Lyon at the helm

Written by Bob on July 7th, 2010

“(Fastpitch) is a great game and once they are exposed to it, young men and boys seem to get hooked and fall in love with the game.”
– Tim Lyon, Head Coach, Junior Men’s National Team

By BOB OTTO / Yucaipa, CA
(Originally published, Jan. 8, 2001, but still relevant today)

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USA JUNIOR MEN’S FASTPITCH – He won’t give you jaw flapping, arm waving dramatics. Nor will you see him impatiently stomp around in his coach’s box or leap from his seat in the dugout in torture when one of his players errors.

That’s just not Tim Lyon’s coaching style.

But what you will get from Lyon is organization and attention to detail. And an intense, but calm leadership in the heat of battle.

Lyon, the 41-year-old head coach of the USA Junior Men’s National Team, is seeking to bring home a World Championship to the USA.

John Becker, (former) head coach of the USA Men’s National Team, knows Lyon quite well. As his assistant coach, Lyon was Becker’s organizational right-hand man during the 2000 ISF World Championship.

“His strongest strengths as a leader are definitely his organizational skills,” said Becker. “He is precise, he leaves very little to chance and his teams are well prepared…

Just how well prepared?

“Tim puts together manuals for the players covering just about everything,” said Becker. “Training materials, signals…he even came up with a laminated cheat card for signals so that the players could study or stuff them in their pocket or hat. He charts how pitchers throw, what pitches the other team’s hitters hit…Like I said, Tim leaves very little to chance.

“I can guarantee you,” says Becker, “that his team will know what to expect ahead of time from the competition.”

But this is a special world championship bout. One orchestrated every four years that showcases the best age 19-Under fastpitch softball players in the world. And they all have the same burning desire: to claim the title as the world’s number one team.

Claiming that title is a challenge that Lyon relishes. Make no mistake, Lyon has tunnel vision. And it’s focused on winning.

“We are going there (Sydney, Australia, April 19-29, 2001) to win a World Championship,” said Lyon. “This is no vacation.”

With that goal set, let’s meet Lyon and learn more about his program.

When tryout camp opens in Chula Vista, Calif. (December 28-31) for your 27 prospects, what are you expecting from these young athletes? I assume no one is ‘out of shape’. They are trying out for a once in a lifetime chance to represent their country in a World Championship. The tryouts will be new for all of them and I am sure they will be nervous of the unknown. It is the coach’s job to organize the tryouts so the players can show their skills to the selection committee.

What type of coach or coaching style do you have? I consider myself a teacher and student of the game. I believe it’s the coach’s role to put the players in position to do their best. The game should be about the players playing, not the coach over coaching…I have learned a lot from the late Russell Boice (former manager of the USA Men’s national team) and current men’s national coach, John Becker. Delegation is very important. One person can’t do it all. You have to trust your assistants.

When Team USA takes the field what attributes will you have instilled to help them suceed? We will always hustle and play as a team. We must do all the little things to win. The most talented team doesn’t always win, that is why we play the game on the field, not on paper. I ask that they listen to the coaches and that they leave everything on the field. When we leave the field, whether we win or lose, the other team will know that they were in a war.

How many teams will be competing in Sydney? There were 11 teams in the last world tournament. I’ve been told it will be between 10 and 16 teams.

Who do you expect to be the strongest competition? Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will be strong. It’s hard to get a read because of the turnover of players each four years. It’s not like the men’s where there is hold over of players from tournament to tournament.

Reviewing the player’s resumes, what do you feel the team’s strength may be? It’s tough to get a read. Everyone comes from different backgrounds as far as coaching they’ve received and playing. We will figure out what we have and then teach the areas we need to work on. It’s a simple game. You catch, hit and throw the ball…the team that makes the fewest mistakes always has a good chance to win.

Can this team be a catalyst to spark further development in the boy’s and young men’s game in the U.S.? This is tough. If we had more time and money, we could tour a bit and expose the game to more young men. I think it is important that in the next cycle, we name a head coach further out and give the program more time to develop.

What can these young men expect from you as a manager and coach? They can expect someone who is intense, organized and fair. I will put in whatever time it takes for us to be successful. I like to be aggressive on the field, but my coaching style will need to fit the talent I will be given.

How did you get your start in fastpitch softball? I grew up on dusty, dirty softball fields and learned the game from my father who was a pitcher for many seasons with the San Luis Sabres. They played travel league in the Central Valley (Calif.) so we were always on the road somewhere playing softball. I think I played my first game at the age of 13 as a pinch runner in some tournament.

How long have you been managing and coaching? I have been managing men’s teams for 23 years. I took my first coaching assignment when I was 18 years old and never seemed to be able to let go. I started my own team (the San Luis Obispo Bucks) in 1983. Most of my softball career has been spent in San Luis Obispo, California.

What changes would you like regarding the current direction of our sport for both the men and the boys?There are so many…I will respond from a national level. First of all we cannot continue to pick national teams like an all star team. We need to start building a program and have stable leadership.

The coaching staff needs to be in place for more than six months at a time. On the men’s side, we have not had the same head coach for two years in a row for some time now. We need better training and scouting. There are a lot of good players who we never get a chance to look at.

What else? On the Junior Men’s side, we need more clinics around the country so that we can try to expose the game to the young people. It’s a great game and once they are exposed to it, young men and boys seem to get hooked and fall in love with the game. This takes money and a commitment from the leadership of the National Governing Body. The current leadership encourages me. Ron Radigonda, Pat Fleming and Ralph Weekly all seem committed to keep us at the top.

What parts of the country are doing a good job in developing young talent? The Junior Men’s game seems to be centralized in Utah, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. I am sure there are others out there…I know that Ken Hackmeister, Wayne Fisher, Bob Tomlinson, Wayne Hohenstein and Tom Stasik have to be given a lot of credit for keeping this game alive for this age group.

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