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John’s Journal: "Chasing Influence" Is An Important Book For Coaches And Leaders

Author Troy Urdahl Weaves Real Events In Waseca Into An Inspiring Story

Posted: Monday, October 2, 2023 - 10:47 AM


St. Anthony Village High School activities director Troy Urdahl speaks with athletes and coaches.




As you read Chasing Influence: Transformational Coaching to Build Champions For Life, you will quickly recognize some real people … and one real Minnesota town ... in the form of the book’s fictional main characters and setting.

--The book’s focus is on a well-known and beloved baseball coach named Stick Olson, who represents Waseca legend Clint “Tink” Larson.

--A sports reporter named Patrick Fulda is easily recognized as legendary Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse (who hails from the small town of Fulda).

--The fictional community of Wassail Falls stands in for Waseca.

The book, authored by longtime St. Anthony Village High School activities director and baseball coach Troy Urdahl, provides important lessons for coaches and other people, of any age, who are involved in leadership roles. It tells the story of Stick Olson’s decades-long influence on the students, athletes and communities he impacted as a teacher, coach and mentor.

Urdahl’s use of Larson, Reusse and others as the basis for the book’s fictional cast of characters is inventive and creative. Minnesotans will appreciate those ties, and readers unfamiliar with Tink, Patrick and Waseca will learn just as much from the book.

Larson, who has been involved in baseball in Waseca since 1967, has coached high school baseball, town teams, American Legion and VFW teams. The Waseca ballpark was named Tink Larson Community Field in 1994. The grandstand, which dated from 1939, burned to the ground in an arson fire in 2016. Money was raised for a new facility, which opened in 2018.

Urdahl tells the story as fiction that is based on reality. Larson’s wife Sharon died suddenly in 2014, and the ballpark fire added to the tragedy in the life of Larson … and his fictional counterpart Stick Olson.

Urdahl, a native of Litchfield, is past president of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association and former president of the Minnesota State High School League board of directors. He has written curriculum for state and national coaching education initiatives and has led classes for hundreds of coaches at clinics and conferences. This book is an important and crucial contribution to leadership education.

Chasing Influence tells the story of a transformational high school coach who uses the power of school sports to make the world a better place. Embedded in each chapter are practical takeaways for leaders in every field.

The chapters focus on specific forms of positive influence, including relationships, resilience, purpose, wellness, patience, etc.

The book’s form makes for easy reading. Each chapter begins with basic statements about the chapter’s topic, followed by stories told by some of Stick Olson’s former players and ending with lessons from that chapter.

A chapter titled Wellness: Sharpen Your Life, for example, opens with this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

In each chapter, Urdahl writes about the fictional Stick Olson’s influence on his players, through vignettes from their playing days and beyond.

The book is remarkable in one special way. The tale is told – from beginning to end -- on the day of the rebuilt Stick Olson Field’s grand opening, with Fulda interviewing Olson and adult players who have come to celebrate as well as play in that day’s game for their old coach. Urdahl details Stick’s decades-long dedication to manicuring the field, the camaraderie between old friends who learned so many lessons from the coach, and the community spirit involved on such a glorious occasion.

The book includes ancient proverbs, morality stories and quotes from the likes of John Wooden, Tony Roberts, Winston Churchill, Mike Tyson, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Dr. Seuss and others. Urdahl also includes several entertaining side stories, such as Stick Olson’s appreciation for birds, noting how geese work together while flying in a V formation and how starlings fly in unison, using their synchronization to help elude predators. And in a telling tribute to his academic bona fides, Urdahl – who has a doctorate in educational leadership -- includes detailed footnotes that can be used for further research by readers.

A close look at the book jackets reveals a special blurb, written by the major inspiration for the book. The blurb reads, “I wish I’d read this book before I started coaching. I would’ve been a much better coach!”

The author of that blurb? Tink Larson himself.

The book is available on Amazon. Click here: 

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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