By Rick Assad
Not many are lucky enough to know what they want to do professionally after college.
Melissa Sanchez doesn’t fall into this category, because the onetime Burbank High softball standout outfielder and Cal State East Bay graduate, had an inkling early on that she would be a coach.
“Reflecting back on when I played, my aspirations at the time were to play college level softball,” said the current Burbank High softball coach. “By hard work, dedication and commitment, I progressed into a college softball player. Throughout my college softball career, I admired my coaches for their persistent dedication and their devoted commitment to making myself and my teammates better. It was at that point I wanted to have an impact on young athletes that my coaches had on me. This led to my gravitation toward coaching young athletes.”
The transition from player to head coach has been smooth for Sanchez in her initial campaign.
“The fact that I played my whole life, it helped me to understand to respect my coaches,” she said. “I would say it really helped me, not hinder. As a head coach, I look at every girl in my program and can relate to them. At one point in my softball life, I have experienced what they are experiencing. Therefore, I can relate and connect with the girls on a whole different level.”
But the softball season was interrupted in March.
“Unfortunately, we were all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sanchez, who graduated from college in 2015 after spending two years at Glendale Community College and East Los Angeles College. “However, sometimes in life you need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. These unusual times makes us appreciate how fortunate we are and how blessed we are to be able to go to school, work, play sports and have a numerous amount of opportunities and privileges.”
Being a coach can be trying, according to Sanchez, who started 105 games for the Pioneers across two seasons and batted .282 with 45 runs scored and 38 runs batted in while posting a .356 slugging percentage and a .342 on-base percentage.
“To be a player/athlete is difficult,” she said. “However, to be a head coach is much more difficult. As a player, I played for the girl next to me. As a head coach, I am coaching all players to play for one another. There are many components in order to keep harmony on the field and off the field. This is a lot easier said than done. As a head coach, I must be structured, organized and be able to earn the respect of all my players.”
Sanchez explained why it isn’t easy. “Being a coach is very tedious at any level,” she admitted. “There are a lot of variables which a head coach has to endure. In order to have a copacetic environment, a head coach must comprehend different players, different personalities and juggle egos. I believe parents get a bad rap. I happen to love the parents. They make it more of a learning experience and at the end, they are helping me and I am helping them.”
Sanchez spoke about what she wants the Bulldogs to accomplish on the field.
“At the level I have matriculated, my philosophy is to win,” she noted. “As a varsity head coach, we try to win at all costs because in the end, winning is most important at this level. The varsity girls practice hard, train hard and study hard. They mature, they grow as individuals and they overcome difficult obstacles. I push and test these girls to their highest potential on a daily basis.”
Sanchez went on: “They are constantly rehearsing their roles. When game day comes, that field is their stage where they understand the task at hand, which is to win,” she said. “At the junior varsity level, I truly believe development is the most important part. At this level, the girls learn the intricacies of the game. They learn how to mentally grow and prepare to get to the varsity level.”
On the playing field, Sanchez prospered at every level.
“In order to be a successful player you must be coachable,” she said. “If a softball player is coachable, it means she is willing to do anything a coach asks her to do and the rest is history.”
How about being triumphant in the dugout?
“In order to be a successful head coach, one must take pride in everything that he or she does,” Sanchez said. “The way coaches represent themselves plays a big role in what you will get out of your players. A successful coach is patient and understands that coaching is a journey and not a race.”
Preparation before a game is crucial. “Emotional and physical preparation is everything. Understanding what my role is, taking good care of myself, eating healthy and working out. I study my opponent and the opposing pitchers, defense and offense,” Sanchez said. “I navigate the entire spectrum of which I will be playing.”
Even little details aren’t overlooked. “I always understood that the smallest things would give me the biggest advantages for game time,” Sanchez said. “As a coach I make sure my players prepare the way I prepared for games. Therefore, when the game starts, the players are ready to perform and execute to the best of their ability.”
Former Burbank coach Mike Delaney followed Sanchez’s career. “I coached Mely in Park and Recreation. She was a talented player who worked hard and wanted to learn the game,” he said. “She started out as a catcher, but she loved the outfield and she became a very good outfielder with great range and a strong arm. As I watched her through high school and travel ball, I always appreciated how hard she worked to get better.”
Delaney is pleased Sanchez became a coach. “When she got into coaching she became even more of a student of the game and a teacher of the game,” he said. “I am glad to see former players like her give back to the game and share their passion with younger players.”
Kris Jones coached Sanchez for two years. “The thing I remember about Mely more than anything else was just her desire to go out and get every ball,” he said. “She played center field for me and any time a ball was hit her way, I knew that she was going to give 110 percent. It was always an all-out effort. Even in practice she always wanted me to hit the ball as hard as I could in areas where she wasn’t so that she could practice giving that kind of effort. She was a great kid to coach.”
Sanchez can’t recall a time when softball wasn’t a significant part of her life.
“My high school career highlight would be making the varsity team as a freshman,” she said. “At the time, this meant the world to me. I worked endless amounts of hours in order to get a starting position for my first high school game. The hard work paid off.”
And despite not having a full season because of the coronavirus, Sanchez was able to find a high point.
“As a head coach for such a short year, my highlight would be seeing the girls get through such a tough first semester I put them through,” she offered. “I came in with so many guidelines and expectations. The tough hours of conditioning, study halls, practices, weights and no days off was an enormous workload on them. Seeing them go through all that growth was the most rewarding feeling.”
Sanchez is extremely appreciative for everyone who has had a hand in her development.
“There is an overflow of coaches that have made a difference in my life,” she said. “Every single coach that I have had has had an impact on me. I am truly grateful, blessed and thankful for each and every one of them. I strongly believe life is eclectic and success comes from a learning process.”