How I Became a College Softball Coach, Written By Matt Lisle
I had always been a fan of softball. I loved the tempo & speed of the game. I hadn’t watched a ton of collegiate softball until the 2012 season. I ended up watching every single game of the regionals, super regionals and Women’s College World Series that was televised. By the end of the three-day battle between Kealani Ricketts of Oklahoma and Jackie Traina of Alabama, I was completely in love with the sport.
The Power of Email
The night of the final game of the Women’s College World Series I decided to try an experiment. I put together my resume and before I went to bed, I emailed it out to over 500 college baseball coaches and 500 college softball coaches letting them know my interest in returning to coaching collegiately.
When I had woken up in the morning, I had three emails from college baseball coaches with interest in having me join their staff. I had over 100 emails from college softball coaches. The responses were so overwhelming that I spent the next two days researching each program, each coach and making a spreadsheet of the Top 10 schools I was interested in. I figured this was God giving me a sign that maybe it was time to make a switch.
I spent the next few days doing phone interviews with coaches from all over the country as I tried to narrow down what would be the best fit for my family and myself especially if I was going to have to move them across the country again.
A One Man Wolfpack
I had narrowed it down to my Top 3 with the leading candidate being North Carolina State led by Head Coach Lisa Navas. She brought me out to campus to work a camp for a few days and interview me to see if I was a good fit for her. I loved the campus, the players I got to meet and I knew Coach Navas was a great fit for me. While I was there for a few days, I roomed with USA Men’s Fastpitch Hall-of-Famer Avon Meacham who currently coaches at University of South Florida. Avon and I became great friends in a short amount of time reminiscent of Summer Camp in Junior High.
On my second to last day of my trip to NC State, Coach Navas offered me a position and I told my wife it was a great fit and to start the packing. On the morning of my last day, while helping work camp with several of the Wolfpack players, I started to notice that within a five minute window many of them began sobbing in tears. I came to find out that Coach Navas had been let go that morning which also meant my tenure at NC State would last less than 24 hours. I spent the next few hours sharing somber moments helping Coach Navas clean out her office and sharing a final meal in Raleigh. I particularly remember taking extra care of carrying her ACC Coach of the Year glass plaque to her car.
The rest of that day, I remember feeling deep empathy for a woman that had started the program and you could tell had poured her heart and soul into her players. Coach Navas ended up giving me a big hug as she dropped me off at the airport apologizing that she wouldn’t be able to give me the opportunity to come work with her.
I remember flying home on the plane thinking, “OK God. What’s the plan here? I thought this was the place for us, I guess it’s back to the drawing board”.
The next day, I received an email from Oregon Head Coach Mike White asking if I was still interested in a position. (Almost a month after I had emailed him). I immediately emailed him back and asked him to use Avon Meacham as a reference. Avon had played several years with Coach White on the Men’s USA team. (crazy coincidence?) In what felt like a whirlwind 24 hour period, I ended up accepting a position with Pac-12 powerhouse and WCWS participant University of Oregon.
I’ll never forget getting an email from Coach Candrea at Arizona the next morning asking if I could throw BP and if I was still interested in a position there. Turning down Coach Candrea was one of the hardest and nearly surreal things I’ve ever done. I still can’t believe I wrote back saying that I wasn’t interested anymore.
A month later, my father and brother helped me drive the UHaul to Eugene, Oregon and wife and kids flew up a few days later, thus beginning my softball-coaching career.
The Softball Coaching Community
There were many coaches and friends who advised me when I started the process of transitioning from baseball to softball that if I went to coaching softball that it would be very difficult to go back to baseball if I wanted to. Many others couldn’t believe that I was even considering coaching softball and that they believed I would go back to coaching baseball after a short time.
In the now two years that I made the switch, I want to share with you why I have stayed with coaching softball and will continue to.
First, there isn’t a more welcoming and friendly community than the college softball coaching community. I feared that my lack of experience in fastpitch and my circle being so small to start that it would be a long difficult transition for me. It has been anything but. The NFCA has been an incredible organization that has help connect me with so many great coaches, mentors and friends. The friends that I have made in my short tenure in softball have been life changing. They are now some of my closest friends.
Over the course of the last NFCA Convention I became good friends with too many coaches to name including Dartmouth Head Coach Rachel Hanson. I mention her only because I now tease her that she is the female version of me. (I’m not sure if she’d take that as a compliment). There are too many coaches to name that have reached out to me, befriended me, advised me and cared for me since I’ve gotten started coaching softball that is overwhelming.
Secondly, and most importantly there are the players; the reason why we all call coach in the first place. I have been so blessed to work with some of the best players in my two years in this game. I have gotten total buy in from almost every one of the players I have gotten to work with and have loved the relationships I’ve been able to foster with them.
The Difference Between Boys & Girls
The question asked most by my baseball coaching friends is always, “What’s it like coaching girls? How much different is it?”
In my now almost 15 years of coaching experience, I can say that coaching boys vs. coaching girls is completely different. In my experience, boys have this innate posture of “I know it all already” which hinders buy in. It doesn’t completely prevent it but it does slow the process for many young men. You can still get buy in from boys, but whether they got it from a former coach, parent or TV personality they carry a lot of baggage with them when it comes to working on new concepts. In my experience with girls so far, they listen better and have a posture of learning and wanting to get better, more so than boys.
I have also seen much larger jumps in improvement with girls that I’ve worked with. This season we had three catchers that you wouldn’t even recognize from the beginning of fall to the end of the season. I truly believe that our 3rd string catcher was one of the best defensive catchers in the league after all the work she put in.
Sometimes I hear coaches so that they believe that boys are more competitive and want to win/succeed more than girls do. I don’t buy this. The players that I’ve had the privilege to coach over the last few seasons in softball want to win and work hard to get better just as much as any boy I’ve ever coached.
A myth that I want to debunk immediately is the myth that girls can’t handle complex ideas and strategies. As coaches we want to make things as simple as possible for our players and that’s good. But simple doesn’t mean easy or dumbing it down. I’ve come across many coaches that don’t want their girls to work on complex things because they don’t think they’re capable of doing it. This is false. Players will rise to the expectation given to them. Boy or Girl.
Softball has been Life Giving
The best answer that I can give to people that ask me about the switch from baseball to softball is really simple actually. Coaching softball has just been more life giving to me. The community of coaches and players that I’ve gotten to know encourage and inspire me every day with their attitude, their effort and most of all…their love. Everyday I wake up I’m excited and passionate about the day ahead of me and every day after a game and practice, I can’t wait for the next one to start.
The softball community has become family to me. I have been so grateful for the opportunities given to me in this game in such a short amount of time and the relationships I’ve built with the coaches I've gotten to work with and learn from and will continue to build. I can’t wait to see this game continue to grow and I can’t wait to grow with it.
Matt Lisle Matt is a coach, writer, clinician and scout that works with collegiate and professional baseball and softball players. He is currently at Division I coach at Santa Clara University and formerly worked with hitters & catchers at the University of Oregon (2013 Pac-12 Champions). He is also an Associate Scout for the Detroit Tigers. Keep up with Matt Lisle by visiting his site at CoachLisle.com. Like Coach Lisle on: Facebook and follow on Twitter.
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