I started playing softball at a later age when I was in 5th grade. I played off and on for about 5 years and battled my way back from a number of injuries. I began to really want to pursue softball more seriously. I was lucky enough to have great coaches during my career who pushed me to be the best that I can be. With the hard work and coaching support, I received an offer to play at the University of Redlands. But unfortunately, the injuries got the best of me and I decided to hang up my cleats. The realization that I wasn’t going to be playing anymore was really tough, but transitioning from playing to coaching was easier than I thought and took some of the disappointment away.
Making the transition from player to coach was easy because I was young enough to make strong connections with the girls and old enough to be able to share my knowledge of the game. In the summer of 2018, I was offered the head coaching position for a first-year 14U USA Athletics team. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would do a good job because I lack coaching experience, but I knew it was going to be a good fit for me because of my passion for the game and for coaching.
The team is now a year old, and I have learned so much already. Coaching has taught me the importance of patience when working with a team in order to build them toward success. Mistakes in high-stakes situations can be devastating for players and can significantly impact how they feel about their abilities and future careers. As a coach, I’ve learned that I need to possess patience with my team as we manage expectations and real outcomes of games. I also learned that meeting them at their ability levels plays an important role in being able to know where they need improvement, whether it be hitting or fielding mechanics. This approach requires an immense amount of time, practice, and most importantly patience. It is through being patient that I am able to help a player realize her unique potential and guide her in a way that strengthens the team.
It has also taught me how critical motivation is for the success of the players. I make sure that my players know how valuable they are to the team. I do this by talking to each player about their skills and how they contribute to the team’s spirit. I also try to remind them not to be afraid to make mistakes because that’s how we as humans learn from them. I try to remind them that how we come back from our mistakes is what’s important. It’s what makes a player mentally tough.
I know who is motivated by a more “tough-love” approach to meet their goals versus those who need a gentler approach. Even in the more disappointing moments, I remind my players of the hard work they poured into themselves. I wholeheartedly praise them for giving their best, no matter the outcome. Coaching has shown me the importance of creating a motivating environment in order for players to persevere in achieving their goals.
In my opinion, what makes a good coach is someone who takes the time to know their players on and off the field. If you don’t know your players, you won’t know how to coach them. He or she isn’t afraid to ask questions or get an outside perspective to not only better themselves but for the benefit of the team. A good coach doesn’t yell AT his or her players. Yes, he or she may yell under certain circumstances, but the best coaches are able to pull their players aside and be able to communicate something complex and make it simple enough for the player to be able to understand it and apply it right away. A good coach pushes his or her players to the limit but also supports them along the way. Because softball is such a mental sport, believing in your players is a crucial aspect of coaching. If your players don’t know that you care or support them, they won’t want to play for you.
I want to be the coach that a player wants to play for. I want my players to know that I care and support them. I know I have my work cut out for me. But I’m here for the ride. I’m up for the challenge.
Linda Park is a former collegiate athlete who now coaches for USA Athletics. When she isn’t coaching her team she loves doing hitting and fielding lessons through “Swings and Things” for the community.