Kristi Stefanoni ‘The UMass Minutewomen’ Extended Question & Answer
By Mim Haigh, Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments
For our recent article “Accountability Key to Championship Form”, our interview with Coach Kristi Stefanoni resulted in the below Q&A. For those left wanting more, here is the full transcript. Enjoy!
The Minutewomen have finished no lower than third in the A-10 standings over the past three seasons and last year your team won the regular-season title. In your 13 seasons on the UMass staff, the Minutewomen have won six Atlantic 10 Championships and advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times. What do you credit your continued success to?
“Personal Accountability is the foundation of all success. This is from the top down – the same holds true for the coaching staff, support staff and all of the athletes. It is about a group of individuals understanding their roles and simply doing their job well. It is about the personal accountability to get better each and every day – continue to grow as a person, athlete and softball player – it is about players and coaches asking themselves “How can I be my best today?” If each person grows and does their job to the highest level collectively as a group we get stronger and we will be able to maintain sustained excellence throughout.”
2018 will be your sixth-year as Head Coach of the Softball Program at UMass and your 17th overall with the Minutewomen as a student-athlete and member of the coaching team. What distinguishes a Minutewoman from any other collegiate softball player?
“The Minutewoman are true to their roots – ready and prepared to fight at a minute’s notice. They hold themselves in readiness for instant service. UMass is made up of blue-collar workers who are able and willing to do whatever it takes to individually get better and to always be better for their teammates to strive each and every day for excellence.”
You just earned a contract extension taking you through till 2021 as Head Coach of the Division I UMass Softball program. What gets you excited / what do you look forward to most about your role as the Head Coach at UMass Amherst?
“Getting the contract extension shows support of me and my program as to the development and the progression of the program. The contract extension shows me that the Athletic Department support the direction of the program and feels that I am the right person to continue to lead it to where we all want it to go. It allows me to invest all of my energy and emotions into the team, recruiting, and the program development and not take any energy away from the student-athletes. It also allows the student-athletes to focus on their own growth and development both individually and as a team instead of taking energy to wonder if their coach is going to be here or not.”
As a student-athlete and a coach you have contested NCAA championship matches and finals. Is there anything different about these matches? Do you prepare your teams differently for these matches?
“I think there is a different level of difficulty, different levels of stress for players and coaches as you keep moving forward in the tournament. The stakes are a little higher simply because there is no tomorrow and all teams are so good that one miscue can be the difference, but it is still only a softball game that has been played over and over again – goal is to not make the game bigger than it is and focus on the execution of skills and strategies of the game. It is about keeping the emotions in check. Channeling the emotions and excitement of playing in a tournament game into positive thoughts and self-talk as opposed to letting those feelings slip over to the side of fear and failure. As a coach it is about assuring the players that they are prepared and have prepared the entire year each time they stepped on the field. This is what we have all been preparing for and competing for all season.”
You made an incredibly successful transition from NCAA Championship winning student-athlete to become an integral part of the UMass Minutewomen coaching team. What were the challenges transitioning from a successful playing career to a coaching career and how did you overcome them?
“The toughest part was going from being their teammate to now their coach. Two totally different roles in many different ways. It was hard at first going through that transition, my best and closest friends were still on the team and now we had to create some boundaries and we had only a short summer to do that. All of them were absolutely amazing during the process and my head coach was a great leader for me at that time.”
What has been the top 3 things that have helped you succeed in your coaching?
“Understanding people, including myself – coaching is about relationships and managing relationships and if you stay true to these roots success will follow. To honestly take assessment of myself being willing to identify strengths and weaknesses – as I do with my Student-Athletes – and be willing to take measures to improve weaknesses and continue to build on my strengths. Surrounding myself with a staff and support system that will strengthen the areas I am weak at and support my strengths while helping to keep me grounded and with a sense of reality.”
What feedback do you receive from your current or former student-athletes about the best thing about being part of your program?
“I believe the best feedback I get is in just stepping back and looking at how successful the women I have coached have become in their lives after softball. They are wonderful people, leaders in life and respected in all that they do. The demands and the expectations of the program prepared them each and every day for the reality of life off the softball field.”
What is most miss-understood about coaching and/or coaching softball?
“That your job only consists of coaching on game days. People do not realize that you become the leader of a family of young ladies who you are molding for real life experiences outside of the world of softball. These individuals come from all different walks of life and have all different personalities that constantly have to be monitored for the softball family to reach its highest level of excellence. As a coach you are also a parent, good cop, bad cop, counselor, and friend and it is about celebrating the growth and development of individuals and team but seizing the teachable moments that may come out of the difficult times.”
If you were to give one piece of advice to a coach or athlete, what would it be?
“Have a passion – doesn’t matter if it is coaching, playing softball, or an academic path just whatever you do be passionate about it and do whatever it takes to follow your dreams.”
What do you see as the number 1 issue your student-athletes face and work to overcome?
“Understanding that “playing time” does not define the person or the softball player! Each person within the program is equally as important as the next and that roles may change throughout the year but in order to collectively be successful each must understand that they are as equally as important to the success of the team as the next person.”
What are you most proud of? What has been your career highlight so far?
“Most proud of the moment I truly decided this is what I want to do and have a passion to do. I found my confidence as a coach and decided to take this program and make it my own. This took opening up and putting myself out there by initiating inspired open and honest two-way communication between myself and all involved in the program. Having the courage to make the changes that needed to be made in order to do a complete turn around and have the success we did last season.”
What was one thing you changed from last year that has made a significant difference?
“Understanding myself better and knowing what I needed in assistant coaches and how their interaction was crucial to coaching and team success.”
What advice would you give someone starting out in their career as a college softball coach?
“Don’t be afraid to learn and grow – just because you have played the game one way does not mean you have to coach the game the same way. Take honest self-assessments to find your true philosophy and define your own personal style – find out what works for you based on your own personality and strengths. Don’t be afraid to take a little from others and combine things into your own personal style.”
How/why did you get into coaching?
“I have a degree in Psychology and I have always enjoyed working with people. Playing softball was my passion. It was the best of both worlds – my psychology degree combined with my passion of softball – so it was the best of both worlds. I wanted to stay around the game as long as I could so when my playing career was over coaching allowed me to stay around the game and people I loved.”
Can you share an ‘ah-ha’ moment in your career?
“The ‘ah-ha” moment in my career was when I knew I could be a Head Coach. As an assistant, our Head Coach was terminally ill and she had built the program from the ground up. She was my mentor and my Head Coach. She continued to lead the program during this illness. During this time my role as Assistant greatly changed to being a caregiver to making the decisions of a Head Coach as an assistant. This is when I was wearing multiple hats and knew that I had the ability, passion and knowledge to become a leader of my own program.”
What are you aiming for in the future?
“Always striving for championships – Regular Season, Tournament and National Champions. Always striving for Graduating players and knowing that all players within my program are prepared for what is to come after softball and I know they will be outstanding people who will make great contributions to whatever career path they may choose.”
What most surprised you about your work with Athlete Assessments?
“The feeling you get that you are “the only one” Athlete Assessment works with. While we know this isn’t the case, everyone at Athlete Assessment that you deal with makes you feel that way. They take the time to make you feel special and important. Athlete Assessment puts their all into you, your staff and your program. Their work with us this year was essential to the team’s success and our staff success.”
You can read the article
“Accountability Key to Championship Form” here.
Where to from here?
If you liked this article, you might enjoy reading more about some phenomenal Coaches:
- Elise Ray – Phenomenal First Year as Head Coach
- Elissa Kent – From Championship Player to Championship Coach
- Roland Thornqvist: Winning Coaches Never Stop Learning
- Tim O’Brien – Once, Twice, Three times a National Champion!
Coach Stefanoni, like the other coaches highlighted in the above articles, use Athlete Assessments’ Team Programs. Find out how we can also support you in your coaching and team success.
Athlete Assessments Team Packages
With our services we do not provide the DISC Profiles and leave you to struggle with the application. Our team packages include DISC Assessments plus importantly, a series of consultations via video conference. Our goal is to use the information of the DISC Profiles to the benefit of your program and coaching and make it is as useful and practical as possible. For Coaches, we use the consultations to distill the information from the Profile reports into coaching strategies that are most effective for the individual athletes and the team overall. Below are our Special Team Packages, if you have any inquiries do not hesitate to Contact Us.