UW Health Sports Medicine 

The turnaround

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In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the inspiration of a turnaround and shares inspiring stories of success. 

The Turnaround: It's what everyone is looking for in sports. How to go from good to great. How to change the culture of a program. How do you create a winning environment and establish a legacy when there are no All-Americans to set the tone, when there is no College World Series experience on the field. If you don't have the player of the year, pitcher of the year, newcomer of the year or coach of the year on your staff, how do you win conference, especially if it's for the first time in program history? 

We all love the turnaround, because it speak to our hearts. Deep down we all want to believe that anything is possible. We want sports to prove that regardless of who you are, where you're from, what your history is, or how things have always been, we all have a shot at greatness. We all have a chance to achieve in life, to overcome adversity, to change the course of history, create a new, successful path where we thrive instead of falter, where we flourish for years of prosperity, instead of repeating the same mistakes our parents and predecessors got trapped in.

I have three stories of turnaround that I've seen, experienced and lived. When you hear stories of turnaround, when you read about them, retell them and soak them in, they change your life. That pessimism that things don't change, those crippling subconscious doubts don't seem so logical anymore. There's a fundamental shift in your beliefs, in your outlook, and in your heart. Suddenly when you see the turnaround, and when you live it at your university, in your teams, and with your kids, you see eyes, hearts, and minds open up to the reality that anything is possible. Life doesn't have to be the same. History doesn't have to repeat itself, and the vicious cycle of loss, failure and negativity can be broken.

We're not there yet with our softball team at Wisconsin. We've shown moments of brightness, and glimpses of success, but we're far from arrived. My gratification at this moment comes from being on the path. The hearts and minds of our athletes, coaches and families are in the right place. The optimism and energy right now outweigh the lack of legacy, and struggles of the past. For me, that's progress and success. Being on the path, training, believing, setting the trajectory and moving in the right direction is a step towards greatness. No matter how small the step is, on a long and arduous journey, at least we're on that yellow brick road, and headed somewhere with a skip in our step.

I'll share those three stories of turnaround with you, and books and readings that supplement those messages. The first turnaround I witness is the most powerful one in my life. I've grown to appreciate it more with age, and after having kids of my own. The book I'd like to recommend is "Inside Out Coaching", by Joe Ehrmann. If you want to be great at what you do, you have to dig deep, understand yourself. "Inside Out Coaching" asks every coach four tough questions: Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way you do? What does it feel like to be coached by you? What's your definition of success? 

We have a bible study at UW and we're reading "Inside out Coaching". To answer the questions, "why do you coach", and "wdo you coach the way you do", the FCA bible study challenges coaches to understand themselves and their upbringing. Every person parents and coaches the way they were parented or coached, unless they make a conscious decision to change. This is a tough fact to swallow, especially if there are hurtful things in our past when our parents or coaches failed us. 

When I look at my past, I can't help but be amazed by my mom. Her grandparents were all born in Italy and Poland, and didn't speak English. Her parents, Grandma Helen and Grandpa Joe, worked in factories on the Southside of Chicago, and didn't have much more than an eighth grade education. The turnaround for our family, came when my mom chose to be the first one to go to college. She earned a four year RN degree, and eventually her master's degree in nursing, all while raising two girls, supporting our family and battling through a divorce. Her grit, selflessness and character are amazing. She changed the trajectory of our family and our lives. She sacrificed to send my sister and me to a Catholic high school, and always stressed the importance of faith, family, education and hard-work. 

I have a high level of respect and appreciation for anyone who overcomes tough odd in their lives, and accomplishes things that have never been done. The trailblazers are the most inspirational traveler. Anyone can walk through a door that's already been opened, and follow a crowd down a path that many have walked. It takes someone special to forge a new path, and go places that have never been seen.

I witnessed turnaround number two as a student-athlete at DePaul University in Chicago. While getting recruited by the Blue Demons, the team made its first two NCAA softball appearances, and was knocked out without a win in both. Our class wanted to make history at DePaul, we went on to earn two sweet sixteen appearances before advancing to the Women's College World series for the first time in program history in 1999, finishing tied for third in the country.  

This was a life-changing moment for our team, the student-athletes and families, and the program for years to come. Despite being a cold weather school in a small conference, over the past 15 years, DePaul has advanced to Women's College World Series four times. Clearly history has been changed and a winning legacy has been forged in that program. When I read books like, "How Children Succeed" by Paul Tough, it's no wonder that the education system in the US is making drastic curriculum changes to stop focusing so much on facts, figures and concentrated skills, but rather develop grit, character, and the ability to persevere through adversity to help children succeed in school, their careers and life. 

The final turnaround that I've witnessed has taken place here at Wisconsin. I'd like to say that I'm talking about our softball program, but we certainly aren't there yet. Yet one of the biggest reasons my family and I chose to leave Chicago and take a chance on a struggling Big Ten softball team, was the story of coach Alvarez's 1994 Rose Bowl Championship team. After 10 years without a Bowl appearance, new football coach Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin football and the entire athletics department around with a Big Ten championship, a trip to the Rose Bowl and a momentous win over UCLA. 

This was a seminal moment in the success of UW athletics. The 1994 team's ability to win the Rose Bowl filled the stands here at Camp Randall, and started the push, excitement and influx of money that allowed for all of the amazing facilities, gear, budgets, and staff that we enjoy today. The success that Badger football, and the entire Wisconsin athletics department has had over the past twenty years can be traced back to this 1994 Rose Bowl team that over-achieved, made history, and put Wisconsin on the map. Beginning in 1994, Wisconsin has advanced to six Rose Bowl games. That's an amazing winning legacy, created and sustained right in front of our eyes.
One of the former players from the 1994 Rose Bowl team talks about why that team was so special. "I think of the type of guys that made up the lead¬ership of that team and just the character of the team," Saleh said. "I don't think everyone was highly touted coming out of high school.  Everyone had to earn it; nothing was really given anyone. We just had a group of guys who really liked football and, in general, we were good people; we had a good work ethic."

Coach Alvarez's book, "Don't Flinch" talks a lot about the turnaround for Wisconsin football, and the rise of a powerful and successful athletics department with a family atmosphere. 

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