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Ken Eriksen Pulls From Past Experiences Ahead Of 2020 Olympics

(Photo courtesy of USA Softball)

When Ken Eriksen steps into the dugout next summer in Tokyo at the Olympic Games, he plans on treating the experience like every other one he has had in his career with USA Softball.

"For me, this is just a nice journey with this group of people," Eriksen, the head coach of the 2020 United States Olympic softball team, told Softball America. "(I want) to continue to just teach and not worry about all the fanfare."

An assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in Athens in 2004, Eriksen has a wealth of experience at the international and Olympic levels in softball. Before he assumed his head coaching duties with Team USA in 2011, Eriksen was a heralded men's fastpitch player and coach at the international level. He began his coaching career on the women's side of USA Softball in 2002 as an assistant coach with the U.S. women's national team.

Since 2011, Eriksen has helped the American squad win two WBSC World Championship gold medals and two golds at the Pan-American Games, along with several other medals at international tournaments that Team USA has participated in during his head coaching tenure.

"These guys know nothing but gold," Eriksen said about Team USA, which captured three titles in as many international tournaments in 2019. "Somebody asked me, ‘How many golds is enough?’ There are never enough. This team has that relentlessness."

But if you ask Eriksen, the USA Softball program is still operating similarly to how it did under the leadership of former Olympic team and current University of Arizona head coach Mike Candrea, who led the U.S. to an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and a silver in 2008.

"We’re not doing anything different and haven’t done anything different from 2011 than what we did between 2001 and 2008," stated Eriksen, who calls Candrea a mentor. "(Coach Candrea) and I worked together for about three and a half years in this program. There’s no better person to learn from as a professional, as someone who is passionate about his players, as somebody who is passionate about his family."

In fact, Eriksen says Candrea's ability to delegate responsibilities to his staff and involve them in decision-making helped prepare him for the moment that is ahead next July.

"I've been (at the Olympics) as an assistant coach before and been involved in a lot of decision-making," said Eriksen, who has also been the head softball coach at the University of South Florida since 1996. "Coach Candrea was a great delegator and he was a mentor preparing me for this."

And Eriksen still has some time left to prepare himself for the Tokyo Games, which will begin for softball on July 22 and end on July 28. He has assumed the title of "Coach in Residence" at USF for the 2019-2020 campaign, so that he is able to fully dedicate himself to Team USA's training ahead of the Olympics. In Eriksen's absence, former U.S. women's national team pitcher Jessica Moore has assumed USF's head coaching responsibilities.

As Team USA begins its preparations for Tokyo next month, which include exhibition games across the U.S. starting in February, Eriksen knows his team will have its hands full with an Olympic field that consists of five formidable foes in Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Italy.

Regardless of the result next summer in Tokyo, however, Eriksen says he will handle things like he always has.

"Anybody who has ever known me and has seen me during these ball games (knows that) when the game is over, I close the book and I’m walking out the door. That’s it. I’m on to the next thing," Eriksen said. "So, I can tell you what is going to happen on the 28th of July next year. The game is going to be over, the book is going to be written and I’m going to walk right out of the stadium and you probably won’t see me again."

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