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Getting to know Shelley Whitaker, Head Coach Concordia University in Portland, Oregon

05/08/2017, 6:00am PDT
By Tom Mauldin

Whitaker was named head coach at Concordia since December. She has more than 15 years of head coaching experience and 10 years of experience as an athletic administrator.

Whitaker made the full-time switch to the administrative side in 2015, accepting the position of associate athletic director at D3 Yeshiva University in New York, where she served in that role during the 2015-16 school year.

Previously, Whitaker served in both an administrative and head coaching capacity at D3 schools Whittier College in Whittier, Calif. and MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. At Whittier, Whitaker helped guide the Poets to a 20-win season in each year of her tenure (2009-14) and closed out her career with the highest winning percentage of any coach in the program. In addition, she took on the role of assistant athletic director, senior woman administrator and compliance coordinator.

Prior to Whittier, Whitaker was the head softball coach for five seasons and athletic director for two years at MacMurray. During her time with Highlanders, which spanned from 2005-2009, Whitaker had several different responsibilities with stints as the head women's golf and volleyball coach and also worked as the compliance officer, senior woman administrator, sports information director and the assistant athletic director for student development and recruiting

Whitaker also has experience from the high school and club level, most recently coaching with Nova Fusion Softball in Mountain View, Calif., and serving as the co-athletic director at Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood, Calif.

A 1996 graduate of University of Rio Grande in Rio Grande, Ohio, Whitaker earned a Masters of Education from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where she first began as an assistant softball coach in 1997 before becoming the head softball coach at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia.

Q&A With coach Whitaker.

 Q. What are your most successful practice drills (hitting, fielding, baserunning, pitching -- indoor or out)? Can you explain it and tell us what the benefit is?

A. To focus on game-like intensity and perfection of each facet of the game I like to incorporate 21 outs.  I place my starting defense in the field with all my other players assuming a batter/runner role.  The goal is to get 21 outs in under 15 minutes.  Any flaw from either the defense of runners, moves the out count back to zero.  If we do not reach our goal, we run one pole for each out we were short.  The drill really helps with focus, intensity and communication.

Q. What information do you want from potential recruits?

A. Of course talent level is at the top of the list of desirables, other qualities I look for in a recruit are hustle, where their attention is during a team huddle or after-game talk, on-field presence and academic and personal goals.  Information that is important to receive initially from a recruit is contact information, position(s), both high school and travel ball stats, intended college major and skills video clips.  I prefer skills videos as opposed to game clips as those are often too distant to pick up the mechanics or they only show the “good” hits, fielding, etc.  I want to see the mechanics of the skill and suggest to keep the video as short as possible while still including each of your skills.  Coaches spend A LOT of time recruiting and we don’t need to see the same swing 25 times.  45 seconds to a minute in length for positional players and 2 minutes for pitchers. 

 Q. How has the game - or players - changed since you became a coach?

A. I think the talent level of the players in the game today has elevated drastically in the 17 years I’ve been in college athletics.  I’ve been fortunate to coach throughout the United States - Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, New York, California, Oregon to name a few and it’s amazing how advanced the skills of the game have become.  The athletes are also fortunate the have access to many amenities, including position coaches, strength and conditioning workouts and travel ball tournaments that include talent from across the country.  I also think that today’s coaches do a great job promoting the sport itself.  The game seems to continuously become faster, which is a product of the quality of athletes playing the game today. 

 Q. What advice would you give a young player, say 13 or 14, who dreams of playing college softball?

A. Focus on the mechanics of the game, find confidence to compete daily and play with passion.  Softball is a game in which we fail more than we succeed so we continuously need to build confidence.  We need to have a short memory of both success and failure and not dwell on the past, but use both to compete in the next play.  Competing daily is an all-the-time thing, not only a game-day thing.  Challenge yourself to adopt that mentality and the passion will emerge naturally.

 Q. What is your most memorable softball/baseball experience (coaching or playing)?

A.  I’d say my most memorable experience was during my first head coaching job and taking a team that had only competed in fastpitch for 3 years, only won 2 games the season prior and that had a roster of 12 to a conference in year 2.  Recruiting is the lifeline of college coaching and the relationships you establish last a lifetime.

 Coming in a close 2nd was the year we played in the NFCA Leadoff Classic during my second or third season at LaGrange and faced the only head coach I had worked under and a top 5 NCAA D3 powerhouse and defeated them.  That loss they took was only one of two they endured all season as they went on the win the NCAA DIII College World Series. 

Q. If you weren't a softball coach, what would you be doing?

A.  I don’t know if there’s a specific profession that comes to mind, but a position that is challenging, allows me to empower others and that leaves its mark on our society.  If that wasn’t available, I wouldn’t be opposed to the beach bum life.

 Q. And, finally, what is it about softball you love?

A.  Softball is a game that combines bouts of high intensity moments with a lot of down time.  The challenge for coaches is finding the key to maintaining focus and balance.  Watching the success and confidence of my athletes as they grow is the ultimate reward.

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