Buying in and playing hard


ON WISCONSIN <b>Football coach Bret Bielema was one of several coaches that spoke to the Wisconsin softball team before the start of the 2011 season.</b>
ON WISCONSIN
Football coach Bret Bielema was one of several coaches that spoke to the Wisconsin softball team before the start of the 2011 season.
ON WISCONSIN

Feb. 18, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas -- At her first team meeting last fall, UW softball coach Yvette Healy wanted to frame her message to the players with a subliminal message. So she chose DJ Khaled’s “All I do is win, win win no matter what” as a backdrop to expressing her vision for the direction of the program.

“We played the music for them and talked to them about the coaching staff and our experience,” said Healy, who guided Loyola (Ill.) University to a top-four finish in the Horizon League in each of the past four seasons. “Establishing winning ways was a big thing (in her message).”

For her early chalk talks, Healy wanted to make sure the players heard other perspectives, too. So she called on UW women’s soccer coach Paula Wilkins, who has successfully changed the culture here. Wrestling coach Barry Davis and football coach Bret Bielema also volunteered their insight.

“Bret was great,” Healy said. “He talked a lot about doing the right thing, being good people and working hard. I thought it was a great message. Football is your leadership team.”

What’s the value in mixing voices? “When you’ve got some of the best coaches in the country,” Healy said, “taking the time to share what it takes to build a championship program, it’s not just us saying it to them (her players), it’s them. You can’t get that kind of collaboration at other places.”    

Mike Lucas
MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Insider
mlucas@uwbadgers.com

While accenting the positive, Healy has taken a realistic approach to building her program.

“I know it’s going to be a process here, so there are many steps along the way,” she said, “You’ve got to decide what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it. When you have a new coaching staff and haven’t recruited any of these players, how do you get them excited?

“We’ve really tried to tell them, “We know what we’re talking about – here’s who we are, where we’re from and what we’ve done.’ We want them to embrace the fact that teams that haven’t been good historically can become good and do every day. It’s just a matter of getting them to believe in it.”

When Healy interviewed for the UW job, she knew “it was a big business” at a Big Ten school and she wasn’t sure if “I would get that family feel” within the department in relationship to where her sport ranks in the pecking order with the high profile revenue-makers. She was pleasantly surprised.

Especially after visiting with UW athletic director Barry Alvarez. “He really sold the whole program to me,” she said. “Wisconsin is a phenomenal school. I knew that. This is big-time athletics. I knew that. But I didn’t get the heart and soul – the quality of the people – until I interviewed with him.”

Assembling a quality staff was a priority for Healy. That led her to Randy Schneider, who had been the head coach at Valparaiso for the past seven years; and Tracie Adix, who helped pitch DePaul to the 2007 Women’s College World Series. Adix had been a pitching coach at South Dakota State.

“Hiring the staff I hired was the first message,” Healy said.

A message grounded in this fundamental truth: it’s not who you are but how you use what you’ve got. To this end, Healy was a two-All-American at DePaul – a second baseman who still holds the school record for steals. She played on a team that won 54 games and played in the World Series.

Will the Badgers reflect her personality, then and now?

“We’ll be an aggressive team,” she promised.

That attitude made her a natural in marketing. Prior to committing to the coaching profession, Healy worked in sports marketing for youth programs with the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox.

“There’s a lot of cross-over,” she said. “Managing people is a big thing – getting your message out, communicating and really being clear. When you work for big organizations like the Bulls and the White Sox, you realize you have a lot of assets and you have to tap into all of your resources.”

That’s what she has tried to do at Wisconsin by enlisting the help of others.

Like Wilkins and Davis and Bielema.

“Let’s have those coaches come and talk to our kids,” Healy said. “We’ve got beautiful facilities here, so let’s make sure we’re visiting them with recruits. The school has so much to offer, we’re not going to be in a softball bubble. Instead, we need to connect to these coaches and resources.”

Healy plans on reaching out to softball coaches and enthusiasts in the community, and state. “I’m a Midwest girl,” said Healy, a native of New Lenox, Ill., “who has gotten to play and coach in a Top 25 program (DePaul) in the cold weather, so I know it can be done.”

But she’s realistic.

Alvarez sold blue sky.

And that’s what Healy is selling.

“The first couple of years we want to get over the .500 hump,” she said. “Then you look to make your mark by being at the top of the Big Ten. Then you look at become a Top 25 program. But you can’t go from Z to A. You have to build it. Year One is about buying in, and playing hard.”

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