Featured Coach of the Month: Sara Doell

written by Erica Quam

The featured coach of the month is a new segment to the Who Coaches You? blog. The purpose is to bring more visibility to women who coach by sharing their stories. My intention is that other women who coach will read, learn, and be inspired by other women who coach. Hopefully, you'll resonate with these women in some way and perhaps identify yourself in some of the common threads that connect all of us in this incredible profession.

Sara Doell, Head Womem's Golf Coach, Seton Hall University

Sara Doell, Head Womem's Golf Coach, Seton Hall University

What's your name? Where did you grow up?

I'm Sara Doell and I grew up in Rochester, NY

What sport do you coach?

Women's Golf, Seton Hall University

What's one thing people may not realize about golf?

Golf is one of the hardest sports you can play- you play with the smallest ball, you use the tool that has the smallest sweet spot, you play on the largest field while hitting at the smallest target. It is an interesting way to look at the game!

What's your coaching history?

I started coaching in 2005 as an assistant coach at Penn State working for my college coach. I was there for 5 years with main responsibilities including recruiting, travel planning, equipment, practice planning, golf camp instructor and student-athlete development.

In 2010, Seton Hall added women's golf to the athletic department and I was hired as the first Head Women's Golf coach in program history. I had the unique opportunity to start a division I women's golf program from the ground up. I am currently in my 7th year as head coach here at Seton Hall.

What's your coaching story?

When I left Penn State as a student- athlete, I worked as an assistant golf professional at a country club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Two years after I left, my coach called me and asked me to consider coming back as an assistant coach. I declined because I was not ready to go into coaching and I did not want to coach my old teammates. I felt it would be a conflict of interest and that I was not far enough removed from the program to come back and earn respect as a coach. 2 years after that, the job opened again and she called me a second time. This time, it was the right time for me to enter my coaching career.

I did not grow up thinking I would be coaching in college- I always thought that I would be a professional golfer or work in the golf business. I am lucky that I was given a chance to coach because I truly believe that it is what I was meant to do.

What's one great piece of advice you've been given?

Once you make a decision, don't look back.

What's one piece of advice you wish you had been given that you could pass along to another coach?

Sara Doell and assistant coach, Deb Murphy

Sara Doell and assistant coach, Deb Murphy

It is okay to make mistakes in coaching. Accept that you will make mistakes as a coach. What is most important is to acknowledge them, learn from them and move on. You are not perfect and the team you coach has to see that you are human as well. If you can show that, they will respect you more than if you pretend to never mess up or struggle. They need to see your resiliency in tough times.

A second piece of advice: Don't call the team , "my team" and don't call the assistant coach "my assistant." I always refer to the team as "the team" or "our team" and "our assistant coach." Words can be powerful.

What are a few of your biggest joys you've experienced as a coach?

2016 Women's Golf Big East Champions

2016 Women's Golf Big East Champions

  1. 2014- In just the 4th year of the program we won the Big East championship by 7 shots when we were ranked 3rd in the conference.
  2. 2015- The next year, ranked first in the conference, we won Big East by 1 shot.
  3. 2016- We "three-peated" in a very unexpected win. We were ranked 4th in the conference and had a very tough season struggling with team cohesion and lack of leadership. We played our best golf at Big East and won by our largest margin- 12 strokes!
  4. One of my greatest joys in coaching here is to see how well our student- athletes have done after they graduate. We have 11 alumni and all of them have gone on to already to great things. We have 2 women who have gone on to get masters degrees. We have several that have entered the work place in great positions at companies like HSBC, Ernest- Young and CohnResnick. One of our alumni just graduated from the police academy. We have two alumni that have gotten married and another that is engaged. I stay very connected to all of them and love when they reach out to tell me how things are going. There is nothing better than the "Thanks, Coach. I made a decision today based on something you taught me" text or phone call.

Do you have a motto or favorite quote YOU LIVE BY?

I have "No Day But Today" tattooed on my foot. It is the theme from the Broadway musical "Rent." It reminds me to live in today and to enjoy the moment.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've experienced as a coach?

One of my challenges as a coach is to work with an athlete that has negative energy or no self motivation. That can be tough because I am innately a positive person who always strives to see the good in everything and do my best. So Negative energy, language or outlook is a tough one for me to deal with. Jon Gordon calls these people "Energy Vampires" that suck the positive energy from you, if you let them. I am getting better at this as I need to be reminded that you can't change the core of someone but you can lead by example.

Have you ever had a time where you struggled as a coach? 

Absolutely. The 2014-2015 school year was a tough one. I was frustrated and did not lead very well. I did not start the school year on a good note and we suffered because of it. I didn't communicate expectations to the team and did not foster any strong leadership from the team. We had a lot of drama, some members suspended for poor decisions and a whole lot of negativity on the team. I did not take care of myself physically and was sick 4 times throughout the school year with several colds and the flu. I didn't eat well, drank too much wine and gained weight. I had back pain and a few injuries along the way. I tried to put a Band-Aid on things and fix the team culture when it was too late. All in all it was one of my toughest years as a coach.

If so, can you describe what helped you move forward, reframe, or overcome that struggle?

In that school year, I think we got to "rock bottom" about a month before Big East when we were attempting to "three-peat." Something switched with me and the team. I think we all realized that we had to get it together and change our outlook and attitude. We did complete our "three-peat" that year by winning Big East which helped alleviate some of the bad feelings about the year.

After that, I took a summer to really revamp the program. I read "You win in the locker room first" by Jon Gordon and used the lessons in that book to restructure the program. I had our entire support staff read the book, as well. I named a captain over the summer and had her read it, as well. 

I participated in the "Pre Season Prep" summer coaching program with Erica which was so beneficial in reframing my attitude and vision for the team.

I wrote out our team culture and mission statement. I had several activities lined up to do with the team throughout the year that had nothing to do with technical skill and everything to do with emotional intelligence, self reflection and goal setting.

2016 Big East Golf Tournament

2016 Big East Golf Tournament

So far, it has been an awesome year as we have outperformed last years scoring averaging by several shots, have won a tournament and have great team chemistry and culture.

What do you do to learn, grow, & be at your best?

I have been working with Erica for two years. I completing "The Pre Season Prep for Coaches" program and am currently in "The Essence of Coaching" program - which has helped my vision and mindset.

I read books that will benefit me as a coach and person. Right now I am loving all of Jon Gordon's books. I have read, "The Energy Bus", "The Positive Dog", "Training Camp", "The Shark and the Goldfish", "You Win in the Locker Room First" and am currently reading "The Carpenter".

I am always training for or working towards a physical goal. I have completed 5 half-marathons, most recently Seattle in November. I am an avid "crossfitter" and love the community that the gym fosters. 

I love to cook at home because that helps me to eat healthy and know what is in the food that I am eating. Right now I am obsessed with the crockpot!

I have recently been doing a lot of "adult coloring" books which really can quiet your mind and help you to relax. It keeps me away from watching the news and from scrolling all of my social media sites too much.

What are 3-5 things you do to take care of yourself during the season?

I make sure that I have activities planned in my schedule that have nothing to do with golf or Seton Hall. Examples are going to Crossfit, having dinner plans with friends and taking time to have "date night" with my wife with no phones, TV or Social Media. 

I listen to a lot of Podcasts such as "Wait, wait don't tell me" and "Ask me another" during my commute to work- they usually have me laughing which puts me in a good place mentally. It makes the hour commute a better experience especially with the crazy New York City drivers!

I work to get enough sleep, eat healthy, continue my workouts and limit my intake of alcohol. These all help me to be physically healthy and mentally strong.

While it isn't possible every week, I try to make sure that I take at least one full day off each week where I do not go into the office. That is easier to do in off-season but it is important to schedule it in during "in-season", as well.

What's your favorite thing to do for yourself after the season is over?

Take a day (or two!) off where I do not get out of my pajamas or leave the house. It often involves mindless TV and hours on the couch!

What's the best thing you've done with/for your team this year?

I started the season on the right foot with a team guide that included the team vision and culture. I have remained consistent in pushing them to stay true to our culture and to stay true to themselves.

I started a "sticker"challenge they can earn Seton Hall stickers to put on their golf bag throughout the year by accomplishments, successes and reaching milestones. They love it and it has motivated in a way that I couldn't have imagined.

Do you have any favorite books or any go-to resources you can share?

I love reading any book written by Jon Gordon. Most of his books are a fictional story written in a way to teach you lessons of teamwork, positive energy, culture and how to be your best. They are quick reads and I have had the team read three of his books in the last year- they love it!

A few years back we read "The Secret" Rhonda Byrne which was also a very important read for the team that year.

What are some things you've done to connect with other women in coaching?

I am a member of The Alliance of Women's Coaches and attend many of their seminars. I also hosted a regional workshop here at Seton Hall back in January of 2014 which brought together 60 female coaches for a one-day work shop with some great female speakers.

I attended the NCAA Women's Coaches Academy in 2012 which was a life changing experience and helped me make many friends in the coaching world.

I attend our Women's Golf Coaches Association Coaching Convention at least every other year to connect with other golf coaches.

What's one action you believe female coaches could take - as individuals - to get more women in coaching and keep women in coaching longer?

I believe that many people starting coaching because someone said to them, "Have you ever thought about coaching?"

I think the best way to get women into coaching is to put the idea into their head. And the best way to keep women in coaching is to mentor and lead other coaches by suggesting workshops, programs, conventions and other avenues that can help them develop as a coach and keep their love for coaching.

Have you been inspired by Sara's coaching story? Have any ah-ha's or questions as you read? Let her know! Leave her a message in the comments below. 


Would you like to share your coaching story to inspire other women who coach? Contact me and let me know!

Would you like to share your coaching story to inspire other women who coach? Contact me and let me know!

Would you like to share your coaching story to inspire other women who coach? Contact me and let me know!