1995: M.S.S. Sports Coaching
Taking the reins of a PAC-12 softball team that competed at the Women’s College World Series this past season and is returning its entire starting lineup except one is a challenge Academy alumnus Craig Nicholson is eager to accept.
When one takes a look at Nicholson’s impressive record as a head coach with a career record of 927-235, though, it becomes obvious that his success at Ball State and Central Arizona College have prepared him to lead a team in such a competitive conference.
Nicholson replaced Clint Myers as softball coach at Central Arizona College and now is doing the same at Arizona State. He is the fourth person to head a softball program that under Myers won Women’s College World Series titles in 2008 and 2011.
Graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Nicholson turned to the United States Sports Academy for his graduate education. He earned his master’s in Sports Coaching in 1995 and a year later, in 1996, he found himself as a head softball coach at Central Arizona College, a Division I program in the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA) Conference.
Nicholson led the Central Arizona College softball team to a record of 723-90 during his eleven seasons as head coach. During his tenure at CAC, the softball team won four NJCAA National Championships, seven conference championships, and eight regional titles. He was also named Coach of the Year four times and National Fastpitch Coaches Association Junior College Coach of the Year three times.
In 2007, Nicholson became the head softball coach at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. In his seven seasons with the Cardinals, Nicholson became the fastest coach in the program’s history to pass the 100 and 200-win marks by leading the team to 204-145 overall. His softball team in 2012 was the only team in the nation to rank in the top 10 nationally in batting average (.318, eighth), slugging percentage (.543, sixth), runs scored (6.69 per game, fifth), and homeruns (1.27 per game, 10th).
He led the team to three Mid-American Conference Regular Season Championships in 2009, 2010, and 2012 and to the NCAA Tournament in 2010. The program’s first All-American player also appeared during his time at Ball State and three players under his tutelage received the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year award.
In 2008, Nicholson was the associate head coach for the Chicago Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), where he helped lead the team to an NPF title.
Nicholson took time out from recruiting and settling into his new job at ASU where he was hired June 30 to sit down with The Alumni Network to answer a few questions about his journey and the future of softball.
Alumni Network: You have been incredibly successful as a softball coach at Central Arizona College and Ball State. What are the biggest challenges facing you as a Pac-12 softball coach and how do you hope to overcome them?
Craig Nicholson: One of the biggest challenges is taking over a program with so much recent success. In this conference, you coach against great coaches and you have to prepare your coaches and players for that. There are no days off at this level and no easy days. It’s all about preparation and making sure you are ready and the team is ready through practice. You have to realize that there are expectations and you must understand those expectations in order to do what you need to do to continue to be successful.
AN: If you had to pass along one piece of advice to anyone looking to become a collegiate softball coach, what would you tell them is the most important lesson you have learned along the way?
CN: The biggest part is to treat the players the right way. Athletes, particularly female athletes, know when you care about their well-being as a person and not just as an athlete. This is undervalued in female sports. Secondly, you need to be aware of your perception off the field. You need to make good decisions off the field and become a part of the community. This is easier to do at smaller colleges like Ball State, but it is so important to plug in to that community. Technical knowledge is important, but these two things will help you get further in your career.
AN: In September, the International Olympic Committee will meet to determine whether softball will be included in future Olympic games. What are your thoughts on this?
CN: Softball should be a part of the Olympic Games. The hard part is that the U.S. plays the game at such an elite level that only a few other countries can compete against us at that level. Yet, in order to grow and develop the sport, it needs to be played at the international level and at the Olympics. It would be huge for both baseball and softball to be included in the Olympics and would increase the development of both sports internationally.
AN: How has what you learned from the Academy helped you in your very successful career?
CN: Honestly, my mentorship got me on my career path. What you learn is handy—and I learned a lot in my Sports Coaching program—but the most important takeaways are the experiences you have and the people you meet along the way.