Profiles

Coaching & Business: A Conversation with Cindy Bristow

The 2018 BC Sport Leadership Conference will feature Softball Excellence founder and renowned coach, Cindy Bristow.
A past President of the National Softball Coaches Association and Director of Development for the International Softball Federation, Bristow, has also worked as a color analyst for ESPN’s college softball coverage, is a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame and worked with Olympic softball teams from the USA, Greece, and China.

“I’m looking forward to the conference… I think there is a lot we can learn from each other, and it’s always interesting to hear other perspectives on coaching,” said Bristow.

Recently, we caught up with Cindy to get some advice on coaching and a sneak peek at her presentation, “Coaching the Modern Day Athlete.”

Q: You’re speaking at the upcoming BC Sport Leadership Conference, what are you hoping the audience takes away from your presentation.

CB: The biggest thing I hope the audience takes away from my presentation is how to better understand and connect with the kids that are standing in front of them at practices and games. As coaches, we get older every year and that means we get further away from remembering what it’s like to be one of these kids.
But as a coach, our essence is to be able to relate to the kids we’re coaching. The more we relate to our kids, the more our kids will trust us as their coach. And once that happens, those kids will be willing to learn, try, apply and accomplish incredible things.
I hope my presentation helps peel back some of the layers and helps coaches see why kids act the way they act. Hopefully, that will lead to coaches being able to better connect with their players, which will lead to more enjoyment and success for both coaches and players.

Q: In your more than 30 years as a coach, how has coaching athletes changed?

CB: My first thought is I don’t think the athletes have changed much in 30 years, but rather, I think I’ve changed.
When I started, I was a 24-year-old college coach and it wasn’t hard relating to 19-year-old players because you can remember pretty clearly what it’s like to be 19. It’s our job as coaches to be able to relate to athletes and it’s on us to always be looking to find ways to relate, engage with the athletes we’re coaching, and remember what it’s like to be in their shoes.
The technology we use now is different than it was 30 years ago, but coaching is still about relating and communicating information with people. Now that I’m older then I was when I was a 24-year-old coach, I find coaching tougher because I’ve got to work harder to relate to younger athletes.

Q: How do you form a bond with your athletes and what piece of advice do you have for the coaches out there that are struggling to connect with their players?

CB: The coach/athlete bond happens differently with every player. Some kids, because of stuff that is happening in their life – maybe they have a mom who is sick, a dad who’s going through a tough time, or maybe every time they’ve allowed themselves to be vulnerable in the past, something bad has happened. Well those type of athletes are going to have a pretty hard shell to crack.
For example, the other day I was dealing with a pitcher who seemed really closed off after having a week off at home. Before going back home, she was starting to open up to me, but now after a week off, she was closed off again. I wondered why and found out that her mother has Parkinson’s, so, in her mind, she’s thinking, “My life really sucks,” and pitching is way down her list on what is important to her right now. Which it should be.
So for me to go, “Come on, you got to care more than that,” it’s not even close to the right approach. She does care more than what she’s putting in at practice, but that care is for her mother, which is where it should be. Pitching should be way down on her list of priorities.
With athletes that are closed off, you have to create an environment over time, where you prove on a constant basis that you’re helping them in a safe way, instead of judging them. It’s a time-consuming mission and not all coaches want to put in the time. Often, coaches resort to the easiest thing on our end, which is to encourage them and yell things like, “Come on, you got to try harder,” when in a lot of cases, for most of these kids, their “try” is already pretty high up the scale.
As coaches, we are the experts in the room, and we have to help athletes clearly see what is going on. So say to them, “Here are the areas which you did really well and here are the areas which we’re going to work on, adjust just a little bit and see how it goes.”

Q: What’s the biggest mistake you see coaches make?

CB: Freaking out on their players.
Some coaches seem to have this idea that their urgency becomes their player’s urgency. I hate to break it to them, but sorry, that’s not how coaching works. It takes time to get things right. Maybe they’ll get it right tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or maybe even on their next time.
Too many coaches seem to worry, if the athlete or team fails, do you know how that makes me as a coach look? What they need to realize is players and teams are often like, “Coach, how do you think this failure reflects on us and makes us look?”
The athletes aren’t there for the coach to achieve things, the coach is there for the athletes to achieve things.

Q: How have your experiences as a coach helped you with running your business, Softball Excellence? Are a lot of the skills the same?

CB: Everything I’ve learned over the years as a coach is my business, because our business is softball education and I’m an obsessive learner, who’s always looking to learn from others. I see Softball Excellence as the vessel for me to pass on what I’ve learned to others.
My business partner focuses on a lot of the business types of tasks, but I find a lot of the soft skills I’ve learned from coaching relate to business, such as, relating to people and communicating information.


The 4th annual BC Sport Leadership Conference is set for January 14, 2018, at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, 7551 Westminster Highway, Richmond, BC. Presenting at this year’s conference are Jennifer Botterill, Natalie Cook, Cindy Bristow, Terry Liskevych, and Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood.

To register for this year’s BC Sport Leadership Conference please visit our registration page and take advantage of our early bird pricing (in effect until November 30th, 2017).