If you’re looking for Brian Pritchard, don’t ask for him by name. Simply navigate your way to the northwest corner of the John Wooden Center and look for Waldo.
Pritchard – whose nickname was given to him by a coworker years ago – can be found in his office, denoted “Waldo’s World” by a sign on the door.
One wall is dominated by a whiteboard featuring an array of positive and inspirational quotes including “Don’t believe everything you think” and “If you’re bored you’re not paying attention,” while the others are adorned with signed memorabilia from the many successful sports teams Pritchard has worked with, most markedly the 2010 women’s softball national champions.
“I have a love of sports and a love of working with sports teams,” Pritchard said. “When I came to UCLA it was like being dropped in the best candy shop in the world.”
The din of the marching band could be heard in the background, as Waldo’s World looks out onto the Intramural Field as well as Drake Stadium and Bruin Walk beyond. On this particular Friday afternoon, the Ultimate Frisbee team darted back and forth across the vista. To Pritchard, it was one of the most interesting views one could have.
Although his official title is Outdoor Adventures program manager, what Pritchard takes most pride in is his role as an “experiential educator,” as he calls it. In this capacity, he manufactures conditions where student-athlete can learn through “games and adventure,” a role he has occupied for just more than seven years at UCLA.
“People learn differently and sometimes learn the best by doing things,” he said.
Pritchard himself was a collegiate rower, and so he understands the many nuances and neuroses that performing at the Division I level entails. He was a coxswain for Dartmouth’s crew team and competed at the 1975 and 1976 Head of the Charles, the largest two-day regatta in the world.
After a career in legal representation, he began working with sports teams at Dartmouth and Middlebury 30 years ago.
When he first arrived at UCLA it was strictly to operate the challenge course located at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, which was then rarely used by students themselves and was largely contracted out to businesses looking for retreat locations.
Pritchard has since integrated the course with student body activity and uses it as a platform for his true passion – working with athletes. Before his arrival, there weren’t any programs with athletics like the ones he now runs.
“When I came to L.A., I knew not a single person in Los Angeles,” Pritchard said. “I came entirely because of this job. Being a lover of sports, living five blocks off of the campus, I started going to a lot of sports games.”
Pritchard was an avid supporter of the Bruins for years before managing to land any clients. His first team was women’s soccer, where he worked with Lauren Cheney, who went on to win gold medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. Nine of the women’s teams have now worked with Pritchard.
The most recent team to work with Waldo is women’s softball, which on a November morning stood silently in a circle, a usually rowdy group captivated by the soft-spoken man standing in its center. Despite being smaller in stature than the majority of players surrounding him – he describes himself as “vertically challenged” – Pritchard commanded the scene.
He did this not by yelling or demanding, but by smiling and explaining. His gentle manner accompanies a knowledge of what people need in order to perform. During the more challenging exercises he prescribed, namely the ropes course, Pritchard was silent, allowing the teammates to motivate and encourage one another. That is, until a player was on the verge of failure – which is when he stepped in to cheer and spur on louder than any athlete present.
“You’ve got to do it yourself,” he told one player, encouraging her not to drop from the ropes course on which she precariously balanced 300 feet above the ground. This was followed by, “That’s good, Sam!” and, “Hips forward, Sam!” and a gung ho, “Do it for the short people!”
Pritchard emphasizes performing when uncomfortable, trying to train athletes for difficult situations while in competition. However, he also focuses on the team as a whole, choreographing exercises focused on teamwork to do what he calls “creating culture in (the) team.”
“I think it brings the team together a lot,” said sophomore outfielder Allexis Bennett in between ropes course challenges. “You wouldn’t expect people to do this for fun. … You share these moments that will last.”
One of his favorite and signature exercises is one in which the entire team stands in a circle facing one another. Pritchard starts off by pointing to a player and proclaiming, “You’re great!” That player then meets him in the middle of the circle for a high-five, and they take each other’s original positions. This builds until eventually the whole team has told each other that they are great and enthusiastically chest-bumped or performed creative handshakes.
“(Pritchard) helps with team bonding, (which is) a challenge,” said softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who coached the Bruins to the 2010 national championship. “They prove to themselves that anything is attainable and they tackle personal fears. (They’re) with their teammates; no one is doing this by themselves today.”
There’s more to Pritchard’s exercises than learning to win. After a pair of athletes who failed the ropes course the first time was successful on the second attempt, they earned emphatic cheers and high-fives from Pritchard. Everyone who failed was encouraged to repeat the course until they succeeded.
On Monday afternoon, as the sun set behind the Hill and joggers circled the Intramural Field, Pritchard reflected on the reason why he goes above and beyond his job description to help student-athletes succeed.
“My favorite part about it is when it’s really clear they get something out of it,” he said. “That’s (my) favorite part in terms of me feeling like I made a difference and they’ve gotten something out of it – when an athlete really learns something about themselves.”
It’s this fundamental care for the students he works with, his concern for their self-discovery, that makes Waldo a rarity.
As is his nature, Pritchard felt the need to show me this idea during our first meeting back in November, asking me to clasp my hands together. Unclasping my hands, I then shifted my fingers over one.
“There,” he said. “Now whenever you feel lonely, you can feel like someone’s holding your hand.”