This March, softball coach Kirin Kumar earned her 100th career win at Miami in a game against Ohio University after just three seasons with the team. Since taking the helm in 2021, Kumar has led the team in back-to-back MAC championships and NCAA tournament appearances.
Kumar began her playing career at the age of 10, going on to play collegiately at Georgia Tech for four years as a true utility player who saw time in the outfield and both corner infield positions. She began her professional career as an assistant coach for the Tulsa University softball program. Since then she’s coached at Western Kentucky University, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University.
In 2020, Miami hired Kumar for her first head coaching position, an opportunity she said scared her at first. She was hired after a series of Zoom interviews and accepted the job without having set foot in Oxford.
During her time at Miami, Kumar has implemented many different initiatives that have led to the success of the program.
“She really has turned this program around,” Adriana Barlow, a fifth-year senior infielder, said. “She came in and instilled a lot of belief in us. She gives us the confidence to step into the box and say, ‘Let’s have a day.’”
During the winter term, Kumar has her players read a book focused on leadership and their mental game. This season, the team read “It Takes What it Takes” by Trevor Moawad. The book focuses on neutral thinking and what it takes to be great. Kumar believes these traits carry over to her players’ lives beyond softball. She’s focused on developing her players to set them up for success after college.
“We’ve had one [player] that wanted to be a sportscaster, and she’s on a news team in South Carolina,” Kumar said. “One is the youngest non-military employee in the Pentagon; one is in grad school who wants to own her own hospital. To see them play softball at a high level and then graduate and do things at a high level, there’s also a goal to see that happen.”
Additionally, Kumar has created a leadership committee within her team, consisting of four players elected by the team. The leadership committee passes information between the team and the coaches and handles minor infractions within the team, such as showing up late to practice.
“We try to grow them as people,” Kumar said. “We do a lot of things to help them with leadership on and off the field.”
Another initiative Kumar has implemented, to focus on mental health, is the team meeting with sports psychologist Jim Slager every month. Players meet as a group without coaches to talk through any issues the team may be having.
“2K [that’s Kumar’s nickname among the team] really does believe in the mental health side of the game, which is nice having that support from her,” Barlow said. “She understands us, she knows even if it's not about softball, it will translate to the field.”
During games, Kumar lets her players make the decisions, occasionally stepping in to provide guidance. At a game against Toledo last week, outfielder Shelby Kunkel was struck in the ankle by a pitch. Kumar stepped in, ensuring Kunkel took her time before coming back up to bat.
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“During the game, she gives us little pointers and she’s more of a quiet leader,” Barlow said. “She’s taught us so well during practice that we know what we’re doing on our own.”
From reading books to observing practices in other sports, Kumar is constantly working to improve herself. She utilizes the resources around her, talking and ideating with the coaches around her who have built successful programs.
“Our goal is to take a MAC team to the World Series,” Kumar said. “We’ve made winning the conference a standard, we’ve made going to regionals standard. We want to get to the next level, Super Regionals and the World Series. We have the personnel to do it.”