“It’s Not What You Know, It’s What You Do! Love Them First, Coach Them Second” - by Kris Ganeff
Imagine little Kris at the age of 11 years old begging and pleading with her Mom to please let her sign up for the Westerville Girls Softball League. I was a bright eyed and excited kid walking into the sign-ups. Most, if not all, of the kids had played for several years. Coaches had already pre-drafted the kids they just knew were going to be the best. It left little room on rosters for the newbies like me. Not to worry, I signed myself up on a team that was looking for a Coach. Who in my mind would be better at coaching this team than my Dad? Thus began my journey into fastpitch softball and the seed of my love was planted.
I had no idea how to play the game, let alone how a Coach was supposed to be. All I know is that the Astro’s were excited to get out on that field and be coached by my Dad. He too didn’t have any idea of how to coach a team filled with 11 and 12 year old girls. I am not sure he had any idea how to coach a team filled with anyone. Nonetheless, he showed up with himself, his work assistant, and my big brother as his “experienced” coaching staff.
We were what is pure about children, until someone gets inside their head and can ruin that feeling of confidence that each of us is innately born with. We wore those blue and orange t-shirt jerseys proudly as our coaches tried to teach us as much as they could about the game of softball. The teams focus was on socializing, laughing, and praying for popsicles on a hot summer afternoon. Thus eluding to the lack of run production or pitching performances that would be needed to win the games. I don’t remember a single thing we learned about how to play the game that summer, but I do remember how my teammates and I were treated by three intimidating adult males. They poured confidence and love into each and every one of us. When a mistake was made we didn’t get yelled at or see our coaches kicking over buckets. Instead, they would pull us to the side and try to tell us we did a great job and how we could do it even better. They were so proud when we won our only and very last game of the season that they stayed true to the promise of Dairy Queen and fun!
I have to attribute my method of Coaching the Whole Athlete to what was instilled in me from the very first time I stepped onto the field. As the years progressed, I was beginning to be that player who people considered the best and I had the chance to play for a lot of different coaches. I was blessed because my middle school softball coach all the way through my Division I coaches at Notre Dame loved us first and coached us second. I know that is why I stayed in the game and never lost my passion or love for it. I believe that is why I have been able to always value my humans as people over players.
When I transitioned from player to becoming a coach myself, I had to learn that it was okay to be true to who and how I wanted to coach. I always would go back to something my college coach, Liz Miller, put on a t-shirt for us that said, “It’s not what you know, It’s what you do!” I knew what was best, but it didn’t matter what I knew – it only mattered what I did. I had to love and trust my players off the field, so they would love and trust me on the field.
Coaching the Whole Athlete creates an environment that is not only best for our athletes, but it really starts to make our job more enjoyable and fun. Don’t mistake my ability to relate to my athletes and care for them as a lack of competitiveness or drive. I want to win as much as any other coach, but I get to win and enjoy the people I am around on this journey.
When your athletes know that you love them it makes it easier to push them on and off the field. They will believe that you have their best interest at heart. In turn they will give you everything they have knowing you are always doing what is best for them. It takes me back to our Astro team looking up to my Dad and company, hanging on everything they told us. We trusted their every word, not because they were these fabulous, know it all coaches, but because they loved us.
Before you step onto the field today with your athletes, stop and take a look around. Truly take a look at your athletes and before you try to give them all the skill knowledge you know, stop and just love them first. I promise you will start to notice a shift in not only your athletes, but yourself. Stay true to your promise of Dairy Queen and fun!
More About Kris:
Regarded as one of the best all-around catchers in Irish history, Kris Ganeff is now in her 22nd year as a coach with the Notre Dame softball program entering 2023. In the summer of 2022, Ganeff was promoted to associate head coach, just the second of its kind in Notre Dame softball history.
Ganeff, elevated to her former title of associate coach in August of 2012, spearheads the recruiting efforts for Notre Dame softball, which annually attracts the top players from across the nation. In addition to being the program’s recruiting coordinator and running and directing Notre Dame’s camps and clinics, Ganeff served as the third vice president on the board of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA).
A key member of five NFCA regional and four BIG EAST Conference coaching staffs of the year at Notre Dame, Ganeff works closely with each player on hitting and defense, specializing in the development of the Irish infield and catchers.
Ganeff completed the Coaching the Whole Athlete program in the Fall of 2021. She has been married to John Ganeff for 20 years. They are the proud parents of two daughters, Deven (19) and Hayden (14). Outside of Notre Dame Softball her next love are all things Disney!