Some people are born to coach. No matter the sport, level of competition or gender, these people can consistently lead their teams to success. Ithaca College has been blessed with the services of two such people — Dan Wood and Bill Ware.
Wood currently coaches the women’s golf team alongside his wife, Sandi. He has led the program to three Empire 8 Conference championships in the program’s four years.
Last year I was researching a story for The Ithacan on married coaches, and I performed the standard research method of typing a name into Google. The Wikipedia entry said Wood had been the coach of Cornell University soccer, Cornell tennis, three teams in the professional North American Soccer League and was a professional golfer before coming to South Hill. I assumed this was a classic example of why not to trust Wikipedia; someone clearly must have combined the entries for multiple Dan Woods. But when I talked to him he told me that yes, Dan Wood, Division III women’s golf coach, was also Dan Wood, the professional soccer coach.
Meanwhile, I knew Bill Ware as the man who had been the women’s cross country coach at Ithaca for as long as anyone could remember. What I didn’t know is that women’s cross country was merely the final stop of Ware’s coaching career at the college. Ware coached the men’s lacrosse team from 1966 to 1977 and also founded the men’s swimming and diving team, which he coached for its first 16 seasons before founding the women’s cross country team in 1982.
Wood said he has known Ware for nearly 40 years through his father, Ithaca Hall of Fame coach Carp Wood. Both Ware and Wood began their careers coaching men but are finishing their careers coaching women. The coaches said their female family members helped them transition to coaching women. Wood said he wished he had spoken to Ware about transitioning from coaching men to women before he made the switch.
“That has been a real learning dynamic for me, learning the group dynamics of coaching women’s teams,” Wood said. “I can’t say I was too proficient with that when I first got here.”
I wondered how these two men could be successful coaches at sports that have seemingly nothing to do with each other. Wood said a consistent hallmark of his success has been increasing the amount of training his athletes do. At Cornell, he convinced his soccer players to play for club teams over the summer, organized indoor practices at indoor tennis courts at the Ithaca Mall and organized a spring break trip to compete in warm weather states. With the golf team, he has organized similar spring break trips and encouraged his players to play over the summer.
Ware’s training methods were by no means particularly advanced. In fact, they were probably out of date 15 years before he retired last year. However, every woman on the team ran as hard as they could for him, and he produced national caliber teams with incredible consistency.
Ware and Wood are testament to my belief that technical expertise is much less important to be a good coach than the ability to motivate athletes to practice and compete hard.