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03/17/2023 07:02 AM

Whitehead Bridging Relationships as New Valley Softball Skipper

Former Haddam-Killingworth softball center fielder and Jon Winthrop Middle School softball coach Olivia Whitehead now takes the helm of the Valley Regional softball team this spring as its new head coach. Photo courtesy of Olivia Whitehead

Whether as a player on the diamond, or as a coach in the dugout, Olivia Whitehead has always been a staunch champion of the crucial relationships maintained between athletes and coaches. She is now ready to foster a whole crop of new connections and level of camaraderie with the Valley Regional High School softball program.

Whitehead grew up playing for one of the Warriors’ Shoreline Conference rivals in Haddam-Killingworth as a four-year player, center fielder, and senior captain, graduating in 2018. After helping run a local travel softball program in the Shoreline Breakers, she then began coaching within the Valley community as a softball coach for John Winthrop Middle School.

Now, Whitehead returns to high school softball within the Shoreline scene, as she has been named the new head coach for the Warriors’ softball squad.

“I had planned to stay coaching at the middle school, but my Valley co-assistant coach Julie Lavvadia mentioned about the opening here,” she says. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to grow the transition and feeder program between the middle and high schools by being here at Valley.”

Whitehead denotes that the desires of young student athletes have been in a state of flux in recent years. Yet no matter the course the high school athletics’ culture takes, she is ready to be a trusting face and voice to turn to as the girls navigate a steady balance in life.

“The needs of student-athletes have changed the last few years,” Whitehead says. “Our job now is to help the girls maintain a balanced life of school, jobs, sports, and family while prioritizing things and committing to them. When I played, I had coaches that meant the world to me, which made me want to go into coaching in developing relationships with players. As a coach, I also want them to learn how to be active members of the community.”

On an individual level, Whitehead loves seeing the girls not only set targets independently of her guidance. When it comes to the collective product on the field, she is equally overjoyed when they all believe in each other. It is those connections among the athletes that help them rebound from the inevitable setbacks.

“I love watching the girls set their own goals,” she says. “I do not tell them what to do; I just guide them. To also watch them work together and play so well is really beautiful to watch. It is also great to see them trust each other out there and bond off of it. We play and love sports because of the competitive part, but losing can affect people. The reflection piece on those losses can be tough. It is hard to watch them go through that, but they have to push through it. We will tell them to put it in their back pocket and move on. They will always recover from the losses though.”

Each day of each season brings about a phase in the big picture of personal development and metamorphosis. Whitehead explains that being a bystander during the whole endeavor was one of the main factors that attracted her towards being a coach and mentor.

“To help the girls set goals and meet them, see their pride in it, and see their growth is great,” says Whitehead. “It is an amazing journey to be a part of as a coach. Athlete-to-athlete, I understand what it is like to have a coach with you throughout that entire process.”

Valley Regional Athletic Director Lewis Pappariella recalls that as Whitehead stood out in the hiring process, he was enthralled by her attention to the essential physical skills and tools, plus being in lock step with the Warriors’ tenets of their athletic program.

“Olivia impressed the hiring committee throughout the process. She is enthusiastic, articulate, and focused on student-athlete success,” says Pappariella. “She presented a comprehensive plan to take our softball program to the next level. She has the playing and coaching experience and knowledge to carry out her plan. Specifically, Olivia is an expert in teaching pitching fundamentals and mechanics. Overall, Coach Whitehead’s goals for the team align with the Valley Regional education-based Athletic Department. We expect our student-athletes to benefit from her leadership.”

After housing a very senior-laden squad a year ago, Whitehead is aware that this spring will be one of great growth for several players and the team as a whole. Yet regardless of the outcome of each game, she knows that the Warriors will always depart the dirt with their heads held high knowing that they left it all out there while keeping up Valley’s sound stature in the Shoreline Conference.

“I hope to continue to build the transition program between middle school and high school,” Whitehead says. “This team had a large senior class last year, so it will be a newer roster this season. We want them to be fulfilled with themselves and be proud of themselves. We want the girls to have done the best they could after every game and practice. We are hoping to maintain Valley Regional’s reputation in the Shoreline and have the girls take pride in that.”