Oct. 16, 2012
By Steve Stone, Assistant Sports Information Director
For the everyday rational human being, the path you choose in life is the one that suits arguably the biggest necessity for anyone - happiness.
For Florida State assistant softball coach Craig Snider, being able to work at an established program with highly-skilled coaches and student-athletes certainly keeps him content every day. The daily grind of making each player better while enhancing himself as a teacher and mentor is what brings him back to JoAnne GrafField with a routine smile on his face.
However, no one said that being a coach at the Division I level is ever easy. The sometimes excruciating hours and constant road trips can be a test for anyone. From practice and game preparation to the long recruiting haul, there can be a price to pay for program success.
But what about all the coaches across the country who endure these hours away from home, and actually have families? For Snider, his pride and joy in his life are his wife Lauren and their two-year old baby daughter Riley. Any mention of either one of these two generates an immediate smile from the second-year assistant coach, grinning ear to ear.
"I really cherish as much time as I can spend with my wife and child," Snider said from his office at the Seminole Softball Complex. "As much time as I can spend at home without compromising our success here at FSU. Even if it's nothing more than lying in bed watching TV with them. It's good to be there, and I think Lauren feels that as well. It's good just to be present. I try to be there as much as I can."
With Snider and the rest of the Florida State coaching staff making huge gains on the recruiting trail, it appears that even more success is right around the corner. With all the returning talent in the circle and the loss of one every day starter in the outfield, Head Coach Lonni Alameda, Assistant Coach Travis Wilsonand Snider are fully aware that 2013 could be their year.
But for all the anticipation that lies ahead, and for whatever milestones and achievements that are in store, Snider knows they will pale in comparison to the accomplishments he sees in fatherhood. And he admits that sometimes it can be difficult balancing the task of selling out for your program but not being part of certain moments in his baby daughter's life that can't be simulated through Skype or Facetime.
An example is this summer and for parts of the fall when Snider spent a vast amount of days in Central Florida and other parts of the South. He managed to do his job and keep Florida State competitive with other high-profile schools for several big-name players, but the constant drudgery of offseason recruiting has felt differently for him over the last few years since the birth of Riley.
"For me it's difficult because you obviously want to be home with your wife and your kid as much as possible," Snider said. "What was tough this summer was you were missing some of the pivotal moments when they grow up and start saying the words and learning to speak. Technology has made it helpful to see and talk to your wife and kid, but it's also not the same. It's tough on Lauren and I sometimes because she's from Texas and I'm from Kentucky and we can't call our parents and say `Hey can you watch our girl?' Friends certainly would help out, but it's always family you want to lean on. It makes it tough for Lauren, but she's a saint for having to put up with it."
While Riley's birth counts as the most significant day in both Lauren and Craig's life aside from their wedding, it certainly wasn't a breeze bringing her into the world. Lauren had been in labor for 25 hours before finally giving birth to her baby girl, and Craig was there with her every step of the way as any husband should.
"The night her water broke, she called me and told me while I was out and I said I'd be there in a second," Snider remembered fondly. "I handled it a lot better than I thought because I thought I would be going crazy. I got home and we got our stuff together and she even thought I looked pretty calm but on the inside I was going nuts. We went to the hospital and she stayed in labor for a long time. She finally did the epidural after the 10th or 12th hour, but I was right there with her."
And it was at that moment where both their lives would change forever, in whatever way and perspective imaginable. It was Craig's time to take in the moment and realization that he will forever be responsible for helping potty-train his child, take her to school, teach her ABC's and 123's and all the other learning concepts they go through. Further down the road he will be celebrating her Sweet 16, sending her off to college and walking her down the aisle where she will take someone else's hand in marriage. His personal life had changed forever and for the better, a drastic difference from the way he was before Lauren was pregnant.
But as he experienced the joy of Riley being born, another aspect of him changed - he was soon to be a different coach. While he was always respected by his student-athletes and the way he helped their offensive game, his whole communication became different because of the fact that he was now a parent.
"Until you have kids, you don't understand what love is for a child," Snider said. "Once you go through that, then you'll understand and say `Hey, that's somebody's kid. That's somebody's little girl.' When that reality hits, you approach the game a lot differently than you normally would have.
"I remember when I was a young coach before we had kids and you're pretty fiery and sometimes you might get out of hand with some things and go back and apologize. Now you approach things sometimes as a more fatherly figure as opposed to a coaching figure. To me, it's huge to be a family man and a coach. I know that changed me as a coach, it changed me 100 percent. It's almost like now I have 26 little girls and that's how I approach them, it's like I feel like they are my kids. I think that makes a huge difference. I think in recruiting, for parents to see that you have kids and you are a loving family member, I think that goes a long way. I know as a parent I would want my child playing for someone who deals with kids or has kids."
And while Snider has tried to maintain that fine balance of doing his job well and being there for his wife and daughter, the first two years as a father have been nothing short of memorable. Riley can be found at multiple games and practices watching her dad coach the Seminoles, while he tries to do his work on the field but knows he has his pride and joy in the stands.
He has seen plenty of feats from his little girl in the first two years and cannot wait for her next milestones to approach.
"I got to see her first steps, and that was huge," Snider recalled. "I remember being there for her first words. I'll miss a lot of things she says that amazes you at her age. She'll put a sentence together that will leave me in disbelief. Lauren is so good about recording certain stuff and sending it to me."
In reality, Snider was pretty lucky to land a wife who is more than understanding of his line of work. Lauren was a softball player herself at Centenary, which is where they both met, and can at least sympathize with Craig's never-ending task of making Seminole Softball a powerhouse once again.
"I'm fortunate that she understands the rigors of everything we as a coaching staff do," Snider said in a thankful tone. "Between what I have going on and her work and keeping up with the baby, it's a lot. She did play softball and I couldn't imagine her not playing and understanding what we do right now. That would be tough."
It took Lauren's greatest patience at times when she was in the beginning stages of pregnancy with Riley. It came when softball season at Stephen F. Austin, Snider's previous coaching job, was right around the corner and the constant days of practice, preparation and games were imminent. Road trips were part of the deal which resulted in several days being spent away from home.
But Snider admits that as time got closer to Riley's birthday in August, the more anxious he would get.
"When June and July hit I started to get pretty fidgety and I didn't want to be far from home. Where I was working before I remember telling them `When these months come I want to shut it down. I want to be home,' he said. "I couldn't fathom being on the road and Lauren tell me she went into labor. I stayed close to Texas at that point. I spent a lot of time on the road in the early months and that was tough too because I wanted to be there. You want to be there for her too. Lauren was so good about the whole thing. She is so tough; she's the toughest woman I've been around."
Snider happens to be around another person almost daily who embodies the same caring principles as Lauren - that being his boss and head coach Lonni Alameda. The fifth-year skipper is someone who fosters a family atmosphere and relays to her student-athletes that although softball is a substantial aspect of their lives, there are other things that must be focused on as well.
Alameda has developed a strong reputation in the FSU community for being one of those coaches who not only cares how you are faring on the ballfield but how you are handling other parts of life. She has her team constantly out in Tallahassee performing community service, and the players she recruits and molds always wind up achieving so much academically.
Since Alameda arrived at Florida State prior to the 2009 season, she has shown her penchant for team-building activities while also strengthening the character of her own team. While also being one who teaches and preaches the fundamentals to her players, those who play for and know her understand she has a heart of gold and will be not only their coach but a true friend.
It is why Snider thanks his lucky stars that he works for someone who cares so much about him being not only a coach, but a father and role model for his daughter.
"I've never seen anything like what she does," Snider said. "She'll kick us out and say `You go home and spend time with your family.' She's so forgiving where there are some coaches who say `Well this is life and you have to deal with it.' She definitely understands that Travis (Wilson) and I are fathers first and then we're coaches, and I think that's pretty special."
Because Alameda spear-heads so many things for her team - the Dugout Club Newsletter, random Thank You notes to support staff and other worthy initiatives - Snider understands that he not only is learning to become a better coach from her but also a better father.
"I think from Lonni I've even learned how to be a better parent," he added. "I think that's been special too. She says things that make me say `You know what, you're right,' and so I've learned things from her that just make me a better person and father."
Being in Tallahassee has given the Sniders a great appreciation for the community. They have found it to be a wonderful place to raise a child, and both are fully satisfied with their employers. Craig is thankful to coach not only talented players but fantastic people. The consensus opinion shows that his players admire him as well and feel blessed to be coached by a true family man.
"I definitely see it as a benefit to be coached by someone who has a wife and little girl," shortstop Maddie O'Briensaid. "Since he is around girls all the time I am sure we are teaching him some things to look for when Riley grows up. He is also very supportive of everything we do and makes it easy to talk to him about anything."
O'Brien met Snider first in Oklahoma City at the Women's College World Series in 2011. She feels that he offers the right blend of coaching and, what every father needs, a good bit of humor.
"My experience working with Coach Snider has been great. From the first time I met him in Oklahoma City back in the summer of 2011 I knew he was going to be a great asset for the team," O'Brien added. "His humor mixed with his instruction makes this game a lot more fun. He is really passionate and loves to find new drills and ways to make us better. He is a very dedicated person and a great coach."
O'Brien's teammate, senior Kirstin Austin, can agree with those sentiments. For Austin, who has the makings of being an excellent wife and parent someday, it is important to her to have someone like Snider as a coach for many family-related reasons.
"It really means a lot to me to have a family-oriented coach," Austin said. "A person that puts family first is someone you can count on to be there for you when you need them most. First and foremost our team is a family and having a coach who believes in the importance of family is vital to our success on and off the field."
Of course, Snider also has his comical moments as O'Brien alluded to. Many team members found out in his first season that he has a rather diverse taste of music, whether he knows the lyrics or not.
"Coach Snider loves to sing along to any song that comes on during batting practice," Austin added. "The best part is when he doesn't know all of the words and mumbles through the words he's unsure of. There's usually a unique dance associated with each song too."
With a heap of both gushy and sarcastic praise from his fellow coaches and players, Snider has plenty of good vibes moving forward to help the Seminoles reach their first NCAA Super Regional since 2006. The continued push toward making Florida State a perennial power once again will require plenty of time from the proud father, but it is a way of life he has grown accustomed to living.
However, Snider has quickly realized in year one that coaching in the Florida State softball program won't ever tear him from the ones he loves the most. The moral and ethical values that are placed in this program allow him to be the best coach he can be, and more importantly the best husband and father one could ask for.
And let's face it; he owes it to his wife and daughter to be as omnipresent as possible. While undertaking what can be an unforgiving profession for families, he's with a program that cares not only about the progress made between the lines but the life he is leading for his two closest companions. Everyone involved in Florida State softball is truly part of the "Family First" mantra, allowing Snider to love his job but love his family even more.
After all, isn't that what true happiness is all about?