Coach John Pfitsch, an iconic figure for Grinnell College, is probably best known for his entertaining stories based on 50+ years coaching, teaching, and directing athletics. Pfitsch Tales: 50 Years of Grinnell College Athletics encapsulates these stories. From Underdog to Winner tells a story behind the stories. Those closest to Coach Pfitsch knew his deepest desire was to coach scholar-athletes to be “winners” on and off the field. But as Coach Pfitsch soon found out, scholar-athletes at Grinnell College were, in many ways, underdogs in almost every athletic arena. Maybe because he was an underdog himself and willing to study and experiment with new ideas, Coach Pfitsch was a perfect match for the scholar-athletes at Grinnell College. His dedication to using the powerful phenomenon of sport as teacher, a phenomenon he felt grateful to be a part of, brought about innovative thinking, problem solving, and surprising success. “Not so fast,” says Barbara Waite, Ph. D. She wonders what research has to say about these ideas. Through creative reenactment of conversation between Coach Pfitsch and Dr. Waite, From Underdog to Winner presents their formula for achieving what they dare to call: 100% performance.
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Barbara Teetor Waite grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, attended undergraduate school at University of Arizona where she pursued athletics, competitive flying, and a degree in General Studies. She attended graduate school at University of Virginia where she earned a masters and doctorate in sport psychology. Just as her “general studies” degree suggests, Barb pursues a variety of passions, the most enduring of which are writing, music, travel, and the great outdoors via the "silent" sports of hiking, biking, paddling, and sailing.
Contributing Author Bio:
John Alfred Pfitsch (1919-2012) was born in Miraj, India to medical missionary parents. He moved back to the United States at the age of five where his life plan was influenced by years of youth sport, high school and college athletics. He played all major and many minor sports from season to season at Pflugerville High School, Texas Lutheran Junior College, and University of Texas at Austin where he graduated in 1940. His graduate education at The University of Kansas was interrupted by World War II when he served in the 35th Division of the Army, landing on Utah Beach on Day 3 of D-Day. He returned to Kansas in the Fall of 1945 to graduate with a master’s in physical education and serve as Phog Allen’s first assistant coach in the 1945-46 basketball season. He met Emily Hollis at University of Kansas. They were married on August 3, 1946 and moved to Fremont, NE, where he coached all sports and taught physical education at Midland College. In 1948 he was hired to coach basketball, tennis, and football at Grinnell College. He became athletic director in 1953. During his 50-year career at Grinnell, he expanded women’s intercollegiate sport programs and eventually coached almost every men’s sport. John Pfitsch is also co-author of Pfitsch Tales: 50 Years of Grinnell College Athletics with Suzanne Kelsey.
Whether we’re striving to win a world championship or neighborhood tournament, whether we’re the underdog or favorite, the desire to succeed energizes and prepares us to perform our best. The authors of From Underdog to Winner spent years of their lives studying the keys to optimal performance, particularly the power of the human mind and the impact of positive relationships on our capacity to overcome obstacles and adversity.
As this book points out, sport psychology research isn’t always conducted by academicians. It may be more or less “scientific,” but I believe there’s great value in the everyday experiences of athletes and coaches. They are in the best position to observe and study the phenomena occurring on the field and court. If we are open to communicating with one another and sharing our information and experiences, we can produce remarkable results.
Although I never met John Pfitsch, I have a feeling I would have enjoyed hearing his stories. He was a thinker and doer, someone I would have admired for many reasons. His “out-of-the-box,” progressive approach to training athletes makes me wish I’d been one of his players. His student-athletes and fellow practitioners undoubtedly valued their relationships with him. I’m sure his impact is still felt in their lives.
My colleague, Barb Waite, offers a creative and analytical look at Coach Pfitsch’s raw and innovative theories. She brings them to light and examines their merit. Her informal discussion with Coach Pfitsch will undoubtedly appeal to a wide and contemporary audience. Her critical insight into the meaning and depth of his theories, particularly regarding his relationships with those whom he coached and worked, highlights the importance of an academician’s role in the process of creating and disseminating the wisdom of the practitioner. Cheers to the process, one in which I hope we can all take part!
Bob Rotella, Ph. D.
Performance Consultant and Author, How Champions Think
cover photo of Rosenbloom Field by Erin Hurley