Finding balance between coaching, parenting
By Steve Rivera
For nearly four decades, Mike Candrea said he wanted to be a mentor and a role model for those he helped lead and shaped into the world.
That was not only for the women he helped turn into All-Americans on the University of Arizona softball diamond, but for his two children – now adults, Mikel and Michelle, and later his stepsons, Ryan and Sean.
Making an impact was important.
Candrea is a 2022 Father’s Day Council Tucson Father of the Year.
“I’ve always wanted to be a good provider and set a good example,” Candrea said. “If you call that mentoring, that’s probably as close to mentoring as you can be.
“I think even more so with your players, you have an opportunity to be much more vocal, have more opportunities to converse and communicate because you’re preparing for a game; whereas, with your own kids, sometimes you find yourself leading by providing and then giving them support when they need it.”
Finding that right balance of being there and being able to provide for the family is a part of parenting that he loves. It was about discipline, structure, love and support.
“I think any coach that you talk to will tell you that the hardest part is trying to balance your own kids with the ones you are coaching,” he said. “That was always the struggle. I can’t say I always got good at that because there was always that mileage between Tucson and Casa Grande.”
Candrea preferred to live in Casa Grande for more than 20 years and commute every day to coach at UArizona. It wasn’t until the last third of his coaching career that he decided to move to Tucson.
Still, he was there for his kids as much as possible. And they would be there for him, too, at the softball fields here, there and everywhere following their dad, who turned out to be a Hall of Fame softball coach and the winningest softball coach in the world. Candrea announced his retirement last summer after 1,674 wins and eight NCAA titles.
He’s been married to Tina for 15 years and is stepfather to Tina’s sons, Ryan and Sean.
“He has always been just great with advice,” Tina said. “He has more wisdom than most people I’ve ever spoken to. And sometimes not doing anything, is his advice. He’ll say pray about it or think about it a little longer or don’t make a rash decision.”
Mikel, the son of Candrea and his late wife, Sue, was part of UArizona’s softball coaching crew a few years ago as a volunteer coach and later worked for the late Jerry Kindall, coach of the UArizona baseball team. Mikel now gives softball lessons. Michelle, who grew up playing softball, is a Pilates instructor.
Mikel said he and his sister are grateful for their dad because he’s “as big-hearted as they come.”
“There are so many things I have used throughout my life (that) my dad has taught me, from work ethic to character to integrity,” Mikel added. “It’s about doing what’s right all the time. He has a heart that cares more about others than himself.”
Added Michelle: “I’ve been his No. 1 fan since I’ve been a little girl. He’s the same as a father as he was a coach: caring, loving and the giver of the best life lesson advice..”
It’s what Ryan has admired about his stepfather.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a better role model than Mike − his dedication, perseverance and commitment to excellence helped shape my own personal outlook on life,” Ryan said. “I consider myself blessed to call him my stepdad.”
Sean echoed Ryan’s sentiment.
“Mike has always been supportive of my athletic endeavors throughout the years, always coming to my high school football games,” he said. “Mike is the most hardworking guy I know. He cares deeply about softball and University of Arizona athletics.
It was all part of his role of being a dad and a coach. It’s long been his way, the Candrea way.
“It’s an honor and compliment for what we all grow up to try to be, to be able to have a great family and be a good dad and be a good mom,” he said. “I never dreamed I’d get to this point to where I’d get honored for it. I’m very humbled to be singled out.”
Pictured above from left – Top row: Mikel Candrea, Jaylen Candrea, Tina Candrea, Mike Candrea, Ryan Tilton Bottom row: Josiah Parker (Standing) Michelle Candrea & Kaitlin Tilton (Seated) Family missing from photo due to newborn: Sean & Cassie Tilton plus newborn George Tilton