Mental health in college athletics is now at a breaking point. It is more imperative now to make sure that coaches understand their true power when dealing with their student-athletes and their future.Jay Miller
Panhandle State Alumni Jay Miller’s book, “The Island,” has become a must-read for coaches and athletes alike, particularly those who want to create an unconventional but effective coaching culture. Miller’s book details his unique coaching approach that focuses on building a positive team culture rather than just winning games.
For Miller, it’s not winning and losing that keeps him up at night. “It’s wondering if my kids (players) are fed, have a roof over their head, and know they are loved.”
Miller’s approach is one that he learned from his own experiences with coaches, including his former head coach, Steve Appel, who was hard on his players but also had an open-door policy that allowed Miller to walk in and share his life’s problems with him. Miller credits former OPSU softball coach Rachel Burleson, who mentored and coached his wife, Candace, who also graduated from OPSU. Miller also credits athletic trainer Brian Lankford, who taught him about injury prevention in baseball and softball.
It wasn’t just the coaching staff that impacted Miller’s life. Miller is grateful for the lifelong friendships he made at OPSU and believes that these relationships helped him become the coach and mentor he is today. He also speaks highly of OPSU’s professors, who invested in their students individually and helped him find his path to graduate school.
Miller’s approach to coaching has resulted in some impressive achievements. In 2015, when he took over the softball program at Lake-Sumter State College in Leesburg, FL, the team had only won an average of 11 games per year over the previous decade. Since then, the team produced their best finish in conference history, and four of his former players have become college softball coaches.
He focuses on building relationships with his players individually and as a team. He also stresses the importance of communication and honesty, encouraging his players to be open and honest with each other and with him.
When Miller’s second son, Maddux, was born in July 2019, he was life-flighted to a hospital just days after his birth. As Miller and his family were dealing with the overwhelming emotions of the situation, Miller’s phone began to ring with calls. The outpouring of support and love from his players and colleagues made Miller realize how much he had accomplished in his three years as coach.
During this time in the hospital, Miller felt compelled to share his coaching approach with others. He realized that he had a story to tell and what better way to share it than through a book? “The Island” was born out of this experience and serves as a testament to the power of positive coaching.
“To be honest, I didn’t know then who I was writing for; I just felt this overwhelming need to put what we were doing into words,” Miller said about his book. “Anyone who had heard me speak at a conference would come up to me and tell me how innovative our actions were. To my coaching staff and me, it was the only way we knew how to do it.”
“My wife, who had just come home from the hospital for a second time with our newborn, got the first-ever copy on Christmas Day in 2019,” Miller shared. “For four months, we would go to bed together, and then when she was asleep, I would get back out of bed and write. I’d send the chapters to my dad, cousin, aunt, and our amazing athletic trainer for proofing and ideas. I never wanted to burden my wife to schedule a time to write, so I did it when everyone was sleeping.”
Looking back now, Miller sees his mission and the path the book started him on. “Mental health in college athletics is now at a breaking point,” he said. “It is more imperative now to make sure that coaches understand their true power when dealing with their student-athletes and their future. You don’t have to be a jerk of a coach to get your athletes to compete at their best, and the damage being done by some coaches is irreversible.”
Miller advises coaches to “coach your players hard, but love them as people even harder.”
Miller’s story has inspired hundreds and will continue to impact the lives of coaches and players. We are proud of Coach Jay Miller, 2012 Panhandle State Alum.
Representative Casey Murdock