-sport athlete at Princeton High School who went on to play quarterback for the West Chester University (PA) Golden Rams. After graduating, he took a job as a Physical Education teacher and remained a predominant figure in the Manasquan community for over 30 years. In 1968, Jack became head football coach at Manasquan High School where, in ten seasons at the helm, boasted six division titles, two undefeated seasons, won the NJSIAA CJ Group Two State Championship, and was a three-time Coach of the Year.
Jack also served as head baseball coach at Manasquan from 1968-1976. In those eight seasons, the team had a 100-35 record, won four division championships, one state championship, and two Monmouth County Tournament titles.
Jack was inducted into the Princeton High School Hall of Fame in 2008, the Manasquan High School Hall of Fame in 2009, the New Jersey Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991, and the New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012.
Jack Hawkins was a formidable presence both on the field and off. He was a coach, a character, a visionary, and a friend.
Because of him, Be the Best continues to thrive, making it the longest-running baseball and softball clinic in the country. The people you meet, the lessons you learn, and the skills you share each year in Cherry Hill are the direct result of one man who had the courage, the commitment, and the chutzpah to make it all happen.
John “Jack” Albert Hawkins
August 21, 1941 – October 26, 2019
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
MiLB Player Development
So often in life, we get an idea that pops into our mind and just keeps on brewing. We think about it, dream about it, but it doesn’t really take hold until we get outside affirmation. When we do, that’s when we go for it, full-force, never letting go until we get where we were meant to be.
For JT Maguire, the coaching seed was planted his junior year of college. While picking the brain of his assistant baseball coach, JT was told he had the drive and characteristics that are essential for success as a coach. Those casual conversations were what shifted JT’s focus and propelled him toward a coaching career.
JT’s coaching journey began at The Park School of Baltimore, a private high school in Maryland. Two years and one state championship later, he took an assistant coaching position at his alma mater, North Harford High School, about 30 miles up the road. From there, he landed at Harford Community College, working on the side as a personal trainer to make ends meet.
JT left HCC for a volunteer assistant job at Wofford College, a Division I school in Spartanburg, SC. He stayed at Wofford for two years, then followed Wofford’s pitching coach to Lander University in Greenwood, SC. JT became the recruiting coordinator and worked there another two years until he was hired by the Cleveland Indians.
Along the way, JT admits he’s had his share of coaching disasters, mostly stemming from making adjustments based on what he thought he knew, rather than figuring out the why behind what was happening. Baseball is a game of constant learning and listening and watching, and assimilating qualities of those you most admire.
Todd Interdonato is one of those coaches JT most admires. While working under him at Wofford College, JT realized Todd was the kind of person he most wanted to emulate. The kind of coach who doesn’t have one single thing that stands out as the “it” factor, but rather a million little things that make him someone everyone wants to be around. The kind of coach who builds a team every player wants to be part of.
The Cleveland Indians’ team culture, from the big leagues all the way down through the minors, falls under the acronym, G.R.I.T., which stands Growth Mindset, Routines, Individual Plans, and Team First Approach. Its “we’re all in this together” culture generates a positive player-coach relationship better than any other JT has seen.
But, as far as specific coach qualities, JT believes there is nothing more important than trust. If a player doesn’t trust you, you’ll never form a true bond. When a coach is in the game for himself, players smell it immediately and are turned off. When a player knows that you are in it for them, and their career, that trust builds a strong and lasting relationship.
When those relationships go beyond the diamond, that’s when JT knows he’s made a significant impact on a player. A text announcing the birth of a baby, a player getting drafted or promoted to the next level, a request or a reference letter, or a call from a former player just wanting to catch up.
That’s when JT Maguire knows he’s done his job.
Head Baseball Coach
Cookeville High School
For most nine year-olds, Little League means cracking jokes in the dugout, eating hot dogs at the concession stand, and dreaming of becoming the next Cody Bellinger. But, Butch Chaffin had a different game plan. He was so fascinated by his coaches, their practice plans, and their game strategies that as a nine year-old Little Leaguer, he knew, unequivocally, that one day he’d grow up to be a baseball coach.
And, that he did.
Currently, Butch Chaffin is Head Baseball Coach at Cookeville High School in Cookeville, TN. He is entering his 32ndyear in baseball which includes a four-year stint as a Division I assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, three years as a Special Assignment Scout for the Kansas City Royals, and 13 years with USA Baseball.
In his 25 years of high school coaching, Butch boasts 13 District titles, 6 Region title and one State Championship appearance. He has led 19 All-State and five High School All-Americans and coached 126 players who went on to play college baseball.
Maybe it has something to do with the team culture Butch has created. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing with kids and parents sometimes pushing back, derailing the headway he’s made in building a solid, stable culture. And, while he freely acknowledges that it’s a work in progress and takes forever to get it going in the right direction, once it’s there, it’s there.
Butch believes in challenging his team every day. In treating boys like men. In pushing to the breaking point, and then going beyond. In giving his kids an experience they will remember forever. In creating a culture based on trust, honesty, and love.
Though he’ll never forget the post-game dog pile when his team made it to the Tennessee State Tournament for the first time, or winning a Gold Medal in Taiwan, perhaps his most rewarding moment was when a player asked him to be best man at his wedding.
It’s not always easy being a coach. But, when the game plan works, it works.
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
United States Air Force Academy
The guy C.J. Gillman most respects is his boss, Mike Kazlausky. The dude who’s been the biggest influence in life is his dad. And the best part of his journey has been getting to coach his little brother, Tommy.
Sometimes, the important people in our lives motivate us. Sometimes, they mentor us. Sometimes they change us. And, sometimes they do all three.
If we take even the quickest of looks at these MVPs, we get a pretty good idea of who C.J. has become as a coach and a man.
Mike Kazlausky, who was a walk-on to the Air Force Falcons’ baseball team back in 1988, ended up as a four-year starter who graduated with eight career records. With a couple of assistant coaching stints back at his alma mater between active service and deployments, he became full-time head coach of the Air Force Falcons baseball team in 2012. That’s following 20 years of service to our country.
Chuck Gillman, who served 40 years on the diamond, is a long-time Colorado high school baseball coach. He coached both of his sons at Columbine High School, winning the 5A title in 2006 when C.J. was a junior. When his younger son, Tommy, graduated in 2016, he retired as head coach to free himself up to watch Tommy play in college.
Tommy Gillman, with stints at Texas A&M and Midland College under his glove, decided it was time to fly higher. After he was accepted at the Air Force Academy, he found he had to start over academically and though a junior on the field was only a freshman in the classroom. But, all that basic training and hard work has been worth it, because he’s getting coached by his big brother.
And, of course, Papa Gillman couldn’t be happier. With his two sons together right up the road, he can continue to be a daily presence in the lives of the kids he coached from the time they could first hold a bat.
C.J. graduated from the University of Dayton in 2012 with a degree in Leadership. He lead the Flyers to their first conference tournament championship and NCAA Regional appearance in school history He is the season record holder in hits (91) and ranks among the top five for single season RBI, doubles and stolen bases.
After college, C.J. played two years of professional ball with stints in the Colorado Rockies minor league system and the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League before returning to Dayton to help coach for a year.
From there, he headed to the United States Air Force Academy where he is entering his sixth year as Assistant Baseball Coach. C.J. works with the catchers, base running, and running the offense as well as heading up the recruiting efforts.
C.J. Gillman’s coaching philosophy is Do Damage.
Head Coach Mike Kazlausky’s motto is Take Care of Your People.
And, that just about sums it all up.
Head Softball Coach,
Susquehanna Valley High School
16U and 18U Club Coach
25 years of coaching
What’s the best thing about being a coach?
The best thing about coaching for me is being able to coach with my husband! Since 1999, I have been so lucky to have had an amazing coach by my side, throughout it all! My husband, Ken, and I are co-head coaches on the club teams, and although I am technically the head coach of our high school team, Ken is way more than an assistant. He is an invaluable asset and as much a coach as I am. My successes are certainly his as well.
Who is your biggest motivator or influence?
My husband, Ken, has actually been my biggest motivator. He is a fantastic coach who relates to his players. He is knowledgeable, fair, caring, dedicated, and puts his heart and soul into coaching. He is everything I believe a coach should be.
Ralph and Karen Weekly hold a special place in my softball heart. As another husband and wife coaching duo, they are my idols and role models. Also, Carol Hutchins and Scott Whitlock are always so inspiring. We love to hear them speak and when we do, we learn so much and come away excited and motivated to start our season.
How did you get your start in coaching?
I knew I wanted to coach about five minutes after I got roped into my first coaching position back in 1989. I was “volunteered” to coach my son’s youth soccer team. And while I loved the coaching aspect, the sport was definitely not my passion. But, I kept going and went on to coach his t-ball and basketball teams.
I got my start in softball in 1993 when I coached my daughter’s 12U team. At the same time, I had gone back to college to get a degree in Physical Education. While I got my first high school coaching job later that year – it was in cheerleading. It wasn’t until 1999 when I finally landed a high school softball coaching position.
What do you see as your best coaching memory?
There are so many great moments in coaching. My high school highlights would include winning the NYSPHSAA Championship in 2007 and being named NYS Coach of the Year and then becoming Championship Runners Up in 2018, after losing the final game 2-1.
In club ball, we won tied the Triple Crown 18U East Coast Nationals in Myrtle Beach in 2015 with rain preventing a final game. And I’ll never forget in 2013, coming back from an 0-3 Saturday to win five games back-to-back with one pitcher on Sunday, to win the Tournament Championship.
But, it’s not the wins that make the memories. It’s the opportunity to coach some absolutely awesome young ladies who are not just dedicated and talented, but truly amazing people.
What was your biggest coaching disaster?
In our first year coaching a club team, we didn’t take into account the importance of team bonding and team play. We chose very talented individuals for the team, but they were just that – individuals. A team with that much talent should have been winning game after game, but we couldn’t get out of our own way. We had cliques and “mean girls” and sadly, some of the parents were just as bad as the girls.
The experience was so unpleasant that it was almost our first and last year of coaching travel ball. Fortunately, we sat down with a seasoned travel coach who gave us some great advice. We reassessed how we chose players (and parents!) the following year and it made a tremendous difference. Here we are, 16 years later, still loving it!
What is your coaching philosophy?
When our athletes leave, we want them to say their time with us was a positive, rewarding experience. We want them to not only grow and develop their skills as an athlete, but also as responsible, caring citizens and leaders. We want them to learn. To laugh. To love.
Our hope is that our athletes feel a love of the sport, as well as to feel our care and love for them as players and individuals.
How did you nail your team culture?
We learned long ago that team culture is important, but found it difficult to implement some of the things we do with our club team into our high school team. After tryouts, our club team has almost nine months together before we start playing tournaments, as opposed to high school where we have just a couple weeks to teach and practice together before three to five games a week are shoved into a three-month season.
The most significant change in our coaching culture came after listening to University of Michigan’s head coach, Carol Hutchins, a few years ago at Be the Best. Her speech on culture was so tremendous that it motivated me to take a hard look at our teams (particularly our high school team) and make significant changes to our routines and rituals.
We incorporated many of Coach Hutchins’ ideas, finding that even little things like adding motivational quotes to our calendars and hanging inspirational signs in our locker room and dugout helped reinforce the positive culture we wanted for our team.
We also learned that team bonding was essential to achieve our goals, so we made sure we took the time to prioritize it into our busy schedule. We had previously believed we couldn’t afford to give up precious time for team bonding with our high school team, but after listening to Coach Hutchins, we realized we couldn’t afford not to! We found it didn’t take all that much time and the rewards were invaluable.
How do you know when you’ve made an impact on a player?
The impact we have on players is most evident by the relationships we still have with them long after they’ve moved on. Last week we had dinner with a former player who was in town for the holidays, after which she sent this message:
Little did I know 9 years ago that you two would be the most inspiring people I’d ever meet. Thank you for showing me that hard work, a kind heart, and a LOT of laughs are the most important things in life! Can’t wait for the next time! Love you guys!
That’s how you know you’ve made a difference.
In keeping with the tradition that Be the Best is a convention created for coaches by coaches, we’ve asked for inspirations and stories from your contemporaries. Click here to share something about your coaching journey. Don’t worry about making it sound good — you coach the kids, we‘ll work the words.
Head Softball Coach, Wheat Ridge High School
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
14U and 18U Club Coach
11 years of coaching
What was your best worst moment in softball?
We were in an ASA 18U Gold Qualifier and had made our way to the semifinal game against a national powerhouse – Newtown Rock Gold. It was a real David vs Goliath match-up. But, we went into extra innings and held a three-run lead with Rock holding bats in the bottom of the inning. There was such electricity surrounding the game that other teams gathered around the field, many rooting for us to take down the Rock. So, there were a couple hundred people invested in this game, and probably the biggest atmosphere my third baseman had ever played in.
This third baseman had been lights-out all year, but proceeded to make three errors in a row, which set the table for a dinger later in the inning. These were routine lazy grounders but the hype and pressure of “The Moment” had clearly gotten to her.
Well, we lost the game.
Afterwards, I put my arm around her and said that we as a team had played the best we’d ever played and should be proud that we were able to hang with a club of that caliber. I said that yes, a win would have been great but better than a win was what she would take from the game into her future.
I was right. She not only grew as a player, but took her game to the next level and is enjoying a great career playing softball in college.
Have you had any memorable coaching disasters?
It was all over a call. A very clear call. Or at least I thought it was clear!
There we were in the quarterfinals of the 4A Colorado state playoffs against Air Academy. Their three-hole hitter, and a real stud, was up at the plate. I call a timeout. In the huddle, I stated that we were going to pitch to her, (this was 2016 so intentional walks still had to be pitched) but hoped that she’d chase three balls off the plate. Basically we’d throw outside and give her nothing to hit and then take our chances with bases loaded when the four-hole, who had only one hit on the day, came to bat.
So, I get back to the dugout and my pitching coach affirms what I had said: three balls off the plate. I say yes. She reiterates the call through signals to the catcher.
A couple seconds later, the ball was pitched and at contact you immediately know that 1) the ball was pitched inside and 2) it was going to leave the park as quickly as it was pitched.
Again, it was “The Moment.”
Aurora Sports Park is a great softball venue that can draw thousands of fans, which certainly has an effect on the players. My catcher, after receiving the game plan in the huddle, after getting the signal from the pitching coach, still gave the pitcher the inside pitch signal.
We ended up losing 7-5.
The catcher defended herself saying that I had called an inside pitch. The pitcher knew it was the wrong call but was afraid to call a timeout thinking that we had used all our conferences. If we had, and she called a timeout, then the rules state we’d have to take her out of the game.
So what did I learn from that?
First of all, though I know I was clear as day going over the game plan in that huddle, I realized that in the heat of the battle, in “The Moment,” it’s easy to mess up. I know I have to double and triple check to make sure that everyone is on the same page. And secondly, I make sure to let the team know they have a field timeout if they need it. I now have a card drawn up for that very moment and in practice, we discuss and teach “The Moment.” OFTEN.
When have you had a significant impact on a player?
Besides the aforementioned third baseman, Izzy, a player on my Varsity Wheat Ridge High School team comes to mind. She has started since she was a freshman, has three years of regional and state tournament experience and is a great leader on the field and in the locker room.
However, our 2017 season had a lot to do with that.
Our team two years ago was not very talented. We had a lot of seniors who were in the starting line-up but prior to that season had really just been role players in the program. Many of them were not competitive travel ball players and did not have the Wheat Ridge mindset, which was that of a championship team.
We barely made it to the state tournament that year and struggled all season on the field and with a lot of locker room turmoil.
Izzy and I had a conversation in which we talked about how the team itself controls the players’ identity and that they alone will determine our success. We discussed our team philosophy that was presented pre-season and how the choices one makes every day is a huge part of leadership.
We had a real lack of leadership on that team We had many small cogs of cliques, the bus was not cohesive, our competitive spirit was weak and many individuals were way more concerned about themselves and their senior year than the welfare of the team.
Going into the 2018 season, Izzy, as a rising junior, asked to speak with the coaching staff during summer workouts. She proposed that while she thought it was great how we derive a new philosophy every season to reflect each year’s team make-up, it might make sense to break the philosophy down into three parts to review and discuss as the team evolves.
This is where you realize all the experience in the world as a coach doesn’t trump a player’s input. You have to hear your players.
This past season we broke down our working philosophy into three parts. The team’s identity dictated how mid-season and post-season philosophies were orchestrated and it worked out well. The locker room lost its drama and our on-field team and coaching staff came together as a whole. Though we lost in the first round of the state playoffs in a slug fest, the kids will be coming back stronger – both mentally and physically – to make a run at a title for the 2019 season!
So what is your three-part philosophy?
Pre-season philosophy: We believe that the previous season dictates the basis of the philosophy. We look at what we did well. We look at our inconsistencies. We look at our mental game. And we preach identity, communication and TEAM.
Mid-season philosophy: We look at what we are doing well and where we need to improve. We review our mental game and again, our inconsistencies and their domino effect on the team.
Post-season philosophy: We summarize the season. How did we get here? What is our current identity? What have we done well? Everything has a POSITIVE spin to carry over to the next season.
What coaches have you learned from over the years?
Karen and Ralph Weekly! They put on a clinic at my club team’s indoor facility back in 2011 and I gained so much from their interaction. After the clinic, they stayed and we discussed the game. They were probably the biggest influence in how I run my defensive strategy as well as my short game and slapping strategy.
Coach Tommy Mann was my CYO football coach back in Springfield, Ohio at St. Teresa’s. This coach won games before the game even started with his precise and sharp warm-up. This laid my foundation and instilled in me the importance of everyday warm-ups and how to intimidate by warm-up on game day.
And last, but not least, Nick Saban. He has been a huge influence on me, not because he has won a multitude of championships, but because of how he communicates his philosophy to his program. He projects the best relatable teaching of leadership and choices I’ve ever heard.
It seems like a coach’s dream to take over a winning program. Is it?
I have taken over a few programs in my coaching career, but none as difficult as Wheat Ridge High School. The program won six state titles in the 2000’s with 20 straight appearances and in the Colorado State Tournament. The previous coach had won titles in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and was a runner up in 2015.
I took over the program in 2016.
A program’s inner philosophy, mentality and game strategy is very difficult to change in the first couple of years. Although very successful, the Wheat Ridge mentality that I inherited was that of an old school football coach. When you’re winning state championships, a lot of things can be overlooked. However, as a new coach, your first couple of years are a test. Not only from players, but the program community in general. Including parents.
Although we made it to the state tournament in both 2016 and 2017, I can’t say it was particularly enjoyable for me or my staff. This past 2018 season was the first year we felt like we were making an imprint of our own on the program.
So, is taking over a winning tradition easy? No.
It takes a few years for a coach to make a dent in a program with his or her coaching style, fundamentals, strategy and philosophy. Despite making it to the state tournament my first two years, it took until the 2018 season for me to feel successful and confident that my program was in place.
As we enter the 2019 season, I can finally say it’s completely our program and I couldn’t be more excited to see what’s in store for my players and staff.
In keeping with the tradition that Be the Best is a convention created for coaches by coaches, we’ve asked for inspirations and stories from your contemporaries. Click here to share something about your coaching journey. Don’t worry about making it sound good — you coach the kids, we‘ll work the words.