CAROL HUTCHINS ADDS SPARK to DYNAMIC LINE-UP of Speakers at Be The Best

CAROL HUTCHINS ADDS SPARK to DYNAMIC LINE-UP of Speakers at Be The Best

Wilmington, NCBe The Best is excited to announce the addition of Carol “Hutch” Hutchins, to the speaker line-up at their annual baseball and softball coaches convention, held in Wilmington, NC from January 13-15, 2023.

Hutchins served 38 seasons at the helm of the University of Michigan softball team, solidifying the school’s spot as one of the top programs in the country. She retired this past August as the winningest coach in NCAA softball history with a career record of 1,707-55-5 (.755). She also holds the distinction of being the winningest coach – male or female – in Michigan’s history. She was the first collegiate coach to reach 1,500 wins in 2017 and two years later, the first to 1,600.

“We are so honored that Hutch chose to share her expertise and insights with us at Be The Best,” says Diego Ibarra, co-founder of Be The Best and Alphas Alliance. “I guarantee that every person who hears her speak will pick up something that will help them in life as well as in the game. Hutch is the best of the best.”

As head softball coach at the University of Michigan, Hutch led the team to the NCAA Women’s College World Series 12 times. In 2005, Michigan became the first program east of the Mississippi River to claim the NCAA Championship when they defeated UCLA. As a coach, Hutch boasts 22 Big Ten regular season titles, 10 Big Ten Tournament championships and qualified for the NCAA Tournament 29 times.

With Hutch at the helm, Michigan received 69 All-American citations (23 being first-team), while 14 earned Academic All-American honors. Also granted under her tutelage were 20 Big Ten Player of the Year awards, 16 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year awards, 13 Big Ten Freshman of the Year awards, 202 Academic All-Big Ten awards, 212 All-Big Ten citations, and 154 All-Midwest or All-Great Lakes Region certificates.

However, Hutchins confesses that her “greatest joy and the ultimate reward has not been measured by wins and championships. Success is measured by the many, many people who fill your life.”

Former players have gone on to excel at the international and professional levels, medaling in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, WBSC World Championship, World Cup of Softball, Japan Cup, U.S. Pan American Games, Junior Pan American Games, Junior World Championship, Canada Cup, International Cup, and World University Games.

Inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006, Hutchins earned 18 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year honors, eight NFCA Regional Coach of the Year awards, and two NFCA National Coach of the Year honors. In 2016, she was named the inaugural recipient of espnW’s Pat Summitt Coaching Award, presented to the coach who “exemplifies the character and courage” of the late University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach.

A strong advocate for gender equality in sports, Hutch is a recipient of the Nell Jackson Award, considered the highest honor the Michigan State Varsity “S” Club can give a female alumna for professional accomplishments and community service. She was inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2021, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Greater Lansing Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.

“There’s so much more to softball than teaching skills,” Hutchins says. “Developing strong women who can go out into the world and make a difference is even more important than winning championships.”

On October 10, it was announced that Hutchins would receive a WeCOACH Lifetime Achievement Award. This prestigious award is presented to women in sports who succeed at the highest levels in their respective careers, while also displaying an unwavering commitment, pioneering spirit, and trailblazing leadership to empower and pave the way for girls and women in all sports and levels to break through for many generations to come.

Hutch is no stranger to Be The Best. She has shared her inspirations at the convention many times over the years and recognizes the value of the interactive format that allows connections to be created and relationships solidified.

Be The Best, now owned and operated by Alphas Alliance,  traditionally attracts about 1,500 attendees who come together each year to interact with former professional and Olympic athletes, college coaches, and other baseball and softball professionals who share their experience and expertise. Speaker topics include everything from how to build a championship program and making sense of the mental game to pitching mechanics and defense skills.

For sponsorship opportunities, tickets, and general information on the convention and speakers, please email info@bethebest.com

A Coach’s Journey: Laura Horstkamp

A Coach’s Journey: Laura Horstkamp

Laura Horstkamp
 Independent Trainer,
Softball

Sometimes the best way forward is backwards. 

Laura Horstkamp started her coaching career at the college level. From there, she moved on to high school. Then to travel ball. And now, it’s private lessons and guest instruction. Which, self-admittedly, is all kinda backwards.

Laura, who started playing softball when she was ten years old, lucked into coaching. She wasn’t looking for a job. She was simply playing in a slowpitch game against the head coach of a local D3 college. That coach liked what she saw and asked Laura to join her staff. The next 13 years wrote themselves.

A good coach, Laura believes, goes above and beyond the basic teaching of skills. You have to be able to lead, inspire and develop your athletes. You have to cultivate a culture of strong women by fostering an environment of constant learning and trust. And, it’s your responsibility as a coach to make sure your players have the right mindset, constantly striving to improve and progress. Because progress, no matter how small, is still progress. 

Laura loves coaching. She loves teaching. She loves inspiring. And she loves seeing the results. Sure, she’s had her share of somewhat unmemorable moments. Like the game in which her team gave up something like 20 runs. 

But, her truest victories and greatest gifts come from seeing first-hand the impact she’s had on the players she has coached. One of her former students is now giving lessons herself and continually acknowledges the influence Laura has had on her coaching career. She has learned from Laura how to customize training and practice drills to each individual’s style of learning and the importance of meeting kids where they are. 

And that makes the coach in Laura proud. 

Laura Horstkamp has no children of her own. But hundreds have benefitted from knowing her, both as a coach and a person. When you get a Snapchat on Mother’s Day, from someone who’s not your kid saying how much you mean to them, you know you’ve made it.

Even if you kinda did it backwards.


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.

A Coach’s Journey: John Kidwell

A Coach’s Journey: John Kidwell

John Kidwell
Head Softball Coach
Archbishop Ryan High School
Philadelphia

As a coach, we all take chances. We move our slumping clean-up hitter to seventh and she knocks it out of the park. We switch our short stop to second and she turns an incredible double play. We trust a player to steal home and we win the game. We take chances that make our players shine, propel us to victories and make us, as coaches, look good.

Or, we take a chance in the semifinals, by starting a freshman pitcher over the sophomore who beat the same team during the regular season. And, we lose the game, remembering it as one of our all-time coaching disasters.

2014 PCL Champions

But, coaching has incredible highs. Like winning the Catholic League Championship in 2014 for the first time since 1995, in the same season that we lost a long-time, beloved coach. What a tremendous feeling it was to win that title, not just for the team, but for the coach we lost. And, the pride of knowing that winning four out of five league championships has just as much to do with chemistry and ego-checking than talent.

Growing up I had two younger sisters who played softball. I spent a lot of time watching them play and figuring out the game. By the time I got to college, I knew for sure I wanted to be a coach.

I landed the head junior varsity coaching position at Archbishop Ryan in 1992. In 1997, I was promoted to varsity as an assistant coach and in 2014 was named softball’s head coach after Andy Hafele passed away.

Patches worn during the 2014 season in remembrance of Andy Hafele

Andy and I coached together for 22 years. He was not only my mentor, but a huge influence on the coach I’ve become. He taught me how to run a program and how to establish a winning culture. Andy’s presence on the field is felt to this day and I can’t help but feel he is a big reason for our recent success.

I think about Andy when I consider the impact I have on my players and work hard on building the same respect and trust that he did. Our players are only with us for four years, but the physical and emotional transformations we witness from freshman to senior year is absolutely awesome. By the time they graduate from Archbishop Ryan and head off to college, they are ready for the world. It gives me great joy to know that I, through the game of softball, was able to help shape these players into the incredible young women they’ve become.

Andy Hafele Memorial Softball Field, Archbishop Ryan High School, Philadelphia, PA


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.

Why do coaches coach?

Why do coaches coach?

Coaches coach for many different reasons. Some want to give back. To the game, to the community, to the people who helped them along the way. Others are motivated by the thrill of competition, the emotion of the game and the camaraderie of the team. And some want to propel their players to the next level, watch them succeed and have a positive impact on their lives.

But the bottom line is, coaches coach because it’s fun.

And that’s why Be the Best adds FUN to the line-up.

Ask anyone who’s ever been to the convention. It’s not about listening to lectures from top college and professional coaches. It’s not about one-sided dialogues and technical presentations. What makes Be the Best so great is the natural interaction, the candid discussions and the back-and-forth sharing of skills, ideas and stories.

You may find yourself exchanging emails with one of the most celebrated coaches in college softball, drinking a beer with an MLB coach or chatting over coffee with a professional player. Be the Best speakers remember when they, too, were making their way in the baseball and softball worlds and genuinely want to do what they can to enhance your personal journey.

Don’t miss the ball on this one. We promise that Be the Best is more than instructive. More than informative. It’s down-right fun!

Registration is open NOW!

Baseball Coaches’ Convention
Thursday, January 10 – Saturday, January 12
Make your hotel reservations NOW!

Softball Coaches’ Convention
Thursday, January 17 – Saturday, January 19
Make your hotel reservations NOW! 

Recruiting Myths and Truths by Kate Stake, as appeared in NFCA Top Recruit Magazine

Recruiting Myths and Truths by Kate Stake, as appeared in NFCA Top Recruit Magazine

MYTHS

IF YOU DON’T PLAY DIVISION I, YOU HAVEN’T REALLY REACHED YOUR GOAL

No.  Stop.

I am a Division I softball coach.  It doesn’t mean I’m a better coach than my colleagues in Division II.  It doesn’t mean that my wins and losses are more relevant than theirs, or that I’m higher on my climb up the ladder than them.  Division II isn’t the JV version of Division I.  It doesn’t work that way.  And you haven’t come up short on your goal if you play ball at a school that competes in something other than NCAA Division I.  Really.  No matter where you play, you join a team that spends all year sweating and grinding together.  Laughing together.  Picking each other up and pushing each other further.  Becoming a family.  And when you win a championship and dogpile on home plate with that family…it doesn’t matter what Division you are.  Winning is winning, and family is family, no matter what the Division.

 

IF YOU HAVEN’T COMMITTED BY JUNIOR YEAR, YOU’RE OUT OF LUCK

No.

Even the biggest Division I softball programs may have money available into your junior or senior year.  As y’all are well-aware, players are committing at younger and younger ages.  So, yes, it feels like you’re way behind when you see kids not yet in high school committed to a college.  But those early commitments have created a trickle-down effect that make uncommitted juniors and seniors more desirable:  There are plenty of kids who commit early and whose priorities change as they grow up, and the result is they decommit later into their high school career, leaving a hole in that particular college’s recruiting class, and opening up new opportunities for uncommitted athletes.

But on top of that, even without decommitments, many schools at all divisions still have money for juniors.  We recognize the importance of watching someone grow in maturity, skill and strength before offering them a spot on our team.  So if you’re currently a 2020 and you haven’t committed yet…take a deep breath.  There are many opportunities still out there.

IF YOU DON’T THROW 60 MPH, YOU CANNOT PITCH AT THE DIVISION I LEVEL

No.

We face plenty of successful pitchers throughout our season that do not throw 60 MPH.  Some pitching coaches or programs may want their pitchers to throw over a certain velocity.  If that velocity is 60 MPH and you don’t throw that hard…well, then that’s not the program for you.  But there are many Division I softball programs who have pitchers throwing under 60 MPH and finding a good deal of success.  You don’t have to throw 60 MPH to play Division I softball.

YOU’RE TOO SMALL TO PLAY DIVISION I

No.

Have you heard of the University of Alabama?  You may have seen them at the World Series.  A few years ago they had an incredible third baseman named Kelley Montalvo who I’m not sure topped out at five feet tall.  And that was at one of the best softball programs in the country!  At the mid-major level, we see a lot of undersized players doing oversized things on the field.  Some programs may want their players to be a certain size.  If that size is bigger than you…well, then that’s not the program for you.  But there are many Division I softball programs who have players considered small.  You can be small in stature and play Division I softball.

TRUTHS

WE HAVE STOP WATCHES & RADAR GUNS

Be honest about your pop time, your home-to-first time, and your pitching velocity.  We have stopwatches and we have radar guns, and we pull them out all the time to make sure we have an accurate read on your abilities.

EXAGGERATING YOUR POP TIME IS DIFFERENT THAN EXAGGERATING YOUR GPA

Speaking of honesty; we get a lot of emails with inaccurate pop times or home to first times.  I’m not a fan of that, but I understand it.  If ever you threw a 1.68 even though you typically throw about a 1.8, I understand you putting down your best ever time.  And when we come see you play, like I said above, we’ll get our own read on that.

However, you cannot exaggerate your GPA.  You cannot put your most recent semester’s GPA on your profile sheet and misrepresent it as your cumulative GPA.  We need your real, cumulative GPA.  This information is imperative for us to assess your ability to get into the school and, once here, to be successful academically.  If you have a 2.8, you can’t round up; it doesn’t work that way.

COLLEGE COACHES TALK TO OTHER COLLEGE COACHES

We share information about you guys with each other.  This happens a lot.  If, for instance, a colleague of mine is looking for a 2020 catcher and I’m not, I’ll share info with them on players I know who might fit the bill.  If we are at the same tournament, I’ll text that coach if I see a good catcher on the field I’m watching.  I’ll send video.  I might even ask the team’s recruiting coordinator about them.  Yes, we are rivals on the field and we don’t share all the secrets to our trade…but college coaches are also a cooperative group.  Recruiting is expansive and not only are we good at helping each other, but when one of you makes a great impression on us but we just don’t have the spot, we’re also good at trying to help you by passing your name along to each other.

SKILL & CHARACTER

I’ll take character over skill every day.  I was given a really good piece of advice about recruiting “questionable” players that I will share with you.  I was told that if I found an incredible athlete with questionable character, I could do one of two things:  If I passed on them, they’d go to a rival school and might help beat my team once or twice a year.  But if I brought them on with that questionable character, then that person could beat us every day for four years.  Our culture is the backbone of our decision-making process, and because of that we care just as much about how you treat your teammates as how hard you can hit a ball.

With that said, here are some things we do to evaluate your character.  We watch you in the dugout.  We watch to see how you head out to your position.  We watch to see how you react to your own successes and failures, and those of your teammates.  We hear your conversations with teammates while we walk behind you heading to our next field.  We see what you post on Twitter and what you retweet.  We pay attention to how you interact with your coaches and your parents, because we’ll be spending four years with you.  We have a program to grow.  We have 18-20 players who are counting on us to bring in people who fit into our family and who contribute positively both on and off the field.  And we take that responsibility seriously.

So there you have it.  A couple myths and a couple truths about the recruiting process.  The best advice I can give is to be honest with yourself about your abilities and about what constitutes a fit for you as it pertains to your softball & academic careers and to your overall well-being.  And, lastly, I encourage you to focus on the pleasure of playing ball.  I can’t imagine the pressure you must feel in the recruiting landscape today, and I hope that you don’t let the college coaches behind the fences eclipse the joy of the competition and camaraderie you have between the lines.  Best of luck!

 

This article written by Valparaiso University’s Head Softball Coach, Kate Stake was previously published in Top Recruit Magazine. 

Kate Stake has been Head Softball Coach at Valparaiso University since 2014. She led the team to the Horizon League Championship as well as a to a berth in the NCAA Tournament in her second year at the helm. Prior to arriving at Valpo, Stake spent two seasons on the coaching staff working under NFCA Hall of Fame head coach Bill Edwards, three seasons as assistant coach at the United States Military Academy and three years at Eastern Illinois. Stake earned a bachelor’s degree in English Education from Illinois State and a master’s in kinesiology and sports studies from Eastern Illinois.