Being a leader is never easy, because it brings substantial challenges to even the most talented individuals. Coaching is one arena that taxes anyone; coaches constantly deal with team members who have their own unique needs. That’s why having a coach like Michael Lotief is important for the success of athletes, both on and off the field.
Coaching is About More than Sports
Even though a coach like Lotief is hired to lead a team to athletic success, coaching involves far more than sports. Coaches are typically mentors to athletes in all areas of life, which means they must set an example that serves as a guide.
The best coaches have experiences that might have beaten someone less willing to face those obstacles head on. Coach Lotief is such a person, having faced and beaten the odds more than once. As a 30-year cancer survivor, the longtime softball coach at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette is well-aware how fragile life is. At the same time, he’s also committed to doing everything possible to beat the odds in any game, be it life or athletics.
Good coaches don’t need to preach about perseverance and maintaining a commitment to goals. They demonstrate those attributes with everything they do. Lotief’s life strategy is to work closely with athletes to take advantage of their talents and teach them how to overcome problems while playing their chosen sport.
During his time at UL, Lotief was unequivocal in stating that the heart and sould of most teams were the unsung heroes. While the spotlight has always shone on the home run hitter or the strike out queen, Lotief was quick to point out the remarkably noble, self-sacrificing and generous players who were great teammates even when they were forced into being a role player.
Each of these players were great athletes and earned honors in their prep careers, and at the college level showed the unique qualities of being selfless. They put the importance of team ahead of themselves. They understood and got great satisfaction in helping a teammate get better. The environment of the softball team became about family and connections and community.
Dealing with softball issues are always insignificant when dealing with life and death issues. Kelsey Vincent, who played first base for the Cajuns from 2013-2016, lost her dad to ALS during her junior year of high school and changed her softball commitment from Kansas to ULL to be closer to home and to be part of the softball family. After Kelsey's playing days ended, Coach Lotief kept Kelsey on staff as a graduate assistant and then as director of operations.
Miranda Grotenhuis, who was at ULL from 2016-2018, lost her dad to a heart attack during her senior year of high school. Miranda who was hurting and grieving, turned to Lotief and changed her commitment to the Cajuns to be part of a supportive, softball family and because of her comfort level with Lotief’s ability to show empathy and her teammates’ willingness to support her through her grieving.
Along the way, the game, which is nothing more than a trial journey about life, taught each player how to be more aware of the needs of others. Eventually, they were rewarded because by sharing in the experience, they were members not only of championship teams but more importantly, a “sisterhood,” a “sorority,” a community where they were appreciated and cared about.
Setting Goals and Sticking to Them
Every coach knows how important it is to set goals. One objective is for a team to win more games than they lose, but there’s far more to setting goals than that. There are specific goal-setting strategies that make it possible for one team (or person) to succeed.
Lotief understands broad goals alone are not going to make a big difference. It’s the small goals that lead to achieving the larger objectives that are most important. That means it’s always essential to focus on the small steps needed to get to the top.
The best coaches, especially ones like Lotief, work on the details and let the big issues take care of themselves. A good pitcher must have velocity and command, but how that pitcher achieves that speed and accuracy must be the top priorities.
Once the minor goals are achieved, it’s possible to put all the learned skills to use and win games. When mistakes are made, it’s important to learn from those errors, and there will be errors. Making mistakes is part of any game, and it’s how those errors are responded to that define a good coach.
Thinking Outside the Box
In every sport, most coaches religiously stick to established coaching philosophies. The best coaches know there are times when going against the grain provides better results.
Lotief’s history is filled with instances where he chose to buck the system and take another approach to winning. His Ragin’ Cajuns are noted for trying new techniques that most coaches wouldn’t consider using. Some of those techniques might not work, but most do, and that’s how a great coach deals with change.
Taking Advantage of the Newest Technologies
Like every other aspect of life, sports teams can now take advantage of exciting new technologies. Lotief’s philosophy is to use the available tools that will help his teams succeed. That means he’s more than willing to explore technological advances that lead to success.
Will technology alone win games? Of course not. Technology is simply a tool, and tools must be used where they provide an advantage. That also suggests there are times when it pays to ignore what some form of technology may recommend. In most cases, personal feelings about a specific player are still more important, and a coach must make the final decision about when and how to use technology.
Is Any Coach Perfect?
There is no one who’s perfect, and that applies to coaches. Every coach hates making mistakes both on and off the field, and that’s a good attribute. Lotief will be the first to admit he’s made mistakes, but he’ll also be quick to let anyone know that’s how progress is made.
Coaches are there to build teams that not only win games but also learn more about life. The skills a coach teaches team members are designed to win games. However, every member of a sports team takes the lessons learned on the field and uses them in other life settings.
Anyone who’s been coached by Lotief is likely to remember the lessons they’ve learned and who taught them those lessons. Lotief is proud of his legacy and is always looking for new and innovative ways to help his team members grow both on and off the field.