Heart of the Treasure Valley: Softball Coach Shawna Juarez

Coach Shawna Juarez believes in the power of words - for her softball players and for life in general

May 5, 2013 

She is talking about softball as she paces - just a bit - in the coach's box at third base, but her words have an implication far greater than the moment. Right now, there's a game at stake. But afterward - afterward, there is life to live.

The batter swings; the ball goes foul. From the field, coach Shawna Juarez directs her words toward home plate:

"One small adjustment leads to big things."

The language of coaches tends toward platitudes, and sometimes it's difficult to know how deep the words go. For Shawna, however, words are everything.

"Everybody, as a part of the team, has significant value. If you keep reminding kids of their value, they're going to believe it. If they have value, they're going to carry that throughout their lives."

She's not just talking softball here.

"They'll be able to get through conflict in marriages by believing they can; in their friendships by believing they can make things right and get over conflicts; and especially in jobs, because, shoot, being in a job is a lot like coaching. ….

"It's teaching them life skills, right now, so when they go out, they'll be OK."

Maybe softball is different; it certainly feels different, hearing those kind of affirming words, so publicly, so freely, so consistently. Back at the game, Shawna calls out again and repeats the theme over and over, for each batter, each swing, each hit, each out; before the game, after the game:

"Tell yourself right here: We believe in you. … Nothing but confidence."

The batter swings again, a teammate scores. Shawna points to the hitter now on second base and applauds.

"I want them to be able to go out in the world feeling confident - confident women, realizing that they're so valuable. Even when they don't feel like it, they really are. …"

Coaching is what Shawna does. By day, she's a para-professional at Meridian Middle School working with students with learning disabilities. But even then, she's all about affirmation.

"The thread that goes through (my two jobs) is believing in them … and building them up, every day. You build them up, they're going to believe what you say. And if they don't believe, then the more they hear it, it's going to get embedded in their heads."

Far from being a coach who yells as motivation, Shawna is on the other end of the spectrum.

"I want cheerful kids who enjoy what they do, and positivity brings that out, not being negative. Kids are their own worst enemies. I was my own worst enemy. When I made mistakes, I was harder on myself than anyone else. … It's not my job to sit here and yell and scream, because they (already) feel it."

And as far as winning goes - well, she likes to win. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way.

"If you focus so heavily on your past mistakes and your tribulations, you're never going to be at your full potential for the next day that you have. …

"Yeah, I'm competitive, I show emotions, sometimes a little too much, but it's because I tell them this all the time: It's because I firmly believe that they are great kids and they deserve to know what it feels like to taste success. I want that for them."

Shawna started out as an athlete, playing softball and basketball for as long as she can remember. She comes from a bloodline of coaches - parents, uncles, cousins, siblings - and she grew up as the coach's kid, tagging along with her father's high school basketball team.

"A lot of the reason I am who I am today is that I have had great people who inspired and pushed me. So I just want to share what I've been given, you know?"

She was a star basketball player in high school in the Tri-Cities area in central Washington, played both sports in community college and came to Northwest Nazarene in Nampa to play softball. NNU had a couple of losing seasons while she was there, and it was hard. But there were lessons to learn. Her parents drove from the Tri-Cities to watch her play and support her.

"(They encouraged me) just to keep working hard, to be diligent at what I was doing; and even when I didn't play, to have a good attitude and encourage people. That's always been the theme - of finding ways to make people feel great. ...

"God has blessed me with some great mentors and role models, so it's easy for me to give love when I've gotten so much of it throughout my whole life."

And as for losses - they happen.

"The world wants to focus on a win/loss record. Of course, I like winning, but to me, it's more about the progress and the journey, getting better every game. ...

"If we go out there and give our best efforts and play our hardest softball and do our best and believe in each other and encourage each other - go all out and then lose - I'm fine with that. But if we go out there and we beat ourselves and we're not on our top game, that hurts.

"We're always positive at the end. We tell them to learn from it, to use it as a learning experience. Remember how it feels. And go to work."

Shawna graduated from NNU in 2009 with a degree in social work. But, she admits sheepishly, social work started to interfere with coaching, which she came to love as much as playing.

"As an athlete, you get the adrenaline, you're the one out there making the plays, you're the one who's fully involved in the game. I love them both equally, but I just love coaching. …

"As a coach, you have to trust. Every day, you and your coaching staff prepare these kids, build them up and you have to trust that what you're doing with them is going to be OK.

"Then when you come to a game, you've got to let go and let them perform, because you've helped them with the tools."

Shawna was assistant coach at Vallivue, head coach at Borah and then became head softball coach at Mountain View in 2011.

"I know what these kids have to go through. … It's tough to be a kid in this generation. Most of the people in the spotlight aren't the most positive. Like Eminem? Their pop icons and the people that they listen to? They aren't the most positive.

"So just to be someone who kids see day in and day out, who offers them positivity and believes in them - that's huge for me. It's been modeled to me, so I know."

Shawna's boundless enthusiasm propels her to year-round coaching.

"When I do something, I give all of it. When I coach, it's not just half of me."

Right after high school softball is over, her club team begins. (She's coached summer clubs, including the Washington Lady Hawks, for years. This summer she'll coach the Idaho Diamond Bandits.) She'll coach at Northwest Basketball Camps after that. And then, of course, softball conditioning starts in the fall.

"I'll probably have a week off - no, we have a tournament. … It's just year-round. I wouldn't have it any other way, though."

That's because it's really about neither basketball nor softball.

"It's not really the sport; I like them both. It's the kids. That's what I'm doing it for. (If people ask), 'What's your preference (between softball and basketball)?' I say, 'Kids.'"

Kids and coaching, softball and basketball - and positive thoughts. Shawna has a tattoo on her leg: "You can do all things." It's a Biblical verse, rooted in her faith, and it's her mantra.

"If you believe life is good and you fill your life with confident, positive thoughts, the chances of your life being a better place is going to happen.

"I know life is hard. I know that it presents roadblocks, but one thing we teach kids is how are you going to get over that roadblock? Are you just going to stare at it?

"My dad tells me every day may not be good, but there's something great in every day. I believe that."

Back at the field, Shawna gathers the team for the post-game debriefing.

"So everybody contributed to this game, whether you think so or not; everybody did. In fact, this whole day, everybody made a mark on Mountain View softball today. True or false? Very, very true. ...

"We have great athletes on this team, and that's why we walk away from the field with … wins. Because why? Everybody. Did. Something. …

"Everybody was a piece of the puzzle to our success. Right? Right. You better walk away believing it, because we have a lot of confidence in our favor, correct? (The team responds: Right!)"

The teams disperses. But remnants of Shawna's patter linger in the air, echoing. Maybe it's in my mind.

" Good job. You're awesome. Nobody greater than you. Inner confidence. "

Know someone living "from the heart"? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email kjones@idahostatesman.com.

"I've lost important people to me - one of my good friends died in the war in Afghanistan. …(Mathew Fazzari ) just always encouraged me, believed in me, taught me service to other people. I always think about him in the back of my mind and really make it my mission to make people feel good because he always made everyone around him feel good."

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