Call me Coach Tiffany: IWU coach leads with optimism

By Farah Bassyouni Nov18,2022

Coach Tiffany Prager starts her P.E. classes with a mindfulness meditation routine. Each of her students sits cross-legged on the floor, following her lead as they take deep breaths in and out.

“I have strong faith and I try to start my morning with a practice that reflects that,” she said. 

Prager, the women’s softball coach at Illinois Wesleyan University, might be the happiest person to ever exist. 

Prager went to Bloomington High School and then Illinois State University, where she had dreams of becoming an All-American star in softball. 

“I didn’t make it,” she said. 

“Growing up I wasn’t super athletically talented, so I needed every advantage,” Prager said.

She didn’t drink and constantly trained. She said she worked so hard, in part, because of her father.

“I think I’m most afraid of disappointing my dad,” she said. 

Prager’s dad was a Vietnam War veteran. He coached softball, and coached Prager and her older sister when they were kids. She and her sister played almost every sport out there, and their dad coached them hard every day. Once, while he was coaching their middle school softball team, she looked at him “wrong” and he benched her for the rest of the game. 

Leaving softball and abandoning her dream of being an athlete that her father had trained her to be was the hardest decision she ever had to make. 

“It was an identity. I had to get away from sport to find out who I was as a person, and what I liked outside of the sport,” she said. 

She moved to Dayton, Ohio, but realized after two years how much she missed home and her family, who had supported her for so long. So she came back to Bloomington and got a job at State Farm. 

“I owe everything to my family, and to this town,” she said. 

After getting away from softball, her family had to learn how to spend time together in the absence of sports. 

“There were times where it felt very empty without softball, we couldn’t communicate. American culture maybe puts too much emphasis on sports,” she said. 

Her family used to bond over Jimmy Johns and McDonalds on their way to games, but now they enjoy having a “no phones” meal together at home.  

She loves spending time with her nephews, though her dad always jokes about how they’re being raised too freely. 

“They’re wild kids, and he always makes a comment like, ‘I must’ve been a difficult parent because you’re doing everything opposite to me,’” Prager said with a laugh. 

Respecting authority, no matter who it is, was always the way to go during her childhood. 

“We were very quiet as children, if you can imagine. I’m very verbal now, I’m making up for it,” Prager said. “I think it’s also good to have thoughts and opinions and feelings.”

As a college student, she was in bed by 10:00 p.m. most nights, and that came with sacrifice. Now as a coach, she encourages her team to have fun. 

“I’m strict in some areas, but I know the importance of having the college experience,” she said. 

Prager is a member of the mental health care team, and allows each of her players to take a mental health day during the season. They have film day on the field in the fall, and get the projectors and bean bags out. They also have team meals, a favorite is pizza from Avanti’s. 

“I appreciate being involved in their lives There are more important things than softball,” she said. 

Prager still lives her life as if it’s a sport. She practices self-actualization, and has learned that being an athlete is much more than competing on the field. 

“You have all these records you want to beat, all this motivation. But when you go 0 for 4 at bat, how are you going to respond to that? Are you going to be nasty about it or are you going to have a light, yet tough character?” she said. 

Prager has bad days, just like everyone. She looks at the stuff that’s happening around the world and it’s hard not to be saddened. 

“Sometimes there’s no silver lining. But I get to coach an incredible team, I have my family. I get to be with the most incredible students in the country, and I really do believe that,” she said. 

In her P.E classes she encounters a lot of students who are just there to fulfill a general education requirement. She says those are her favorite students.

“You show up, and put forth effort. I want you to not hate coming to class,” she said. 

Prager lives her life with a valuable rule: meet people where they’re at. She said the golden rule is important, but have you heard of the platinum rule?

“The platinum rule is to treat people how they want to be treated. It means I’m taking into account who you are,” she said.

Maybe one day, if her students aren’t feeling well, she’ll say “instead of doing three sets, let’s just do two and see where you’re at.” Paying attention to people is her speciality. 

She said it was really difficult transitioning from athlete to coach, and understanding that her way of doing things wasn’t always the best way. 

“Two plus two equals four, but so does one plus three,” she said. 

She has strong faith in her team, and wants to win a national championship. The women’s softball team has been to nationals before, and placed second once during her time at IWU.

“That’s kind of our overarching goal, and I believe in that goal. When we win, it’s special because I know each player has sacrificed a lot. And the reality is, with life too, you kind of get a little lucky sometimes,” she said. 

She’s a total optimist, and also very modest. She said she’s okay if her story doesn’t make it into The Argus.

“I know I’m not that entertaining,” she said. 

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