Coaching Management, 11.7, October 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1107/qaworthington.htm
As the only Head Coach the Eastern Kentucky University softball team has ever had, Jane Worthington has built the Colonels into a regular contender for the Ohio Valley Conference crown. EKU has reached the conference title game each of the past three seasons, including 2002 when it beat Tennessee Tech to win the programís first league championship.
Worthington has posted a 305-280 record in her 11 years as head coach, including a 107-49 mark over the past three seasons. She was named the 2002 OVC Coach of the Year after leading the team to a 41-17 season and its first NCAA Division I tournament appearance.
Worthington came to Eastern Kentucky after spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) University. She is a 1983 graduate of Utah State University, where she was a starting outfielder for the 1981 AIAW National Championship team. In this interview, Worthington talks about the difficulties in building a new program, the importance of recruiting, and why she enjoys working at camps during the summer.
CM: What was the hardest part of building a program from scratch?
JW: The biggest challenge for me was the patience it took. I wanted to be great right away. But we started with just a couple of scholarships, so we did a lot of teaching and worked with good athletes who hadnít developed yet. As time went on, we got a little more funding, which improved the types of players that we could recruit. In my opinion this job is more about recruiting than it is about coaching.
What is your basic recruiting philosophy?
I want players who want to come here. I seek talented players, as everybody does, but when we bring them in for a visit, weíre as honest and open as we can be because I want them to be happy when they get here. We donít sugar-coat anything. If theyíre our number-one recruit, I tell them that, and if theyíre our number-five, then I tell them that.
Do you talk with your current players about the recruits and how they fit in?
I do get feedback from them and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes I wonít even have to ask. If a recruit comes in and sheís more interested in the night life than what the softball program and classes are like, my players will tell me.
Has the new recruiting calendar changed the process much?
I donít think that itís changed things a whole lot. Weíre still hitting the bigger tournaments where weíre going to see some of the top players in the country.
Iíve been coaching a while, so Iím not one of those coaches who has to go out every single weekend. There are always going to be some very good players who will be missed, but I donít think that is affected by whether itís a year-round process or if we get a month off like we do now.
How has recruiting changed since youíve been a coach?
The biggest change is that there are more college teams. Therefore, the competition for getting players to come to your school is tougher. I think that a lot of the bigger schools also have more money than they have had in the past, and I donít foresee that changing.
How do you compete with them?
We play to our strength, which is that we have a great team work ethic and good people. And I try to be a playerís coach. We make sure that the kids have a great experience and win. When someone visits and sees that, itís a huge statement in itself. Some kids donít want the biggest and the most. Some are looking for a place where they will fit in, and those are the kinds of kids that we recruit.
How do go about finding the right players?
By seeing as much as I can. I also ask my past players if they have seen anybody. We picked up one high school player a few years ago who didnít play summer ball, but I knew about her because a current player had played high school ball with her. Had this player played summer ball, the competition would have been much stiffer for me to get her.
You play a tough schedule against top teams. How do you keep your teamís confidence up when you play those teams?
We try to get players who arenít afraid of competition and arenít afraid of the big-name schools. Our players actually look forward to those games. They want to see how they stack up. Then we come back, work on some things, and try again. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnít. The best part is that weíre not intimidated by them.
Last year we lost some of those games by a few runs, but I donít think the team ever believed we couldnít win those games. We certainly donít think weíre better than the top 20 teams that are out there. But can we compete with them, and on a given day, can we beat them? I think so. I think a lot of teams can. Can we lose to a team that isnít traditionally as good as us? Yes, we can do that too. But I think you get more satisfaction out of competing with a good team and losing than you do from beating somebody that youíre supposed to beat.
How do you motivate your players?
Iím a firm believer that you have to coach to your personality. If I was out there screaming and yelling all the time, it wouldnít work for me because thatís just not me. My philosophy is you ask players to do something, and nine times out of 10 theyíre going to do it. If they donít, you talk about it, and then they do it.
Do you talk with other sport coaches at your school about coaching?
Absolutely. I have a great relationship with all of our coaches and our baseball coach especially. Even though the two games are very different, they are similar enough that you can have a lot to talk about. And as coaches in general, weíre all going through the same things. If I end up in a situation I havenít gone through before, thereís probably someone here who has.
For example, I used to take everything personally. I wanted every single one of our players to succeed and do the right things, and you know what? Thatís not always going to happen. So I talked to the other coaches and found out how they got through it.
Why do you host so many camps and clinics at EKU?
For a couple of reasons. First, I think itís really good for our players to work with the younger players. I think they learn as much as the kids who come in. Second, itís very good for the high school players and younger kids to come here and have a chance not only to learn techniques, but also to talk to our players and see what college is all about. Itís more than just teaching them the mechanics of softball. Itís getting kids excited about the potential of being a college player one day.
Kentucky has played fastpitch for only the past seven or eight years, and thatís pretty new compared to the rest of the country. So we want to share what we know and what we have with as many individuals as possible.
How do you help the players balance their studies with softball while on the road?
When Iím scheduling, I do my very best to make sure that theyíre not missing the same classes over and over again. Or weíll try to play a little later in the day at home so they can make it to as many classes as possible. We take laptops on the road so they can get their homework done. We try to stay at places where they can hook up to the Internet and e-mail homework back to their professors.
How do you develop leadership among your players?
You can elect captains, but that doesnít mean that theyíre going to be the leaders on the team. The best-case scenario is when somebody steps up. Then you take those individuals and work with them and encourage them to become better leaders. But I think that they already have to be leaders to start with.
What kinds of things do you do to help those people become better leaders?
Theyíll come in and say, ďWe have this situation. What do you think we need to do?Ē Iíll tell them my opinion or Iíll answer, ďI donít know. Why donít you guys figure it out? Go to the team and get back to me.Ē If theyíre willing to learn, I give them more to do.
What do you do to continue to educate yourself about coaching?
I go to conventions and attend clinics. Weíre always looking for new ideas or even ideas that have been out there for a while and are coming back. Iíve heard that the coaching school the NFCA and Sharon Drysdale put on [National Fastpitch Coaches College] is very good and thatís something Iím going to do as well.
What changes would you like to see in softball?
I would like to see more exposure. It would be great to turn on the TV and see softball on all the time. I think they did a wonderful job with the Womenís College World Series, and I think we can keep building on that. I think an appreciation for the game by more than just the purists is coming. More and more people than ever before are truly understanding the game of fastpitch.
I also think itís important to figure out a way to get better coaches at all levels. Not just college, but also in high schools and middle schools, where coaches donít always stay for very long. Itís hard to get good coaches year in and year out when you have high turnover.
At the college level, I think that the gap between the top and bottom is closing. When I first started here, there were teams we played that we could pretty much count on beating, and those kind of teams arenít out there anymore. Now you really canít overlook anyone. I would like to see that gap close even more.
To see a previous Coaching Management article about the National Fastpitch Coaches College, go to our Web site at www.athleticsearch.com and type ďNFCA ClassesĒ in the search window.