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Mike Candrea copies Sean Miller, introduces the ‘gold jersey’ to Arizona softball

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The gold jersey keeps Arizona softball competitive when their opponents don’t

Arizona basketball’s gold practice jersey
Photo via @APlayersProgram on Twitter

Mike Candrea has accomplished every feat imaginable in the softball world.

He has won over 1,500 career games, eight national championships, an Olympic Gold Medal, and recently he was inducted into the USA Softball Hall of Fame.

He’s done it all, but his desire to compete, he says, is what keeps him going. He is currently in his 32nd year with the Arizona Wildcats, and there is no end in sight.

And when Candrea’s not coaching, he’s probably watching someone else coach.

Really.

“That’s the one thing I love doing,” he said. “Going out and watching how other people operate and how other people motivate. As I get older, you’re always looking for fresh ideas.”

Candrea watches Arizona football’s Rich Rodriguez and Arizona baseball’s Jay Johnson, but especially keeps an eye on Sean Miller.

And this offseason, while at an Arizona basketball practice, Candrea noticed Miller’s use of a “gold jersey” to motivate his players. The gold jersey is a wearable award given to the player who has the best week of practice.

Candrea liked what he saw and brought Miller’s gold jersey idea to Arizona softball.

“I stole that from Sean, to be honest with you,” said Candrea, who is not only colleagues with Miller, but neighbors, too. “I thought it was a great way of … when you have great players, you need some way to stimulate them throughout the week. Our game is performance-based, but I think the gold jersey is another way of us being able to say ‘here’s the prize every week to prepare yourself and have a great week.’”

Candrea stole Miller’s idea, but he did make an alteration.

Rather than rewarding the player who had the best week of practice, Candrea gives the gold jersey to player who performed the best in the team’s games during a given week.

“I do care what they are off the field, but this a good bunch of kids,” Candrea explained. “I don’t have that issue. This team is 3.2 GPA, which is pretty good. [There is] great leadership with the seniors, great freshmen that come in here with a great energy and the thing that I love about them is that they’re all competitive. And so it works for a team like that.

“If you’re not competitive, then stuff like that doesn’t mean anything because some people they think the carrot is getting to Arizona. Well, these kids the carrot for them is something way beyond that. Getting to Arizona is the first step to it, but it’s winning it all and that’s fun to see and we’ve tried to take the process and try to make sure that it’s a daily process.”

The “great thing” about the gold jersey so far, Candrea says, is that a different player has won it each week.

“If you have one person winning it all the time, you’ve got issues,” Candrea said. “We need nine people that are able to contribute because that’s the type of game we play. It’s someone different every week and that’s the way it’s been for us. It’s been pretty phenomenal and it’s been kinda fun.”

This season has been fun for Arizona softball, too. The Wildcats are 40-1 this season and have won 25 games in a row. In two national polls, they are ranked No. 1.

Arizona has been on the winning end of several blowouts (this past weekend, it outscored Stanford 41-2 in three games), and Candrea says those one-sided games can lead to a team playing down to its competition in the future.

The gold jersey is a tool to help prevent that — and so far it has, as the team’s only loss is to Florida State, which was the No. 1 team at the time — so it’s safe to say Candrea doesn’t feel bad about stealing Miller’s idea.

“Sean and I talk a lot,” he said. “I love his passion and some of the things he does are very cool and everything you do in athletics, I guarantee have been stolen from someone. There are very few unique ideas that you have out there. And whether I steal them from a business standpoint or from another program or whatever, it’s still got to fit your personality and your program and your journey.

“And I thought the gold jersey would be really good for this group because of their competitiveness.”


You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire