Mark Williamson has coached everything from football, basketball, and baseball to wrestling and lacrosse.
However, it’s the game of softball that has a special place in his heart. The Starr’s Mill (Georgia) High School coach is entering his 16th season at the helm of the Panthers’ softball program. Williamson spent the 2000 season as an assistant before taking over as head coach.
Under Williamson, the Panthers have racked up second, third, and fourth place finishes in the state while making the Elite Eight six times.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Williamson naturally gravitated to coaching.
That experience has helped him understand what players need the most, and how to help them be successful. “It’s just something I’ve always loved, athletics and competing,” Williamson said. “Working with the students is something I’ve always wanted to do. That’s what I decided to do in college and I’ve stuck with it ever since.”
“I enjoy coaching the athletes and seeing them come together as a team to work together to be successful and teaching them to be good teammates and caring about somebody other than themselves. Watching them improve their games and even go to the next level; it’s very rewarding to go watch them play.”
One thing players need is a place to belong, and that leads to chemistry that helps the team be successful.
“For the most part we’ve had some pretty good teams where they’ve all jelled together,” Williamson said. “You just kind of build that culture so that they care about each other and care about the program. If you can build that, they seem to do alright together.”
Being strict isn’t necessarily needed, but it’s important for players to know there are expectations. Part of that means caring enough about each other to not let their teammates down.
“We believe in discipline, so we’re pretty firm on that,” Williamson said. “We want our players to be selfless. Just caring for each other on and off the field. Constant improvement. Being resilient when you’re on the field and bouncing back from any mistakes you may have made.”
Williamson has had to adapt his own coaching style over the years to suit the needs of his players.
“You’ve got to be willing to adapt to the athletes,” Williamson said. “When I started out I definitely coached different than I do now. I’m probably a little more laid back now. I was pretty high strung when I was younger. I probably have a little more patience with the players.”
That patience pays off when players know their coach is there to support them. Support can work both ways, as a coach needs to have his or her players on board.
“If you don’t have their support, the players pick up on it,” Williamson said. “They definitely can make or break you. When they buy into your program it really helps everyone be more successful. That’s one thing that we try to ask of them is to trust our decisions.”
A coach’s support means teaching life lessons alongside on-field instruction.
“One of the things we preach to them is if you succeed three out of 10 times at the plate, most people consider that a success. In life if you succeed three out of 10 times, I’m not so sure everybody would consider that a success. We’ve got to learn to accept our failures and figure out how to change things.”