According to Merriam-Webster, act is defined as a doing of a thing or something done voluntarily.The three-letter word has changed the culture of the Eastern Kentucky University softball team—all for the better.
After 24 years as the head coach at EKU, most would assume Jane Worthington would be stuck in her ways. The stereotypical, old school "my way or the highway" type of coach.
That, however, is not the case.
Worthington has taken a different approach to her team this year and the results have been undeniable.
Following a coaches' meeting in November among the EKU coaches, Worthington wanted to try a new approach to this year's club. She wanted to take advantage of being the Ohio Valley Conference's only University to offer a team specific workshop through its counseling center.
"I just knew there was something special about this group," Worthington said. "I knew if we could get them together, get them closer than they already were and share some of the things they're going through could only bring them closer. They're all such great people."
So for the past nine Mondays, the team has met with a staff therapist from the EKU Counseling Center.
The workshops are led by Nick Rogell; who is in his first year at Eastern Kentucky and specializes in student-athlete issues. The discussions include very applicable topics to student-athletes of all levels of competition including burnout, coaching pressure, performance anxiety, stress management and others.
Rogell applauded the immediate response from the team and its engagement.
"I have really enjoyed working with the softball team and staff," Rogell said. "Our work together has allowed us to promote success on and off the field by proactively addressing concerns commonly experienced by student-athletes, enhancing coping strategies and increasing team cohesion on an already close-knit group."
Transparency has been a critical part within the discussions, as the coaches have been involved in most of the workshops, but not all. Everything is out in the open—from both sides. Coaches know where the players stand and vice versa.
To her own admission, Worthington hasn't always been the most vocal to her players.
"I've always been a caring person, but I've never really known that it was appropriate to show it all the time," Worthington said. "Coaches are supposed to be tough, they're supposed to get the most of their players."
That's exactly what she's done. Worthington's change in approach has paid immediate dividends both on and off the field.
At 26-6 overall and 10-0 in OVC play, the Colonels are off to their best start since the program's inception in 1993.
With a weekend sweep over in-state rival Morehead State, EKU is currently tied for first-place in the OVC along with Jacksonville State.
To Worthington's testament, her club's success can be attributed to those on the team. All 16 are critical to the success of the team she said. From top to bottom, Worthington complimented her team on the way it has responded.
"Everybody's buying in," Worthington said. "Freshmen are just as important as seniors. We need everybody."
Not only is her team "buying in," it's producing on the field.
The Colonels lead the OVC in earned run average with a league-low 2.00 on the season. The duo of senior Hayley Flynn and junior Alex Sallberg have combined for 213 strikeouts on the season—best in the conference.
Flynn ranks sixth in the country in wins (17) and 26th nationally in strikeouts (131). Meanwhile, Sallberg set a new single-season program record with five saves and ranks second in the country in the category.
Meanwhile, offensively EKU is hitting .319 on the season—second in the league—with three Colonels ranking in the conference's top-10 including sophomore Paige Murphy who leads the league with a .436 average.
The players have witnessed the change as well.
"The biggest difference I've noticed is the culture of the team has changed and the environment is much more positive," senior outfielder Sarah Fobbs said. "We are grateful for Coach Worthington and our two new assistant coaches who have expressed their belief in our abilities and help us stay positive while continuing to push us."
"Nick's sessions have opened up the lines of communications between teammates and coaches and has allowed to form closer relationships," Flynn said. "During one session in particular, we discussed our individual "why" for playing the game. This discussion brought out intense emotions which helped us to better understand one another and reminded us of our own passion for the game."
"The only way I know how to operate and my personality is to say it like it is and hopefully, it'll be interpreted the way it was intended," Worthington said jokingly.
The team unity has been evident from every angle as has the success, but Worthington stressed one key point in her coaching philosophy.
"They're people," Worthington said. "Get to know them as people, let them know you care."
For Worthington that means giving praise and positive criticism when, to her own admission, she hasn't always done in the past.
And just in case, she keeps a reminder on her desk with that popular three-letter word.