Almost every parent will tell you their children are the most important and meaningful part of their existence. When it comes to picking a pediatrician, a teacher, tutor, babysitter, or nanny, parents will scrutinize resumes, academic and professional credentials, check references, talk with their peers, and at times conduct careful interviews of the candidate.
However, in my experience, when parents are looking to find a club sports team for their children, the scrutiny of the coach usually begins and ends with, will my kid start, will the team win a lot of games and will this coach get my kid a scholarship.
Often, a coach will not post or submit a written bio or resume, and if they do, most of them lack meaningful experience and simply state, “I played sports” or “I have coached a large number of teams and my teams have won several tournaments.” Then there are the coaches who exercise hyperbole about their playing careers and/or coaching acumen.
Lastly, there are the coaches that can’t coach and do not focus on their experience or making players better, they simply recruit the best players from other teams. They resort to these tactics because they have no ability or desire to mentor players or to help them be the best version of themselves on and off the playing field. These coaches simply want to win games for – well – themselves and their egos.
As a 25-year veteran federal law enforcement professional who has worked high profile crimes against children cases and who currently specializes in vetting, assessing, and interviewing applicants, subjects and witnesses for issues related to their character, acumen, and overall trustworthiness, I am astonished at how permissive parents are when picking a coach for their kid.
Most parents I talk to say, “We didn’t know” or “It was all new to us.” “The coach took us to dinner, complimented our daughter, said she would start, assured us he/she would get our child recruited to a top school and/or we didn’t have to pay some or all of the team fee.” Clearly, many of these coaches are making self-serving statements that are not true.
Unfortunately, we live in the disturbing era of, if you say something over and over, even if it is not true, and you insist on it being true, people tend to believe and restate it as the truth, even though it is not.Trust, Believe & Together We Will Soar – The Brandi Macias Story Share this story
The purpose of this article is not to lament the lack of adequate vetting of youth sports coaches, which would be like whistling in a sandstorm. No, the purpose of this article is to celebrate excellent coaches and mentors and to profile them to encourage other like-minded and talented individuals to step up and coach.
In addition, if parents are more aware that coaches with exceptional character and experience exist, perhaps they will exercise more scrutiny when they choose a team and a coach for their children.
This brings me to Brandi Macias. Brandi is a fastpitch softball coach who currently coaches with Universal Fastpitch, based out of northern California. Her current 14U team is based in Brentwood, California.
Brandi is a former NCAA All-American softball player who played in three consecutive College World Series in the 1990s, coached softball at Purdue University, and has now coached club softball for nearly 10 years.
After the 1998 college softball season, Brandi made the difficult decision to leave her job as an assistant coach at Purdue University. “I needed a break,” Brandi explained. At that point in her life, Brandi had played softball at a high level for over 10 plus years and it had consumed her entire life until she decided to pursue a career in law enforcement in 1999.
In 2012, Brandi’s love of the game and desire to positively impact young women brought her back to coaching. Despite a difficult childhood, her softball journey provided Brandi with the tools necessary to be a successful coach and mentor to hundreds of young women. Brandi wants to do much more than win games. She wants to build winning people through softball.
“I’d rather lose a few more games if it means I impact kids in the right way,” Brandi explained. How does Brandi do this? Through employing the principles she pounds into every team she has ever coached, and that is inscribed on the silicon bracelets she gives to all of her players.
The bracelets read, “trust, believe, together we will soar”. These principles encourage players to trust the right people and in the process, believe in themselves and their teammates and this will result in them thriving and soaring together. What sets Brandi apart is her ability to execute these principles and not just talk about them.
It took quite a bit of arm twisting to get Brandi to open up and agree to tell her story. However, she realized if she candidly shared her journey publicly, it might help someone else who is suffering through the same or similar hardships she endured at a young age.
In the late 1980s, shortly after middle school concluded, a young Brandi Macias could be seen throwing rocks at a pole in a dirt field adjacent to a main road in Lancaster, California. Brandi said, “The field was nothing but dirt and tumbleweeds.” Brandi’s parents had divorced in 1980 when she was 5 years old. Brandi’s dad moved out and he did not have much contact with her until later in life. Brandi said, “at the time, I felt abandoned by him.”
Prior to her parents’ divorce, Brandi’s mom was a Rockwell International employee who worked on the space shuttle Challenger. Devastated by the divorce and overwhelmed by the demands of her job and being a single mother, Brandi’s mom turned to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. Her addiction spiraled and led to her losing her job, her home, and resulted in the neglect, and at times, physical abuse of Brandi.
To escape, Brandi would throw rocks in a field across from the modest apartment where she lived with her mom. Brandi’s rock-throwing caught the eye of a passerby named Dave Patterson, a local Little League softball coach. “One day Coach Patterson walked up to me and asked me if I would like to try out and play Little League softball. I did not have a glove, cleats, or a bat, but Coach Patterson provided me with all of those things and I walked to the tryout a few days later.”
It did not take long for Brandi to flourish. She was a gifted athlete who could hit, run and throw, better than most, if not all, of the girls her age. Brandi quickly became one of the dominant players in all of Park View Little League.
In the fall of 1989, Brandi began high school at Highland High School in Palmdale, CA. She immediately was a star for the Bulldogs on the varsity basketball and softball teams. While Brandi was enjoying success on the basketball court and softball field, things at home eventually hit rock bottom. After an exceptional performance in a game during the spring of her freshman year in high school, Brandi arrived at the front door of her apartment where she lived with her mom.
Excitedly, Brandi pounded on the door anxious to tell her all about the highlights of the game. However, Brandi’s mom awoke from a substance-induced sleep, answered the door, and was clearly angry. She pulled Brandi’s hair and struck her several times. Sadly, this was not the first time something like this had occurred. However, on this occasion, someone called the police and soon deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office arrived at their apartment.
Enter Brandi’s uncle. John Mayfield is Brandi’s mother’s older brother. John and his wife, Deana, were both Deputy’s with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and lived in Lancaster, CA, just a few miles from where Brandi lived with her mom. “It was close to midnight when I got a telephone call from a deputy telling me my sister had beat up my niece pretty bad and social services was on scene and ready to take Brandi,” John recalled. John went to the apartment and picked up Brandi and brought her home.
John and Deana ultimately became Brandi’s foster parents. She lived with them until she graduated from high school and left for college. Deana said, “We did not have any kids and we just wanted Brandi to be safe and have a chance to be successful.” John and Deana did more than just keep Brandi safe; they were instrumental in Brandi’s ultimate success. “They saved me,” Brandi explained. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.”
During that transition, Brandi recalled being deemed a “ward of the court”. Prior to finalizing John and Deana as her foster parents. Brandi remembered a court proceeding during which the judge told Brandi’s mom to choose between Brandi and alcohol. Brandi will never forget her mother saying to the judge, “I choose alcohol.” Shortly thereafter, John and Deana were granted permanent custody of Brandi.
Brandi said her “home life completely changed. I went from zero structure to a disciplined house with a lot of rules and high expectations. My aunt and uncle used softball as motivation to help me become more disciplined, get me to study, clean my room, and manage my time.”Trust, Believe & Together We Will Soar – The Brandi Macias Story Share this story
“I give credit to Brandi,” Deana reflected, “she really worked hard when she came to live with us. Brandi had to follow some rules, do chores, be a good student, there were not a lot of rules, but she had to be a good person and do the right thing.”
John added, “When Brandi came to us, she was a C/D student. By her junior year of high school, she was a straight-A student. Deana worked with her on her schoolwork almost every night at first.” Deana jumped in and declared, “I told Brandi – You’re going to college! Brandi worked hard and was determined to do things right. After about a year, Brandi took charge and was able to handle her schoolwork, pretty much on her own.”
Brandi was named All Golden League her junior and senior years, MVP of the team her senior year, and was selected to play for the all-southern California Section West Team. “She hit the home run in the all-star game to win the game for the West Team,” John recalled proudly.
During her high school years, Brandi played club softball for the So. Cal Breeze, So. Cal Blast and the OC Batbusters. Brandi was heavily recruited by several powerhouse schools in the early 1990s. Eventually, she chose the University of Iowa.
John remembered that the head coach of Iowa at the time, Gayle Blevins, came to watch Brandi play in a tournament in southern California. “Brandi was catching and a runner tried to steal. Brandi wanted to impress Coach Blevins, but her throw sailed over the head of the shortstop and was caught by the center fielder on the line,” John recalled. “Brandi looked deflated and later told Coach Blevins she felt like she had disappointed her.”
“I don’t recall that particular play, but that wouldn’t have been the first time [a recruit] I really liked had that kind of moment,” chuckled legendary Hall of Fame, Iowa Hawkeye Head Coach Gayle Blevins after being reminded of Brandi’s errant throw almost 30 years later. “I was looking for certain intangibles and Brandi had everything I was looking for. She loved to play the game, played with energy, purpose, and enthusiasm. She was a good team player, that was clear to me.”
This is high praise, considering it comes from Coach Blevins, the 15th winningest softball coach in NCAA Division 1 history. Blevins won 40 or more games in 13 of her 23 years at Iowa (1988-2010), never had a losing season, and guided the Hawkeyes to 16 NCAA tournaments, 4 Women’s College World Series appearances, 5 Big Ten Regular Season Championships, and 2 Big Ten Tournament Titles.
Coach Blevins distinctly remembered John and Deana. “They did save Brandi. I don’t know where Brandi would have ended up without them. Despite what Brandi had been through, Brandi still spoke highly of her mom. That’s just who Brandi is.”
John and Deana did more than just keep Brandi safe; they were instrumental in Brandi’s ultimate success. “They saved me,” Brandi explained. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.”
“I chose Iowa because of the people,” Brandi reflected. “The moment I got off the plane, I was greeted by Coach Blevins and several players from the team. You could tell the team was close and there were no cliques. Everyone was friendly, open, accepting, and made me feel like I was somebody. Iowa had a completely different vibe, it just felt like a second home to me. Coach Blevins got to know all her players as people, not just players. She had a way that made you feel important and valued, while at the same time letting you know what you needed to do to get better as a player. Coach Blevins was a huge influence on me.”
“That’s who we are in Iowa,” declared Coach Blevins. “I knew Brandi would thrive in the environment and culture we had of caring for one another and that’s what she needed most at that point of her life.” Blevins’ example was forever ingrained into Brandi and it is evident in the way she cares for and mentors her players. “Together we will soar.” Brandi does not make false promises and then move on from players at ridiculous rates simply to win.
Rather, she commits to helping players reach their full potential on and off the field. She also provides support and assistance to players who are facing struggles in their home and personal lives. “Trust and believe.” When Blevins used this approach with Brandi it certainly helped her flourish as a person and player.
While at Iowa, Brandi helped lead the Hawkeyes to three (3) consecutive College World Series appearances from 1995-1997 and a 1997 Big 10 Regular Season Championship. Brandi still holds the CWS record for the most triples (2) and hits (5) in a CWS game. Brandi’s favorite CWS memories were from 1995, the first CWS appearance ever by a Hawkeye team. Brandi hit a 2-run double in the top of the 14th inning to break a 7-7 tie to beat archrival and 1995 Big 10 Champion Michigan 9-7.
“It was a complete team fight; we all came together and beat our rival [Michigan]. A real cool team win.” Later that same evening, the Hawkeyes faced an elimination game against Cal State Fullerton. “We were down 4 or 5 runs in the 5th inning. Coach Blevins instilled in us that if we had an out left, we had an opportunity. The other team [Fullerton] thought they had it in the bag.
They were square dancing outside their dugout in the 5th inning. We started to scratch out a few hits and believed we could come back. That belief mantra made it happen. When you believe in each other that much, you know you can get it done.” The Hawkeyes scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game and another in the 9th inning to win the game 6-5. After the game, Fullerton’s coach Judi Garmen told the LA Times, “That has to go down as the best comeback in the history of the College World Series.”
Coach Blevins agreed, “There was no quit in that group of women. I was not surprised we came back and won that game. It was Dr. Christine Grant’s birthday [Univ. of Iowa Athletic Director]. She was my mentor who hired me at Iowa. She was instrumental in our program's success and was in the stands watching that game. After the Fullerton game, our entire team celebrated her birthday by eating chocolate cake at 2 am in her hotel room. That was a special group of women.”
Brandi was named to 1995 All CWS team and Iowa ended up placing 3rd at the CWS losing to eventual National Champion UCLA.
In 1997, Brandi’s senior season, she hit .368 with 40 RBI and was named Third Team All-American, First Team All-Regional, and First Team All-Big 10. To date, Brandi remains in the top 15 in career and single-season Hawkeye records for games played, home runs, runs scored, doubles, and RBI! After the 1997 season, Brandi was awarded the University of Iowa Dr. Hicks Award for overcoming adversity and demonstrating excellence and strength of character. This award is not sport-specific. It is only given to one male and one female athlete in the entire University. “I could only nominate one person from our roster. Brandi was an easy nomination for me,” Blevins said.
Brandi graduated in 1997 with her degree in Kinesiology. Brandi also was a two-time winner of the bronze medal for academic achievement and earned the Prairie Light School Golden Eye Book Award for academic achievement her sophomore year.
Brandi graduated in 1997 with her degree in Kinesiology. Brandi also was a two-time winner of the bronze medal for academic achievement and earned the Prairie Light School Golden Eye Book Award for academic achievement her sophomore year. After graduating from Iowa, Coach Blevins helped Brandi land a job as an assistant coach at Purdue University. “I worked at Purdue for one season. I was the hitting coach and worked with the catchers and outfielders. I spent a lot of time on the road recruiting. At the end of that season , I knew I needed to take a break from softball.”
John and Deana’s positive influence led Brandi to pursue a career in law enforcement. “I wanted to be like my aunt and uncle. They were what I hoped to be one day. They were both driven, hardworking, and disciplined. They were also very compassionate and went out of their way to help people.” Brandi believed her years of playing softball gave her the confidence and discipline to pursue a career dominated by men.
“Most of my friends were male and I loved the underdog role and knew I could be just as good of a police officer as men despite not being as physically strong. Plus, I was drawn to the discipline and structure of a law enforcement career. I associated my softball success to the traits I saw in my aunt and uncle. Those traits, I believe, helped me thrive.” Thrive was another word and principle, Coach Blevins emphasized and preached.
In 2012 Brandi resumed coaching softball but chose to do so at the youth fastpitch level rather than college. In 2014, Brandi moved to the All-American Sports Academy where she served as a Regional Director, Board Member, as well as Head Coach to teams at 12U through 18 Gold until 2021.
Brandi coached 18 Gold teams from 2017–2020. During that time Brandi was directly responsible for no less than 35 girls earning softball scholarships at either D1 or D2 colleges. In 2021, she joined Universal Fastpitch to serve as the 14U Head Coach, where she remains today.
Brandi believes all of her prior experiences led her back to coaching softball. “I learned a lot from Coach Blevins and adopted her philosophy of hard work, discipline, and letting players know what they need to do to be the best version of themselves. I want players to trust in the process, work hard and believe in themselves.”
“Sticking to those core values will give them self-worth. If a player gives me their all, regardless of their talent level, I will have their back. I believe a great coach empowers their players, with positive reinforcement to push themselves to levels that exceed their own expectations.”
“A constant theme with every team I have coached is that trust and belief in themselves will allow them to soar together. My goal is not to impact players by placing an emphasis on winning. I want to impact them when they make critical decisions. Softball is the tool. I will always be there for them – good or bad. On the softball field or off. I want them to see my face when they are about to make a critical life decision and hopefully, that will influence them to make the right decision. I want them to want me to be proud of them at that moment.”
Brandi’s 2018, 2019, and 2020, 18 Gold All-American Sports Academy teams adopted her trust-and-believe mantra which resulted in them soaring in every aspect of their lives. These teams earned berths to PGF Nationals each summer they played for Brandi. Brandi smiled while reflecting on her past players and added, “almost the entire roster had straight A’s, and every player was committed to a D1 or D2 program before the [their high school senior] season started.” Together we will soar.Trust, Believe & Together We Will Soar – The Brandi Macias Story Share this story
After hearing Brandi’s story, one thing is clear. A successful coach that wins off the field by mentoring players to be the best version of themselves is ultimately the best coach. A coach that is only driven by the pursuit of winning games and a selfish desire for glory and adulation, will always be inferior to coaches like Brandi. Brandi’s willingness to use her life experiences and translate them into an empowering environment that will endure through every player she ever coaches to be better teammates, students, friends, co-workers, parents, siblings and yes, softball players, is the standard we should use to rank coaches. This type of coach will always be on the lookout for that middle schooler throwing rocks in a field all by themselves. Let’s hope someone like Brandi gets to coach them!