After 600 wins, coach still wants to learn more
With more than 600 wins, three self-authored books and almost 20 years of coaching, MSU head coach Jacquie Joseph still gets as giddy about game day as when she was playing softball at Central Michigan.
“There’s just such a rush about matching up against another coach and another pitcher and another team,” Joseph said. “You know, just putting your kids out against theirs and the strategy involved — there’s a rush to game day that I’ve never been able to duplicate.”
And in her 15th season coaching the MSU softball team, Joseph is constantly learning about the game, which she attributes to her extensive career.
“You get better as you learn, (and) you have to be willing to learn and grow,” she said. “A heart surgeon, the first day, is not the same surgeon he was 10 years later. There’s a commitment to learning and growing, which I enjoy. ? I do feel bad for some of those early teams because I certainly made a lot of mistakes in those early years.”
Central Michigan head softball coach Margo Jonker coached Joseph in her time as a Chippewa in the mid-‘80s, and they even played against each other when Joseph coached at Bowling Green.
“I’ve seen Jacquie grow tremendously,” Jonker said. “I’ll always remember she’d say to her teammates, ‘Even if you don’t feel like playing, you’re playing for the team, so you have to play.’ I bet she takes the same role today as a coach. As a player she was certainly there for me.”
But during her senior year of college, Joseph injured her arm and was unable to practice much. Instead, she stood behind batters in batting practice and visualized herself hitting, which helped her focus mentally.
“She had the technique down from previous years and the mental part,” Jonker said. “But the first time she was allowed to hit in the spring, she had an approximate .400 batting average without any physical practice going into it. She had the knowledge of how to play and knew what it felt like, she knew how to make the mental adjustment.”
Freshman shortstop Bianca Mejia said Joseph’s approach to making those mental adjustments shows in the team’s success this season.
“The game doesn’t know who wins,” Mejia said. “You’ve got to play your hardest. That’s what she helped me figure out. She also made me realize that I’m pretty strong and how to use that strength instead of overpower everything — nice and steady.”
There’s a strategy to Joseph’s coaching success that she’s carefully condensed into a three-step plan:
“The very first thing you do is hire staff,” Joseph said.
“If you hire the wrong staff or you hire disloyal staff, it takes years to recover. If you do that early in your career, some coaches never get over that. Those people are charged with disseminating your philosophy and vital pieces of the program because you can’t do it by yourself.”
Once the staff is hired, then it’s time to recruit the talent. As soon as the players are acquired, scheduling games during the season is very important to Joseph, who considers it an art.
“If you do it wrong, you can really screw up your whole year,” she said. “Getting it right is important. You have to schedule with a certain purpose in mind. You have to know your team and your competition ? and you have to be mindful of implications while you’re managing your team’s confidence.”
When the Spartans are on hiatus for the season, Joseph also travels around the country speaking to fellow coaches about her passion for softball. She shares her techniques by mouth and through the written word, which hasn’t always been easy.
“Speaking is a big part of what I do in the off-season,” she said.
“Giving back to the game has always been an important piece to my career. One of the ways I can give back was to help other coaches learn and grow in the game.”
Joseph’s books “Coaching Youth Softball”, “Defensive Softball Drills” and “The Softball Coaching Bible” — which was a collaborative effort involving both Joseph and Jonker among other coaches -are featured on Joseph’s personal Web site and Amazon.com.
“When I did (my) first book, it was a pretty frightening prospect for me because that’s not an area I thought I was good,” Joseph said. “It was a stretch (but) I like to stretch myself professionally.”
Joseph and her team head to Mount Pleasant Wednesday to face Central Michigan.