Q&A with Softball Head Coach Laura Watten

Feb. 7, 2006

Q: How would you describe your coaching style?

I am definitely a player's coach. I have an open door policy and I involve the entire coaching staff in my decisions. It's a "team" atmosphere from top to bottom - everyone in the program is crucial to our success and everyone's job is important. I am a big believer in taking responsibility for yourself and I try to teach that to my players. If we all work together, and use our strengths and opportunity areas the best way we know how, we're able to succeed.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for you this season?

Being a new coach and taking over an established team. There will be a learning curve to know the teams' strengths and key opportunity areas in game situations. I know that there are a lot of tools to work with in the program. We're working to get in peak physical condition and get some good playing time on our field so we can fully prepare for game situations. The team is excited and we plan to funnel that excitement into quality practices and games.

Q: How do the assistant coaches, Alissa Smith and Meghan Cornett, fit with your coaching strategy?

Alissa has been with me for 6 years, and is a tremendous asset to this program. She is a great recruiter and is extremely committed to the players on and off the field. She is also a very hard worker and is tireless when it comes to practice, scouting, and recruiting. She'll do anything to make a program successful.

Meghan is new to our system, but I feel will be a great complement to our player development. She has a great knowledge base and was a standout player in the SEC.

I've always believed that, in order to grow as a coach, you must hire a staff that challenges you and one that will push you to become better in all facets of the game. I feel that both Alissa and Meghan have more knowledge and experience than I do in some areas and I learn from them on a daily basis. We all work very well together. We have a good understanding and commitment to where we want to take this program.

Q: What has the team been focusing on in the off-season?

We have been focusing on fundamentals, getting to know each other as a group and working on strength and conditioning.

The team has been extremely committed and receptive to the new staff. We've challenged them in many different areas, they've risen to the challenge, and they've come out with excellent attitudes through it all. I know this is a big transition for them. They are very excited about the upcoming season ... the new tournaments we'll be playing in ... They're ready for the level of competition they're going to be facing.

Q: What are your goals for the team in 2006?

When it comes to goal setting, I'll help oversee the process and help each person formulate goals for themselves and as a team. We will all sign the goals to demonstrate our commitment to achieving them.

Q: Given the choice, would you rather have an All-American pitcher, or All-American fielder? Why?

Every coach in the country wants an All-American pitcher. However, I've coached an All-American shortstop at Bethune-Cookman College, and she was a very key player for us on offense and defense as well. I think that an All-American player, in whatever position they play, is an incredible asset to have.

The key is, to have BOTH (an All-American Pitcher and an All-American fielder) or at least more than one All-American caliber player on a team in order to have as many strengths and threats in the lineup as possible.

Q: What are the primary challenges between coaching a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school and an ACC school?

Well, for starters, just finding my way around the campus! Honestly, I have been so excited about the support and enthusiasm within the department. It's really aided in the process of adjusting to the size of the school and the resources available to us as a program. We were the top team in the MEAC for six years and we competed strongly against the ACC teams. So, the biggest challenge, I feel, is going to be climbing the ladder in the ACC and being patient with the process of building the program.

Q: What's your assessment of the competition in the ACC?

The ACC gets stronger and stronger every year. There is a commitment within the conference among the schools to compete and strive to be the strongest conference in the country. Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Florida State will certainly be tough again, as well as North Carolina and NC State. Virginia will be a force too - they have a new coaching staff as well. Boston College will definitely put some pressure on the top tier of the conference.

Q: This year's schedule includes three new invitational tournaments for the team, seven new opponents, including games against the national champions (Michigan) and two other top five teams (Stanford and Arizona). What was your strategy in developing the schedule?

I'm a strong believer in the idea of playing better programs makes us better. We are focused on building, growing and achieving at a higher level of college softball, and, in order to do that, we must play the best in order to beat the best.

I feel it's also important to expose the University of Maryland Softball program to all areas of the country. When it comes to post-season bids for the Regional tournament, there's a strong level of emphasis placed on who you've played during the season as it applies to strength of schedule. The ACC garnered four at-large bids to regional play in 2005. With the schedule we've developed, we have the opportunity to be one of those possible bids in 2006. I coached a winning program at Bethune-Cookman College and I plan to coach a winning program at Maryland.

Q: What was the most appealing factor that brought you to Maryland?

The opportunity to diversify and create a team - a program - in an incredibly supportive atmosphere. I was so impressed with the enthusiasm and level of excitement within the athletic department. There are so many opportunities and resources for student-athletes at Maryland. I felt the environment fit my goals in coaching. The support from the other coaches is incredible. Everyone wants to help make the team a success.

Q: How did you set yourself apart from other candidates interviewed?

Honestly, I didn't even think about the other candidates. I was purely focused on putting my best foot forward and showing the search committee that I was serious about developing the University of Maryland Softball program into one of the top programs in the ACC and the country. When the position at Maryland came about, I knew it was for me and I knew that I was the one for the position. So, really, I set myself apart by my attitude to succeed which is something that I hope to instill in my team.

Q: How will you distinguish yourself at Maryland?

I have a strong will to succeed and to be the best and I sincerely want to push this program to the top. I'm honored to have such great coaches as colleagues and I hope to learn and apply their knowledge and experience as champions to my program. I want to fill my office and the Comcast Center trophy cases with ACC Championship trophies, along with Regional championships and whatever else may come after that.

I also want to ensure a 100% graduation rate and a strong grade point average. I operate on "if it's good in the classroom, it's good on the field." I want my players to place as much emphasis in the classroom as they do on the field.

Q: Talk about your favorite aspect of coaching: Recruiting? Teaching? Pre-game strategy? On-field strategy?

My favorite aspect of coaching is developing and teaching the players on and off the field. It's great to watch them grow from young girls into responsible adults during the most important years of their life. As coaches, we wear so many different hats, we have to be prepared because it's hard to know what "hat" you'll need at a given time. It can be a challenge at times, definitely. When I push the right buttons, and the players succeed, it's extremely rewarding because I know that they've grown and learned something in the process.

Q: Who was the most important influence in your coaching career?

My mom. She's my hero. She recently retired from teaching kindergarten after 32 years. I've been highly influenced by her commitment to her students, her generosity, and her unconditional love for her students. She had an amazing impact on the kids she taught, and her colleagues who often leaned on her for direction and support. She is purely dedicated to doing what is best for the students.

Her actions spoke volumes to me as I faced challenges in taking over new programs and the daily issues of coaching and teaching. I call her all the time for advice and direction ... she can always relate to my challenges.

She faced the challenge of kidney transplant surgery last May, two weeks before Cookman received the bid to Regional play. She wasn't able to make it to the tournament, but she and my dad traveled to Austin to see us in the Super Regional the following weekend. My mom has been so incredibly strong and positive through this journey, and has been a champ in the recovery process. She is the person I strive to be more like each day.

Both of my parents are my biggest fans, and I am so fortunate to have them in my life. Everyone will know of them by season's end, and they have been the key to my success as a coach. I owe them both so much and am so lucky to have such great influences.

Q: How is the transition from Florida to living in Maryland going?

It's actually going very well. I live in Annapolis, so I am by the water. I brought my boat up from Florida, so I'm ready to get out on the water with my labradors when the weather is warm enough. I've always wanted to live where there was a true change of seasons. I love seafood and have already had my share of blue crabs and oysters.

I like having access to so much in the metro-area. City life wasn't so much of an adjustment since I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, which means that I am a 100% Dallas Cowboy Fan. So the biggest challenge that I've faced is seeing the Redskins logo just about everywhere I go.

Q: If you weren't coaching, what would you be doing?

I'd either be working at a Dolphin Sanctuary or a Rescue in the Florida Keys or on a fishing boat in Key West. I love the Keys and I spend a lot of time there in the summer. It'd be great to be able to get out on the water every day. I might have to take a few nights to coach a softball team of some sort, but I would definitely be focused on enjoying life.

Q: If you could meet one person and have lunch with them, who would it be?

Rosa Parks. It would be great to know, in detail, what was going through her heart, mind and soul that day that she stood up for herself and so many others by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Her action demonstrated so many amazing aspects of courage, determination, spirit, love, pride and strength that inspired so many people of all races.

Bethune-Cookman College was a great experience. I was blessed with the opportunity to experience the diversity, community and passion at an HBCU. I have an extreme appreciation for the heroes within the African American community. Rosa Parks opened so many doors for so many people of all colors by the one decision she made on that day.