Relating for Results

by Micah McDaniel

Just four years into his head coaching career, Azusa Pacific head football coach Victor Santa Cruz, M.A. ’10, considered throwing in the towel.

On the field, the program struggled—only 14 wins in four seasons. Off the field, the relationships with his athletes followed suit, and he battled the late-night anxiety, pressures, and shame that came with the lack of results. “I was a struggling head coach and had the record to prove it,” said Santa Cruz. “My intentions were always to fulfill our mission of building champions while pursuing championships, but we were losing, and I was dealing with that frustration. I was trying to find a lever to pull or a circumstance to blame to feel better about why it wasn’t working. Something was missing.”

The height of these coaching challenges came just as Santa Cruz entered the final months of his Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program, where he learned of Daniel Goleman’s work with emotional intelligence—the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, others, and groups. At that time, Santa Cruz also reconnected with a longtime friend, Pat Intraversato, who had just launched Iron Coaching, a leadership coaching program for business executives. Intraversato sought to apply his ideas to athletics, so the two agreed to work together prior to and during the upcoming season. “I wasn’t following his career and wasn’t aware of how bad the program was doing. This was about helping a friend who wanted to pour into young men but was struggling with how to do that and causing all types of conflict that had a ripple effect through the entire program. Victor had a heart for these young men long before I met him. He just got in his own way.”

Intraversato’s work, similar to the popular StrengthsFinder tool widely used on the Azusa Pacific campus, focuses more on emotional intelligence and motivation. It also leans into the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), which uncovers how people react in a variety of situations (especially conflict) and provides an inventory of strengths, values, and motivations. Working closely with Santa Cruz and director of athletics Gary Pine ’84, MBA ’03, Intraversato coined the term “Relating for Results” for an approach that facilitates healthy relationships that achieve desired results. “We believe we were created for relationships,” said Pine. “Focus on the relationships and the results take care of themselves. You’re going to have conflict, because sports is littered with conflict. How do you manage the conflict? This initiative has turned our program around, and I truly believe this is our competitive edge.”

What Santa Cruz learned about relationships, motivation, and conflict with his players transformed his coaching, and as he began to apply the concepts to his coaching style, the wins followed. After winning just 33 percent of his games the first four years, Santa Cruz’s program has won 70 percent of its games since 2010, going 54-24 with three conference championships and four nine-win seasons the past seven years. “Relating for Results works because it taught me how to focus on the relationships by regulating myself and learning how to respond instead of react,” said Santa Cruz. “I learned the language of motivation and how to value differences. I see how God brought me to my knees in 2010, and now I want to be about His Kingdom come and my kingdom done, because I had exhausted my resources. Now, we have a God-honoring tool that transcends athletics and permeates all of our relationships.”

Relating for Results has swept the campus. As Intraversato and the Iron Coaching team work with coaches, athletic staff members, athletic trainers, and other APU personnel throughout campus, the revolutionary initiative has impacted not only coaching and work styles, but also personal lives and marriages. The first time Justin Leslie ’00, MBA ’01, head men’s basketball coach, sat in on one of the Relating for Results sessions, he went home, shared it with his wife, and the two began applying the concepts to their marriage, seeing immediate results. “There are so many practical applications that help me as a coach, husband, and father,” said Leslie. “It’s become a part of who I am and what I do, and I think it puts us on the cutting edge of athletics simply because this tool gets at the heart of motivation. All the other tools measure behavior, but when you know what is driving someone and how they deal with conflict, it can become powerful and revolutionize your relationships.”

While Pine and Intraversato collaborate on marketing this initiative to the NCAA, Azusa Pacific remains the only athletic program in the country that Intraversato works with, squarely putting APU on the cutting edge of transforming college coaching. “It is just the tip of the spear—our difference maker in making difference makers,” said Santa Cruz. “Our department is building champions with an initiative that leads the way in human performance best practice. Our program will shape the next evolution of college athletics and coaching.”