As a young coach, I spent a lot of time reading about people who I thought were great examples of the kind of coach I hoped to become. Now we all know that we coach as we were coached, which sets us on a path. How long we decide to stay on that path is up to each of us.
Several of the books I read were about legendary coach John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame. One of Wooden’s key points was that he considered himself a teacher, not a coach, and that basketball was his classroom. While I thought that coaching was “teaching” the game I never really thought of myself as a teacher.
Then I went to a National Softball Clinics coaching clinic in Chicago that was organized by Hall of Famer, Mary Nutter. There was a great lineup of college coaches there to speak on a variety of topics. They covered everything from bunting to throwing to pitching to team defense. It was a whirlwind of softball knowledge.
During one of the breaks when the speakers were available for some Q and A, I had the opportunity to speak with Sharon Drysdale, who was the coach at Northwestern and another Hall-of-Famer.
I was scared to death as I approached Coach Drysdale because I was sure my rudimentary questions were going to be so stupid that she would have a hard time answering me with a straight face. Little did I know that Coach Drysdale must have been a believer in Coach Wooden’s idea that she was a teacher and softball was her classroom.
She spent a good 45 minutes talking with me about coaching and what she felt I needed to focus on as a young coach. She stressed fundamentals, She stressed organization and she stressed becoming a student of the sport. She shared with me that she was still learning and when she spoke at a clinic she sat in on every topic because she knew she could learn something from those speakers as well.
Then she hit me with the question of all questions?
What teaching style did I plan on using when I taught my players how to play? I must have looked pretty dumbfounded because she only let me twist for a couple of seconds. Then she shared with me something that all coaches should understand, that almost all teachers do.
She believed in the whole – part – whole method. You teach the whole skill first, then you break it down into the smaller components of the skill. After the smaller skills are mastered then you bring the student back to the whole skill.
Now there are other methods of teaching, she said, but she felt this was the best because without an idea of where you want the player to go, they will get disheartened by the demands of learning all the parts. Sort of like working on a jig saw puzzle, if you didn’t know what the picture was going to look like you wouldn’t be able to solve the puzzle. You would give up because the task would be too difficult without knowing what the picture was going to be when you finished.
So, John Wooden was right, coaching is teaching. Thank God I met another great coach who wanted to teach a young, dumb coach about the game she loved so much. She set me on a path for success that I may never have stumbled on myself. Thanks Coach Drysdale!
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.