Transformational town ball coaches lead St. Anthony Village coach to write book

By Nick Gerhardt

Troy Urdahl had a book idea brewing in his mind for the better part of two decades before the opportunity to write the first chapter presented itself.

Urdahl has served as the activities director for 18 years at St. Anthony Village High School and as head baseball coach for a total of 23 years. He comes from a family steeped in coaching. His grandfather served as a teacher-coach for his career, as did his father. 

Urdahl has written a new book, “Chasing Influence: Transformational Coaching to Build Champions for Life” that combines his experiences in coaching along with others who have played a pivotal role in his coaching development. The fictional book tells the story of Stick Olson, a life-long coach who experiences back-to-back tragedies nearly 60 years into his career. Former players and community members in the fictional town of Wassail Falls rally behind Olson and share stories of the influence he’s had on their lives.

“We celebrate the championships and we celebrate the wins,” Urdahl said. “However, what great coaches mean to a team transcends any one season. For anyone who has experienced that kind of coaching, they know how magical it is.”

Urdahl based Olson on an amalgam of coaches he’s learned from in his career and Waseca coaching legend Tink Larson served as a big influence for the character. Olson’s life mirrors Larson’s in that Larson lost his wife, Sharon, in 2014. Two years later the field and grandstand that Tink and Sharon dedicated their lives to serving burned down. 

Urdahl graduated from Litchfield High School in 1996 and learned from coaching legend Jeff Wollin as well as Red Jones and Rube Nathe — all Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame members. Urdahl also credits Mike Kingery as a transformational coach he learned from while growing up in Litchfield. Urdahl, himself, is a member of the Litchfield Baseball Association Hall of Fame and the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association and played with the Litchfield Blues for eight years.

“I was really lucky to be surrounded by some really awesome baseball people,” Urdahl said. “I’ve been able to surround myself with just wonderful people and coaches for my entire life.”

Those experiences led Urdahl to explore what transformative coaching means for student-athletes and communities at large with his book. Urdahl ruminated on the idea for the book, but finally had the time to explore it on a trip to Mexico where he found himself with free time on his hands.

Urdahl and his family visited Mexico in 2022 but when they prepared to return home, Urdahl tested positive for COVID-19 and found himself in quarantine for a week before he could return home. He put the time to good use and started compiling his thoughts on transformative coaching into a fictional book.

“If I had the right character I could weave together a good story,” Urdahl said.

He had a wealth of mentors to draw upon for the character, not to mention experiences viewing how coaches can have an influence on the athletes they coach and the community in which they live.

Urdahl has helped turn St. Anthony Village into a respected baseball program. When he took over head coaching duties in 2002 the Huskies appeared in the state tournament for the first time in school history. The school went on to claim a state title in 2006 and 2008. The Huskies have also appeared in the 2010 and 2011 state tournaments. Urdahl has earned section coach of the year honors six times and Class 2A coach of the year honors twice. 

Urdahl continued his roots in amateur baseball at St. Anthony. He and Rick Dunn helped create the St. Anthony Hogs amateur baseball team in 2004 and the club hosted Class A state tournaments from 2020-22 before Class A merged with Class B for the 2023 state tournament. 

His coaching revolves around baseball but he’s spent a career in education as a history and psychology teacher. His work as an administrator and continuing education led him to receive his doctorate from Bethel University where he researched high school athletes’ best and worst coaching experience in sports. 

He’s worked closely with Joe Ehrmann, who wrote “InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.” Ehrmann wrote the forward to Urdahl’s book and Urdahl is part of the InSideOut Initiative. The initiative is a national movement that “empowers and equips school communities to implement purpose-based athletics by connecting student-athletes to transformational coaches in a community of belonging for their social-emotional and character development. Through the evidence-based InSideOut System and InSideOut Philosophy, school communities redefine and reframe the educational value of athletics and activities as a catalyst to develop the human potential of students.”

Urdahl serves as a national activities director advisor for the InSideOut Initiative and held a position on the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors for several years. He also headed the Minnesota High School Coaches Association and continues to serve on the executive committee of the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association. Additionally, he’s worked on mentorship and education committees for the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

Urdahl’s book is available at Amazon.

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