More Than Just X’s and O’s, the Journey of William Crittenden

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By: Adam Whit, @FOSAdam

Wally Crittenden, Head Women's Soccer Coach at Stephen F. Austin

Front Office Sports is honored to have sat down with Wally Crittenden, Head Coach of the storied women’s soccer program at Stephen F. Austin. Wally was kind enough to have offered his time and insight into the world of coaching, why having flexibility is key for newcomers and the importance of mentors in coaching.

You have had numerous coaching stops throughout your career with the latest one landing you at Stephen F. Austin. What has that journey been like for you?

“It has been exciting to say the least. Playing at FIU during my collegiate years was a fantastic experience and it was a blessing that during my upperclassman years I was able to get into high level coaching as well. As a player, I was really fortunate to work with some fantastic coaches, and there is no doubt that the coaching expertise I was surrounded by when I was there has really helped define my current coaching philosophy.”

“The biggest piece of advice I have for coaches coming up is to really take in everything and have an open mind; just know that you may disagree with something now that you won’t disagree with later as you evolve.”

“I was lucky enough to go back to Houston and start the women’s program at Pasadena Memorial High School. One of the most valuable experiences that I have had was going and getting my teaching certificate and really diving into teaching methodology, curriculum preparation, and results assessment. No doubt, I was able to take what I learned inside the classroom and transfer it to the pitch.”

“After I was done at Pasadena, I took my first full-time college coaching position at the University of Oklahoma; then, after two years I moved on to the University of Nebraska for three and a half years. While I was at Nebraska, I was able to get my Master’s in Higher Education Administration and at that time I began to think of problem solving from an administrative point of view. This ultimately led to the formation of the Nebraska Sports Institute.

“The idea was to build a sports institute that was housed inside an athletic department, not within an academic department like nearly all other programs currently are. There was a group of four of us who worked on this and it was such an exciting time for brainstorming and idea generation. Although I wasn’t there for the finished product, it became known as the Ultimate Athlete Lab and is currently housed within Memorial Stadium. A special highlight to culminate my efforts of this project was receiving the 2012 Young Alumni Award for this initiative.”

“The goal of the Athletic Research Module is to positively impact athletic departments’ bottom line by providing them with ways to have an online portal for coaching education, fundraising, event management and constituent growth. With the realized revenues from the virtual portal, a department would then be able to invest in, and create, a brick and mortar institute to further their performance initiatives. I was lucky enough to take what I had done at Nebraska and translate it to Stephen F. Austin in the form of the recently launched, Lumberjack Sports Institute.”

“The front end, as described above, is about revenue creation and constituent engagement. The back end of the institute is very in depth, as it gives an athletic department a platform to showcase, and govern, athletic research that occurs on campus that is utilizing any of an athletic departments’ 3 primary assets in their student-athletes, facilities, or coach’s expertise to help add credibility to that study. We want to facilitate collaboration within academic research while at the same time protect our athletes and our brand. The guys at Modern Sports Group, of which I am a consultant, are great and are growing this “patent-pending” product everyday. I am really excited about the direction this is headed and all the athletic departments it has the potential to help.”

Can you speak about how important it is as a coach or even just a younger professional to be flexible during the years right after college?

“I think it is very important for any professional to not only be open to change, but to be committed to it as well. You also have to be committed to working with great people and taking into consideration their ideas and opinions. One of the first things I have done in each of the departments I have been fortunate to work in is to visit with various leaders, of all ages and experience, to see what they think are strengths and weaknesses of our department. When I perform this activity with my teams, I refer to it as a Peak Performance Inventory to clearly articulate what works and what doesn’t and how it impacts the Peak Performance of our players. It is a great exercise for any team or department to execute.”

A common thought among athletes is that although being a student athlete is great in college it is a setback in terms of professional development. Can you touch on why being a student athlete is more powerful than some may think and how to use being a student athlete to your advantage?

“Being a student-athlete develops character and professionalism in an environment unlike any other within higher education. Student-athletes willingly present themselves to be evaluated and measured everyday at training and every week in their games by their coaching staffs and their fellow students. Student-athletes are goal driven and appreciate the importance of performing their tasks well. Very few part-time jobs offer the opportunities to learn discipline and develop commitment to a set goal over several years in a high pressure setting, while at the same time, teaching a young person how to handle direct feedback from supervisors like they will have in the working world.”

“What I would love for our student-athletes, and their peers, to recognize is that the outcome of their games, win or lose, does not define who they are and their character. Being a Champion has less to do with the ring on their finger and everything to do with the intensity of their pursuit of a desired outcome. Being a Champion in anything is about the character, mentality and commitment that it takes to prepare and to pursue your goals with a champions-like focus.”

“When you have learned, and embraced, this mentality in the true core of your character, you will practice habits that will give you the best possible chance for success no matter where your career, or life, takes you.”

Mentors are a huge part of coaching success. Can you speak about how mentors have helped you?

“Who I have worked for previously is one of the most important aspects of who I am today. Having mentors is all about growth and maturity. I am not the same person today that I was five, or ten, years ago. I hope to continue that evolution and be a different manager, because of experience, in the years to come. When we start off in this profession we are young and energetic and ready to take on anything head on. And, while those are fantastic qualities, they also need to be grown and developed and tempered with qualities like perspective and consistency. Mentors have been, and continue to be, an invaluable resource in that regard for me.”

What drives you to the excellence you have created and what keeps you going on a day-to-day basis?

“Where I am at now, it is less about what drives me…. What I really enjoy is pushing our student athletes and helping facilitate them reaching their next peak. If it were just about me, that eventually would wane. What is nice in this profession is that we have a new team every year and new people that we are recruiting to impact future teams. That is something that always gets me excited.”

Has social media made your job as a recruiter easier or harder?

“It hasn’t made it necessarily easier or harder, just different. At the end of the day it is still about relationships. I can put out all the social media stuff I want, but at the end of the day the people we are recruiting are going to connect those posts and updates with the relationships we have created. If there is no relationship, then the social media does not resonate with those that follow it. Relationships overcome most parts of the recruiting process. Social media supports those relationships, but it shouldn’t replace it.”

Parting wisdom?

“It is important that all people involved in the collegiate athletic process understand that everything that goes into the collegiate athletic experience should be focused around preparing the student-athletes and the habits and skills that they need to develop while competing in this 4 or 5 year window. If developed properly within this limited time, these skills and habits will help them define a character and mentality that will give them the best possible platform for future success in all of their endeavors.”

We would like to thank Wally for his time and insight! We wish him and his team the best of luck over the course of the rest of the season!

You can follow him on Twitter here!