My mission is to inspire softball girls to DREAM bigger, WORK harder, and SMILE more often. I look to not only help to improve their physical softball skills, but also show them the importance of confidence on AND off the field. Through my website you will find information on all things softball—motivation, inspiration, blogs, quotes, videos, tips, preparation, etc. The options are endless for us to explore…

Experience Makes You Shine

I’m a firm believer in experience.  There’s nothing like the experience of pitching or hitting in the “big game” or with the bases loaded, and the game is on the line. Your thoughts are rushing quickly through your mind, you are completely aware of what’s at stake and how the next pitch you throw, the next time you swing or the next ground ball you field can be a defining moment in an important game.  In this moment, all eyes are on you, and believe me, you can feel it.  The experience itself comes down to more of a mental state than a physical state.  Your physical skills are there from the hours of practice and thousands of reps you have taken at your skill. However, your mental state will determine how your physical state is allowed to perform during the game at any point, especially those few defining moments in every game when it comes down to that one pitch.  One of the biggest questions is how to help a player to be strong in that moment.  A big part of that strength comes from drawing on past experience.

How are you going to handle your defining moment?

It’s hard to simulate this same sensation you get in the big moment in the game without actually living through it on the field itself.  There’s really no practice that you can do to fully compare to the same feeling that is created when you are actually in that big moment with the ball in your hand. The only way to simulate it is to actually do it…multiple times.  The more you do it, the more relaxed you can feel to be able to play to the highest of your ability without your muscles tightening up and thoughts overwhelming your brain in your head. The pressure you feel is as much a mental sense as it is a physical sense of feeling pressure and tightness throughout your whole body.  I’ve felt it.  Multiple times.  It’s that adrenaline rush that you get before the game and during the game that never goes away and is what makes sports addicting.  I want to be frank, if you’ve never been the pitcher in the circle or the hitter at the plate in that game-defining moment, you truly have NO IDEA what it feels like mentally to be present in that situation.  You don’t have the experience.  There may be things that you have been through that are similar, but it when it comes right down to it, the feeling that is created with the “big moment” is sometimes incomprehensible.

But it’s these moments that we all live for in all sports – as players and even as fans at the edge of our seats. 

How do you deal with the pressure?  You have to experience it.  You have to breathe through it.  You have to learn from it.  You have to be confident that you can handle it.  You have to recognize what it FEELS like, be in tune with your body and grasp how to cope with the tightness, the pressure and all of the intense energy that is surrounding that big moment. The more familiar you become with these feelings, the more you understand what it is like to tackle them and become victorious in that big situation.  It’s in these situations where you give more thought to breathing and calming your brain and heart down than you do to actually how to throw a pitch or swing a bat.  You practice experiences.  You practice breathing.  You practice how to keep your emotions under control when the game is on the line.  The more you have at practicing this, the more you WANT to be the one in the key point in the game.

Experience in ANYTHING we do gives us confidence the more and more we perform an action, in a certain situation, under certain conditions.  If you are bad at something (anything, no matter WHAT it is), the more you do it, the better you become at it, as your body and motor skills become more comfortable with handling the new skill you are trying to pick up.  The skill in the “big moment” is practicing how to control your emotions, thoughts, and calmness.  Even if you start as “good” at something with little to no experience, you will become GREAT at it the more and more you do it.  We can see this in real life outside of sports in our careers or different hobbies that we take on.  Sports are the same and even more pressure-filled because in a sport, everyone attending the game knows immediately if you failed or succeeded.  You are out on a stage called a field, and all eyes are on you watching your physical performance and waiting to deem your physical performance as a success or a failure.  Immediately after you perform a skill, every single person watching knows if you failed or succeeded.  Think of a player giving up a home run – everyone watching knows that the pitcher just “failed” and the hitter just “succeeded,” or at least they think they know.  Think of a basketball player and the eyes that are watching every shot taken.  We all know as fans whether or not a player messed up when he/she took a shot based off of the physical result of the ball going in the basket or not.  A job can be different than sports.  Maybe only 1 person knows that you “failed” – your boss.  Many times in a job, you aren’t out on a stage where literally every single person watching, or in the room, knows when you failed.  In a softball game, if you strike out or have a homerun hit off of you, AT LEAST 20 people know if you failed or not (at least 9 on each team, plus a few coaches on each team).  The thought of failing in front of people added creates pressure.

Okay, so I set the stage for you.  After innings and innings of play, and numerous games, sometimes we forget what the “big moment” is all about and what it really feels like to be in that pressure situation – we take it for granted that a player should be good at handling the big moment. This especially happens because we, as coaches and the parents, are older and have either seen or been through those experiences many times ourselves, so we assume that the 11 or 12 year old should be better at dealing with it.  Not the case!  They are just babies, they are just learning and trying to get their feet underneath them.  They are just getting a grasp at the physical part of the game to think about, and now they are having to think about this monumental mental side of it that can make or break them.   To understand what is at stake in the experience, is almost as important as learning to understand and deal with the actual experience itself – from a support position as a parent or as a coach.

Everyone comes around in their own time.  This is life.  We all learn differently, we all experience differently.

Take walking for example (not the softball walking of 4 balls take your base, but the actual skills of walking as a baby) – an experience that all of us can draw from – one of our first physical skills we attempt to do.  We got up, we fell.  We got up again, we fell again.  After days, maybe even weeks of getting up and trying to take that first step, we eventually stand a little longer.  We eventually take one step, then maybe two steps,  And before you know it, we are cruising all over the room and our parents can’t keep up with us. We had to experience each fall  before we could actually get to the end result we wanted.  Now, I imagine that standing for the first time or trying to walk for the first time is a bit uncomfortable. (I honestly can’t remember, but I’m just going off of a simple guess here) Your body is probably thinking what the heck is going on? What am I trying to do?

It’s new.  You have to figure it out.  You have to learn.  You have to understand what you’re feeling and your muscles and brain are learning each step of the way (no pun intended). Each and every one of us didn’t all learn to walk in the exact same amount of time, or at the exact same point in our lives.  Our parents were there supporting us, encoring us that we could do it.  They believed in us, and they knew it was only a matter of time.  We experienced failing to become the walkers we are today.  We may not have walked exactly when our parents expected us to, but eventually we figured it out.

Playing in the “big moment” is the exact same way.  It can feel and will feel uncomfortable.

Anything new feels uncomfortable.  Experience will create a comfortability (just made up my own word there, but you get the point).  We don’t get as many experiences in the “big moment” as we do when we were walking.  When we were walking, we were working on that every single day of our lives.  For the “big moment,” you MAY experience it once a weekend.  Maybe you don’t experience it on a weekend of games at all.  If someone is not experiencing different situations, then you cannot be upset with them for not being good at it.  Our parents didn’t get mad at us when we couldn’t walk on our first try.

The more you can experience the pressure situations and the make or break moment, the better and better you will become at being able to handle it.

THE REACTION

Nobody wants to fail.  Nobody likes to fail; but it’s the failing that can make us GREAT.  That “failing” moment where a homerun is hit off of you or someone strikes you out should be looked at as a learning moment, not a failing moment.  Where was that pitch she hit? Where could it have been? Where did she pitch you this at bat? What part of the plate was strike 3 on? Where do you think she will pitch you next at bat?  What are you going to do the NEXT time so that you feel more equipped to have success than feeling like a failure from your last experience. Teach teach teach teach!  When you react, don’t judge the experience, teach the experience.

No matter what age someone is at, especially a young girl, we don’t want to let someone downespecially in the big situation.  I PROMISE this is the case. Some might not admit it, but I’m telling you it’s true – I know from experience. Most girls don’t want to let other people down more than they don’t want to let themselves down.  Girls are looking for a reaction from their coaches and from their parents. Girls are pleasers.  They don’t want to see a reaction that they let anyone down – especially someone important to them.

If you are a coach or a parent, what reaction are you giving when someone “fails” out on the field?

That instant reaction you are giving with your words, facial expressions or body language IS IMPACTING THE NEXT BIG MOMENT THAT PLAYER WILL PLAY IN. No girl fails on purpose – no chance, no way.  When she looks to the dugout or into the stands, she is looking to see if she let you down.  Yes you – the coach, the parents.  If she did let you down, then you’re making it more about you than you are about her.  Remember, it’s about those players wearing the uniform, learning every step of the way.  They should never feel as if they are letting you down if they don’t make the plays that you think they are supposed to make.

If a girl is scared of a bad reaction, when the big moment comes, she will be drawing back on that experience in her mind from the last time it happened.  Even if it is not consciously being thought about, I promise to you it is in the back of her mind.  This is only going to make her TIGHTER in the big situation, not relaxed.  The player that is in the positive, encouraging atmosphere and mindset will become the player that does better the more and more they get to experience the big situations because they will become more relaxed and more comfortable. These players will be able to understand and deal with those tight feelings and a brain that is running at 1000mph.

Sports are similar to how life works in all aspects.  We do something, we fail, we learn.  But in the same breath – we do something, we succeed, we learn.  There’s a chance for both, but you have to allow the failing to teach you without effecting your confidence.  Learn from your successes just like you learn from failing.  More importantly, how people are reacting around you are teaching you how to feel about and how to feel in the defining moments of the game.  The first thing you should look to if it looks like a player plays down when the pressure situation increases are her coaches and her parents.  How do they react? What are they telling her after the failure? What do they look like when things don’t go exactly how they planned?  Was there a certain situation that happened in the past where maybe the parents and coaches didn’t even know that they showed to the player that they let her down? I’m telling you — you want a player who can handle the big situations, then you want coaches and parents (authority figures) who react in a positive manner. 

SEEK OUT THE EXPERIENCE

Experience is absolutely critical in the development of a player, especially at a young age up until high school.  Don’t get me wrong, even in high school and college, experience is one of the most important things, but the experience the older you get becomes more about dealing with extra outside forces.  The games start to mean more, the competition becomes tougher, the games become televised.  Gaining experience and a mental edge at a young age is instrumental for gaining confidence in the big moment at the older ages when it matters even more.  You can’t start from scratch one you get to high school and college.  If too many poor, negative experiences and bad reactions are engrained in someone’s head in high school and in college, then it’s toughed to overcome them – similar to bad mechanics and poor muscle memory

It does no good to be on a really well known/best team in the area if you are sitting the bench watching other people get the experience – especially as a pitcher. In 10u, 12u and even moving into 14u, you’ve GOT to be getting experience in the circle and up at the plate.  You have a few choices:

  1. Say you are the #2 or #3 pitcher on the team.  You can stay on the well-known team, even though you aren’t the starter and keep practicing very hard to continue to get better.  Stick it out for a year or two, BUT sign up for a local league and get pitching time.  Yes, I know the competition isn’t as good, but I don’t care.  You are getting mound time and you are practicing throwing to an opposing team while working hitting your spots and gaining command.  This is a perfect place to improve confidence, get reps and work on some mechanical issues you are trying to get better at.  PLUS, if you are staying on that team where you are the #2 or #3 pitcher on the team, you add to the competition to be the lead pitcher.  Because you a re getting better, you are making the other pitchers better and there becomes more competition at your position.  I actually did this, and I know from experience that it worked to my benefit.  I wasn’t getting as much pitching time as 1 or 2 other pitchers on my select team in 12u, and me and my parents weren’t in denial about it.  We knew that I needed to get better in order to earn more pitching time.  So we signed up for a fall league to get more innings and more pitches thrown.  To this day, I really think it’s one of the best ideas we came up with as a family. I got drastically better after that season because I was getting the experience I needed, and my results on my select team started to improve and eventually I got more and more time.  Yes, it was a bit of a time crunch, and there were probably times I didn’t want to go, but I really feel like it helped out in the long run.
  2. You can change teams.  I always recommend doing this at the end of the season and not in the middle.  With this being said, I am not an advocate of team hoppers.  However, I am an advocate for experience and how essential it is to have playing time at a young age.  Experience, when it comes to time in the circle and number of at bats you are getting, is SOOO important.
  3. I DON’T THINK QUITTING IS AN OPTION IF SOMEONE LOVES TO DO SOMETHING.  This will be an option that many people are quick to jump to.  The only time I would encourage quitting is if the passion is not there for someone and they are not putting in the time and effort it takes to become solid player.  There is a difference between not having passion and not being as talented as the other players VS having passion and being slower to catch your talent level up to speed.

If someone has the passion to do something, I am convinced they can and will achieve anything they put their mind to, and you can’t tell me otherwise.  The people who don’t have passion end up quitting and weeding themselves out.

PRESSURE IS PRIVILEDGE

Have you ever heard this saying before? I love it. It reminds me of that movie, Remember The Titans.  The older I get, the more I understand those 3 words.  When you look at pressure as an opportunity, not a fear, the game becomes a bit more simple….not easier, but unescapably more simple.  When you get more experiences to choose how you are going to handle different in game situations, you get more experience in choosing the right thoughts, and understanding which thoughts connect with which results.  When the bases are loaded and the game is on the line be thinking, “I get to show everyone how good I am and how I am going to come through” not “I hope I don’t mess up and fail.”  The experience of being in tight situations is all about controlling those thoughts.  It’s easier to control those thoughts when you are in a positive, encouraging environment with your parents, coaches and teammates who support you.

Positive self talk should be something that is without a doubt engrained in players from a young age, especially when they are young and most impressionable.  It should be discussed with players as much, if not more, than the actual mechanics of softball.  Take time for it.  It is so important in the development of players not just in their physical game, but in the part of the actual game itself when the “big moment” comes up and it’s time to shine.

It’s that positive self talk that will help you understand and realize that pressure really is a privilege and you should WANT to be the one with the bat or ball in your hands to come up to be the one for your team.

Realize this: We aren’t going to be perfect, especially in this game of failure we call softball.  Every time you are in that pressure situation it’s a chance to prove that you’re in the right frame of mind.  The “success” and “failure” comes from being in the right frame of mind and giving yourself a chance to have success when the big moment comes; it doesn’t always necessarily come with the outcome, despite what all eyes watching might think.  When you take pressure off of the outcome and the fear of doing something wrong and not pleasing others, you give yourself the opportunity to have more success.  The experiences you go through should be learning moments that are making you a better player.  It shouldn’t feel like punishment or that you did something wrong as a player if you don’t come through in the clutch.  It should be used as a moment to teach, so that when the moment presents itself again, you absolutely nail it.

Only YOU can define your moment.  YOU create your opportunities – what are you going to do with them?

Why Does Accuracy Matter?

Accuracy, movement & velocity.  Those are the three core items we talk about that go into being a great pitcher.

To me, the most important one is accuracy.

Yes, speed and movement play a part in being a solid, successful pitcher!  But, speed and movement should enhance accuracy.  In my mind, accuracy should come first. At the end of the day (especially at the higher levels of play), it doesn’t matter how hard you throw or how much movement you have if you are unable to hit your spots.  Being able to throw hard and not know where the ball is going will lead to you throwing 2 innings per game in college.  Being able to throw hard and know where the ball is going will lead you to throw a complete game in college.

At the simplest form, our job as a pitcher is to get outs.  No matter how those outs come – strike outs, fly balls or ground outs, it’s our job.  You get outs by hitting spots accurately, consistently and with precision.

At any level, if you throw the ball over the middle of the plate, it’s going to get hit.  We keep the ball on the corners because it’s a much harder pitch to hit, and a hitter has less chance of having success. The older you get, the further hitters hit mistakes.  The harder you throw, the further the mistake is hit.

Why accuracy matters

Less accuracy can lead to more walks…

Every coaches nightmare is to see his pitchers give up walks (especially leadoff walks and walks to the 9 hole). No matter what level, 4 balls always equals a walk.  It doesn’t matter if you throw those 4 balls at 75mph or 42 mph, a ball is a ball.  Even if the pitch breaks a foot and has the best movement ever, if it doesn’t cross through the strike zone, then a ball is a ball.

If you cannot find the strike zone, or a hitter is not chasing your pitches, it’s going to lead to walks.  This past year, even in the college game, I saw more runs walked in than ever before.  You can’t defend a walk. Your defense can’t help you when you are giving away free passes and putting people on board because you as a pitcher cannot throw strikes.  What did I say our number 1 job as pitcher is? To get outs.  Our defense can’t make plays behind us if we do not have accuracy and are not able to find the strike zone.  Walks are the death of pitchers and walks lead to runs.   The more accurate you are, the less walks you give up.  Hitters have to earn their way on base. Bottom line – If you don’t throw strikes (accuracy), then it’s going to be really difficult to win.

Less accuracy makes it harder for someone to call pitches…

Nothing is better than calling pitches for your pitcher and knowing exactly what you are going to get. (If you are a pitch caller, you know exactly what I mean). Nothing is worse than calling pitches for a pitcher and having no clue where the ball is going to go.  It almost makes it impossible and completely a guessing game.  I tell our pitchers that if they put the ball to the spot I am telling them, there’s probably a 95% chance we are going to get that hitter out.  To be honest, it doesn’t even matter WHICH pitch they throw to the spot I am calling, all they have to do is hit one spot, some way, somehow.  That’s it.  That’s their job.  It’s all about hitting spots consistently and being able to move the ball in and out without a high risk of throwing the ball over the heart of the plate.

You’ve got to be able to know exactly where the ball is going so you can set a hitter up to get her out.  The older you get, the more important pitch calling gets with setting hitters up, finding their weaknesses, and having scouting reports based off of what hitters can and cannot hit.  Good hitters are going to hit mistakes and hit them hard.  Even if a ball breaks 6 inches and it breaks right to the middle of the plate, it’s going to get hit.  I promise.  I’ve been there and done it and see it with my own two eyes.

Less accuracy makes it harder to adjust to an umpire’s zone…

As pitchers, we are going to have umpires we come across who have a small strike zone.  Pitchers who have the best accuracy and can put the ball exactly where they want to will not have nearly as much trouble with these umpires.  When you face an umpire with a small zone, it’s important to work inches and move the ball in a little bit more at a time to be able to find that umpires strike zone.  Pitchers who do not have great accuracy end up making TOO BIG of adjustments and putting the ball right over the middle of the plate when they are trying to find the zone.  They are the pitches who are more likely to get hit hard when facing an umpire with a smaller strike zone.  The key to umpires with small strike zones is making small, tiny adjustments to try to find exactly where that umpire is going to call it. The more accurate you are and trust in hitting your spots, the easier it’s going to be for you to find strikes in a challenging strike zone.

Now…I will be honest with you, the harder you throw and the more movement you have, the more mistakes you are able to get away with, especially at the younger ages.  This is why the pitchers who are younger and throw hard really stick out (if you are in 12U and even 14U, you know what I am talking about).  And, at a younger age, these pitches can get away with throwing it over the middle of the plate and not get hurt.  But, let me tell you, these pitchers aren’t learning anything other than throwing it down the middle works for them.  It’s positive reinforcement to these pitchers to throw the ball right down the middle because hitters will swing and miss and they will get away with it.  This method absolutely will not work for long as you get older and hitters get better.

Pitchers who just throw hard and throw it over the middle of the plate are just learning to be throwers and not pitchers.

(There is a huge difference, and I will save the comparison for another blog in a different day.)  Now, these pitchers, as they get older and start facing better hitters, will soon learn that accuracy is the most important thing they could have learned at a young age.

The pitchers who don’t throw as hard have to learn to be more precise at a very young age because they will get hit if they don’t hit a precise spot since the hitter has a longer time to see the ball coming out of the hand.  They learn from failure.  I pitch it here and it gets hit here.  They are learning where they can and cannot throw pitches in order to have success.  They learn from their failures.  They are learning from instant feedback on their mistakes about where not to throw the pitch.  If these type of pitchers have the courage and passion to stick with pitching and work their tails off on being AWESOME a hitting their spots, then they will have a high chance of success.  However, it is at this age that coaches are telling them that to be a great pitcher you have to throw hard and have 6+ different pitches.  This is just not true.  If these pitchers can work past all of the people who tell them that they aren’t a good pitcher just because they don’t throw hard, I believe they have a high chance of playing in college because they are learning from a young age to be pitchers who pitch with high accuracy and can put the ball where they want to in order to get outs.    

I PROMISE you, from my own past experience, and currently watching hundreds of game every year, if you put the ball over the middle of the plate, no matter how hard you throw or how much movement you have, it has a very high chance of getting hit, and getting hit hard.  It’s not all about speed and it’s not all about movement.  Strive for accuracy and command, and be working on this continually at practice.  It is not just about how hard you throw I PROMISE.

In a perfect world, you would have the best of all 3 – accuracy, speed and movement.

Someone who can hit her spots 95% of the time, throwing 70mph and every pitch she throws moves 6 inches.  This is unrealistic.  If you find a person who can do this, you will be showing me someone who is well on her way to be a National Player of the Year once she gets to college, so long as she has the mental toughness to go along with it.  Learning accuracy at a young age is critical and not to be overlooked, as it becomes the most important part of pitching, especially when you get to the Gold and collegiate levels of play.  When you’re pitching at a young age, learn good work habits and focus habits, thinking of accuracy and precision with your pitching on a daily basis.  Even though you may be able to get away with pitches over the middle of the plate in the 12U-16U levels, think about how you want to play long term and play at the highest level you are capable of.  Think towards big goals and the kind of pitcher that can get out the best hitters in the country.  That pitcher will be a pitcher who pitches with such great accuracy on both sides of the plate, rarely gives up walks, and can make in-game adjustments to adjust to the hitter and to the umpire.

How do you get “The Look”?

Regardless of how hard you throw, how you swing or how much movement you have, you should have a certain look about you. No, I’m not talking about make up, or headbands or uniform color. I’m talking about how YOU look from the inside out.

When should this look happen? All. The. Time. – at practice, in games, walking up to the ballpark, at lessons, warming up.

“The Look” will eventually become a part of your every day life, even outside of softball. The Look will be something you feel at school walking down the hall, or walking into a room where maybe you don’t know anyone. (That is when The Look REALLY matters even more…when softball is done).

No matter what else is going on, you always have The Look in your back pocket. You own it, nobody else does.

Best thing about The Look is that it’s free. You can’t buy it with make up or a designer top. It’s not about those things. The Look is priceless, but it pays off in so many different ways.

Sooo…what is she talking about? Where should you start if you’ve never thought about The Look before?

Let’s start with getting out of the car at the ballpark. Think about your look as your two feet hit the ground from getting out of the car. Grab your bat bag from out of the car confidently. This is where it can begin. Walk confidently. Keep fidgeting to a minimum.  Walk with your eyes up and have a soft focus in front of you. If someone is walking with you or comes up to talk to you, look them right in the eye when they are talking. When you walk into the ballpark confidently, you set the tone for how you’re going to approach your game(s) that day – composed and poised.

Aly

Soon, The Look will be something you don’t have to think about anymore. The Look is just something you will do; it will become a habit. It’s something you want to do because you notice the response you get from other people around you – teammates, adults, friends.  They will look at you differently; they will talk to you differently. They may even be a little bit more intimidated to go up against you if they are on the other team. This is exactly what you want. You want to win the unspoken confidence battle before a pitch is even throw in the game. You want to be one step ahead of everybody else. That’s exactly where you like to be. One step ahead is how you play your game.

You’re warming up with your team now. Still represent the way you want to look even if your teammates and friends don’t have the look yet. They will. Soon. Once they see what you can accomplish with The Look.

You’re confident, but humble. You’re eager, but calm. You feel prepared. You’re having fun, but you’re focused.

If you’re warming up in the bullpen, you’re not constantly messing with your hair or pulling on your uniform. You’re not showing emotions after every pitch – good or bad. If someone walked up and just watched your body language, they would never be able to tell if you were having a good warm up or a bad warm up.  You want to be consistent with The Look.  How you play will have ups and downs, but The Look doesn’t know the difference.

You’re content with exactly how you feel and you’re remembering to stay where your feet are. No matter how you warmed up, it’s your job to have The Look if it’s the best warm up or the worst warm up – The Look doesn’t know the difference between a good warm up and a bad warm up. Every day will feel different, but The Look should feel un-phased.

The Look Blog It’s game time. Your teammates look at you in the and they feel more confident just because they see it in your eyes every time you catch the ball back from your catcher that you’re beyond assured in what you are doing in the circle, and you believe in yourself.  You aren’t scared to look your teammates in the eyes out in the field, point a finger at them and say, “Hey, we got this.” Your eyes are up. Your shoulders are back. Your focus is on your team and your catcher. As a hitter, your teammates can tell you are focused and collected in your at bat in the box.  They will strive to have the same presence and confidence as you when they go up to the plate.  In return, they will begin to have better ABs after following your lead.

Regardless of the outcome of the game, win, loss, completely game, getting pulled in the first inning, it has no effect on The Look. The Look knows no result. The Look only believes in you and the abilities that are within you. The Look doesn’t remember what happened the last time you played. It only knows the future. It only knows chasing after your dreams in a way that is professional, mature and determined.

The Look knows no age. Best thing about the look is that it has no boundaries.  It doesn’t know location. The Look only knows you.

Kelsi Goodwin I CHALLENGE you to be aware and practice The Look.  Take pride in every single thing that you do. All of your movements should have a look of confidence, posture and poise about you. From tying your shoes to the way you take a deep breath before every pitch you throw. When you walk into a room, make your presence known. Not because you are the loudest one in the room with your voice, but because your presence alone before even saying a word, speaks volumes about the way you feel about yourself. Remember, The Look is from the inside looking out.

Most importantly, the Look is yours; it is no one’s to take from you – not your parents, not your coaches, not a significant other,

not your teammates, and definitely not the other team. The Look means you are in control of your emotions. The Look can take on anything thrown at her and know that at the end of the day, YOU belong. But before others believe it, YOU have to believe it.

If you don’t feel confident enough yet to have the look, fake it. Fake it until you grow into it, because I promise, you WILL grow into it.

Even faking the confidence will feel good and you will be amazed at the results it will produce for you. The best thing about The Look is that it is free. The Look can start when you are ready. Everyone has The Look inside of them, some have just already decided for The Look to join them in their every day lives. If you don’t have it yet…it’s only a matter of time.

 

The Look Blog

The Look Blog

The Look Blog

The Look Blog

 

Danni, 10U, Indiana

Questions Answered with Amanda: Wind Up, Drag & Follow Through Mechanics

Hi everyone! I was asked a really good question this week and I wanted to share with ALL of you as it goes over some very important, basic mechanical details of pitching that I feel like everyone can benefit from:

“Value your opinion of course so hoping for a response. My daughter is 8 and started taking pitching lessons a few months ago, from a reputable coach in our area and I do my research but there are a few things I would like your take on.

1) I notice most pro/college level pitchers cross drag, but he is teaching her to drag straight fwd. (I understand why, which is to close up fully) why is it that most do it the other way? Is it better, why or why not?

2) Also on the follow thru of the pitch (just a normal pitch no change up or curve) some people teach to cross the body? I personally prefer straight (keeping arm long of course and not hurting elbow) is there a right or wrong to this, or is this preference?

3) Also she is taught not to swing her arm back at the beginning of pitch she starts circle straight from glove. Reasons being A) not to show ball it will matter later B) prevents keeping arm from staying straight C) Although I do think it will take a few mph off her speed I feel starting in this position has more advantages, do you? I hope you have time to respond and don’t think my questions are to crazy! Loved your video on the power drive Coach Lisle posted, we utilize one all the time for pitching and hitting, you really helped me understand it better; you have a gift for coaching and explaining!”

Answers

1) I THINK I know what you mean by “cross drag.” I am picturing in my mind a drag that doesn’t just go straight towards the catcher. I call a “drag” a slug trail because if you look down at the ground when you are pitching in dirt, it’s like your drag leaves a slug trail from where your toes drug while you were pitching.  That slug trail is indicative of your mechanics and what your body is doing in your pitch – it is VERY important. A proper slug trail should look like a question mark. From the pitching rubber, it should go straight towards the catcher, and then after about a foot, it should go a little bit behind you. The little bit behind you part of the slug trail is when your hips and shoulders are opening up! Which is a VERY important part of the pitch. If the slug trail just stays a straight line towards the catcher, that would mean the hips are never getting completely open. I would not recommend a straight forward drag (we are girls, we have HIPS, and those HIPS needs to get out of the way of our release by getting OPEN in the middle of our pitch so our arm can clear our hips at our release point)

2) My personal preference for how to teach someone to finish is going to be where their hand NATURALLY finishes, not forcing a certain place to finish after the snap of the pitch. It’s called Pronation – it happens at the end of a pitch after a snap. When you throwing a ball overhand, you see pronation – baseball players do it as well as football players. I do not agree with the hand to shoulder finish or elbow up finish. That’s a forced position. The most natural place you can finish is with your fingers inside your wrist, wrist inside your elbow, elbow inside your shoulder. This forms a little bit of an angle with your arm.  (Hold your arm out in front of you and try to get into that position, it’s easier if you actually TRY to do it rather than just imagining it). The most important thing is that you are loose after your snap at your hip and don’t FORCE a certain finish. However, with that being said, the finish should be consistent and repeatable with a natural ability to relax to that position after the release.

 

3)[A] I like swinging the arm back because it felt like it generated more of a load and more energy at the beginning of my pitch. One solution if you want to do that is to hold multiple pitches the same way. i.e. Hold curve and change the same, so this way, no one can pick up what your grip is before the pitch is coming. Or rise and curve the same. Those are 2 totally different pitches. It’s best to hold a faster velocity pitch the same as an off speed pitch or change up since that is the pitch most coaches are trying to “pick.” You are seeing lots of college pitchers go away from swinging their arm back because of how often college coaches are picking up grips, BUT it is NOT non existent. There are definitely still ways to general power without an arm swing back – remember everything starts from the ground up (with your feet) and putting your lower half into a SOLID EXPLOSIVE position to get the most out of your leg drive with your hips and glutes.

[B] As far as a wind up with an arm swing preventing the arm circle from staying the straight, that is not necessarily so. You see LOTS of players who have their arm swing back, such as myself and also, Jolene Henderson, who is on Team USA. Any action can become repeatable by creating muscle memory with hard work and determination. Get in front of a mirror and look at yourself and repeat 100-200 pitches a night. THAT is one of the best ways to create muscle memory because you are FEELING and SEEING your body in certain positions. There is no one size fits all for every pitcher. Everyone has different muscles strengths to be able to get their body into the same position over and over again.

[C] Total personal preference regarding the advantages of taking an arm swing out of your windup. You are asking someone who did NOT do that wind up, and I was a 2-time All American and competed at the highest level in college. There are other pitchers who are out there who are super successful without starting with that wind up. It’s all about YOUR PITCHER and what can feel the best for HER. Other things can be changed to compliment your wind up, like I suggested before – changing grips to look the same if the wind up where your arm swings back seems to compliment your daughter better to get her more speed, more consistency and more spin.

**Important to note: Wind up is PERSONAL PREFERENCE. Whatever makes you feel comfortable and whatever you can do the most consistent to make the beginning of your pitch the exact same every single time. Make the BEGINNING of your pitch the same in order to help make the END of your pitch the same! No matter what:  that consistency in your delivery is key in order to maintain accuracy, increase and pitch at a consistent speed, and grow spin rates!

3 Things to do When Approaching a Pitcher During a Game

So a pitcher is in a bit of a pickle, and as a coach, you know you need to call time out to go and talk to her. A big part of coaching, in my opinion, is knowing when to call that time out to go and talk to a pitcher. Timing is everything with those time outs. That time out can serve as a tool to calm down your pitcher and/or defense. It can also serve as a way to slow down the other team. You must have a feel for the game and understand when that time out needs to be called!  Sometimes it can be called too early and sometimes it can be called too late.

EVERY pitcher has been through those tough innings; innings where you can’t throw strikes, innings where your pitches can’t seem to miss a hitters bat. Negativity is most likely already running through a pitcher’s head, and if that is the case, it’s going to be hard to get outs with all of those negative thoughts piling up in a pitcher’s mind. If a coach is going to call timeout to go and talk to her, don’t make it worse! Be positive for her. Be a rock. Be a source of information that is going to HELP her get through this icky situation.

Remember, when a time out is called it is all about HER in the circle.

Give Her a Small Mechanical Fix

Amanda Scarborough Texas A&MMaybe ONE thing mechanical might be helpful. I’m not always one to like to talk about mechanics during a game, in fact I do not really endorse it, but in some situations I do think it can be helpful. I know from being a pitcher myself that pitchers look for quick fixes in practice and in games. Them trying to think about one small mechanical change can help get their mind off of the pressure they are feeling in the circle and they can feel like that one mechanical fix can be the one thing that turns their game around. I know it sounds silly, but pitchers are funny and quirky like that!

We are so used to hearing coaches tell us what to do, and knowing that when a coach tells us a mechanical fix that we get better results, that this could actually work during a game. I am all for a pitcher thinking for herself and being her own pitching coach in the circle during the game, BUT I also know that sometimes the game passes you by very fast when nothing is really going your way, and you need that shoulder to lean on to try to help dig you out of the hole you got yourself into.

I am NOT saying to go out and reinvent the wheel, but one thing a pitcher could key on. “Hey make sure you have a quick back side.” “Hey make sure you’re not falling off.” “Let’s get some faster arm speed going on and attack this hitter.” There are certain comfort mechanics that makes every pitcher feel better and put back at ease. Find out what those comfort mechanics are for each pitcher.   The worst mechanic you can tell her to fix is the one she has been trying and trying at practice to work on but can’t seem to get.  Tell her just one quick thing, not 5-6 things.  That one thing could get her in the right frame of mind to mentally take on the next hitter with a positive attitude.

Mind you, the mechanical fix might go in one ear and out the other if she is not used to working with you. She won’t trust what you’re telling her, so she is less likely to feel better and stronger in the circle after you talk to her. You better build a relationship prior to calling the timeout with your pitcher. 

Stay positive, stay calm

If you go out there and look like you are in a panic, then your pitcher and infield will start to panic – I GUARANTEE it. Girls are so good at picking up on emotions and tightness from people, especially their coach. So even if you THINK you are being calm and are collected, are you really? Panic mode does not help anybody, and it really doesn’t help your team stay calm through a tough situation and feel like they can work out of a jam and end up making a come back. Nobody plays well tight.

Amanda Scarborough Texas A&MThings like “let’s throw strikes” might seem like the ideal thing to say and may seem positive because it doesn’t have a negative word in it, but it really doesn’t have a great connotation to it. A pitcher is fully aware when she is or is not throwing strikes. It’s pointless for you to tell her “let’s throw strikes” if you are not going to tell her anything after that comment to help her do so. It just makes her more frustrated, and you’re stating the obvious.

Every pitcher wants to feel like her defense and coaches believe in her.

“I know you can do it.” “You can work through this.” “I believe in you.” Mind you, this must be said with good body language and a good attitude coming from the coach or they are pointless comments and actually work against you. Give her a sense of comfort, not disappointment. The last thing girls want to do is disappoint anybody. Girls are such pleasers.

Things that are generally good to say to every pitcher are, “Slow yourself down. Take a little bit more time in between every pitch and remember to breathe.” A lot of pitchers get in trouble because when things start to go downhill they start to work faster and take less time in between pitches. By slowing down, it gives you extra breathing and extra time to think/focus on the task at hand.

Tell her the plan for going at this next hitter

We all like plans. Plans can give us a bit of ease and confidence. Knowledge gives us comfort. If you go out to talk to your pitcher, a helpful thing can be letting her know how you’re planning on throwing the next hitter. “Hey this girl got out on a change up her last at bat, you made her look really bad on it. Let’s try to set up that pitch again in this at bat.” OR “I noticed that this girl CANNOT hit the outside pitch. Let’s throw her out there and see if we can get her to swing and miss or roll over a ground ball to the left side.”

Amanda Scarborough Texas A&MOR “Hey this girl is seeing the ball well, we are going to try to pitch around her, not give her anything good to hit. You’ve had success against the girl on deck, let’s try to go at her.” THIS is helpful information.

If she has had 3-4 hits off her in the game, where the hitters have really squared up on a ball, then it can be good to tell her the plan is to start mixing speeds a little bit more OR remind her to work slightly more down or slightly more off the plate. Minimize the adjustment. It’s not a BIG one, just being able to work inches in order to have more success against the hitters in getting them to miss.

Help a pitcher recognize what pitch is working best for them. As a pitcher sometimes you get so caught up in the inning and in the moment that everything is going by really fast. You’re just throwing. You’re not pitching. That time out can be used as a reminder to point out what is working well for a pitcher, “Hey your screw ball is looking awesome, let’s stick with that pitch and go at these hitters and see if we can get out of this!” (Now..realize sometimes as pitchers we can be delusional and think that one pitch is working, when it’s really not…)

You as a coach have to be really in tune with the game and really in tune with your pitcher.

If you are not going to go out there and give her helpful information, then your timeout is only really going to be used to slow down the other team, but your pitcher isn’t going to mentally be getting anything out of the meeting.

One of the coaches on the team should be dedicated to working with the pitchers so that they can develop a relationship and an understanding of each other. It’s hard for a pitcher to listen to 3 different coaches giving her information.  All 3 coaches may think they know pitching, and they may be giving a pitcher different information and different things to work on.  That is mixed signals and can be confusing.  One coach working with the pitchers is the best in order to develop a strong relationship and keep things simple mentally for the pitcher.

Every pitcher is different with how she wants to be approached (we all have different personalities). Every pitcher is different with the things she keys on with her mechanics. Instead of thinking about what YOU like to say or teach, or what YOU like to hear, really understand what SHE likes to hear. Work with her before the game, and understand what her pitches are looking like. Understand what some of her “quick fixes” are when she is pitching and things she likes to hear that make her feel comfortable outside of the game.

The more a pitcher feels like you are trying to get to know HER, the more likely she is going to be to listen to you. Where coaches get into trouble is that they make it all about them and are not customizable with how they approach or work with a pitcher. Remember there may be things that you are saying that seem like good mechanical fixes to YOU, but doesn’t resonate well with a pitcher. She might not understand it; it might not click with her. So it’s up to you as a coach to communicate differently to truly speak to her. Challenge yourself to come up with something different. Or here is a novel idea, ASK her what she wants to hear during a game that can help her get through a tough situation. If she doesn’t know because she has never thought of it before, then tell her to take a couple days to think about it, and get back to you.

Amanda Scarborough Texas A&M

10 Things to Know As A Softball Player

From one softball player to another, I wanted to give you a few things to do and know that can help you become the best softball player you can be. Here are 10 things to know as a softball player (no matter your age or level).

1.Take Care of Your Glove.

Your glove should not look like a pancake. Pay attention to how you care for your glove. Keep a ball in it. When you set it down on the ground, set it down with the palm down. It should not look flat. This doesn’t change no matter how old you are or the level you play at. The way you take care of your glove is representative of how much you take pride in small details of this game. Small details of this game are VITAL for success.

2. Train explosiveness.

Think about it – our game is nothing but quick, explosive movements. Running to first base as quick as you can. One explosive pitch. 10 steps to run down a fly ball as an outfielder. One step to snag a line drive as an infielder. It does no good to run 4 miles. It’s better to do agilities or sprints. It’s better to do movements that are explosive – squat jumps, box jumps, broad jumps, etc. Those types of movements will help create the habit over time to be more explosive in every softball movement you do. Running long distance is great if you are trying to shed a few pounds, but that is not how our sport is played. Our sport is quick and fast. And that’s how you should train.

3. Listen to your parents, they can help you.

A lot of times your parents have the answers to help you make corrections. I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s true. Listen to them. Respect them. Build a relationship with them by communicating with how you would like to be given corrections, how often you would like to hear them or if YOU are going to be the one to go up to them and ask for their help. If they’ve been to lessons, practice and games with you, more times than not they have information that can help you, so develop a plan WITH your parents in how that information will be relayed and shared. They need to be able to listen to you, too, as you coach them on how to coach you where you can HEAR what they are telling you.

4. It’s cool to work hard.

You will come across teammates who don’t want to work hard for one reason or another. They will come up with excuses to get out of practice with the team, practice on their own, and games. No matter what anyone else is doing, know it’s super awesome to work your hardest at anything you are doing. Limit excuses and go out and play.

5. You are not defined as a person based on how “good” you are at softball.

Remember there is more to life than softball. 20 years after you are done playing, your friends will not remember how many strikeouts you had or how many homeruns you hit. They will remember if you were a good teammate, a good friend, and if you set a good example for younger players. Those things are more important than being labeled a “good” softball player. The awards you win or do not win as a softball player is NOT a direct reflection of the type of friend, daughter, sister or person you are. When your softball career is over, you don’t’ want someone saying, “Yeah she was a really good short stop, but I would not trust her as far as I could throw her.” Be loyal. Be trustworthy. Don’t gossip. Stay humble. Be appreciative.

6. Being a pitcher is not about striking everyone out.

Even if you are NOT a pitcher, this is an important one. Defenders – your pitchers are not going to strike everyone out. Get used to it. Make plays behind her. Pitchers – get it in your head that you are not going to strike everyone out, and don’t TRY to. Usually when you TRY to strike someone out, it doesn’t quite pan out how you want it to. Know your pitching strengths and how you get outs. The defense should be aware of your strengths such as best pitch, which side of the plate you throw to and if you generally get more ground ball outs or pop ups.

7. There’s always something to do in a game.

If you are at the ball field on a team, you have a job to do whether you are in the starting 9 or on the bench waiting for your chance. Even if you are injured and are not going to play, you can still contribute. Pick pitches or signs, notice pitching tendencies, pick up your teammates who are down, chart pitches for YOUR pitcher, chart pitches of the opposing pitcher. Get creative with how you are finding a way to still help your team, because in the end, if you are on a team, you are wanting to WIN even if you are not the one starting at your position.

8. It’s good to play multiple sports.

Playing multiple sports makes you a more diverse athlete. Every sport is going to work different muscles and different athletic skills, so the more sports you play, the better athlete you become. Don’t live your life in fear of getting hurt – that can happen anywhere. Be ATHLETIC. It’s one of the biggest things coaches look for when you get older, and you can develop a more diverse athletic skills profile by tackling different sports.

9. With every rep you take, you are either getting a little better or getting a little worse.

If you are going to practice, make that time worth it. The most valuable thing we have is time. So if you are using your time to take reps, take those reps and get BETTER. If you are not paying attention to your reps and just going through the motions, you might even be getting a little worse. Every time you go out to practice, remember that day you are either getting a little better or a little worse.

10. You will not be perfect – accept it.

You chose to play softball. Understand that this choice comes along with the fact you will NOT be perfect. Find a way to balance trying to be perfect with the acceptance that it is not going to happen. The longer you hang on to being up set that you were not perfect in a game, at practice or for a certain rep, the longer it takes to recover and get better/grow. Learn from your mistakes more than you hang on to them. It’s ok not to be perfect. Every person you play with, against, or who you have watched played before and may even look up to, has not been perfect at this sport. You are not alone. Trying to be perfect and the inability to work through NOT being perfect is one of the biggest limiting factors your game can come up against.

Dealing With Injuries Part 1 – Attitude

Injuries are going to happen.  They are a part of sports; they are a part of being an athlete.

Some injuries are definitely more severe than other injuries.  As athletes, we are pushing our bodies to the limit to get the most out of them.  Some may keep you out for a weekend, some may keep you out for an entire season.  But other than keeping you out of a game, an injury can teach you life lessons.  If you’re injured now or have gotten injured in the past, how have you responded?

Your response defines your character….An injury shows if a player is selfish or selfless.  There is a VERY big difference.

To me, an injury is a way that our body is telling us to slow down.  An injury is also telling us that it may be time to change some mechanics, thus getting better so that our body can perform at the highest level possible.   An injury can bring attention to some things we need to change in making sure we take the best care of our bodies possible, as this is the only body we are going to have.

As we live each day, we are writing our own book.  Are you going to let an injury just be a couple of pages in a chapter of your book? Or are you going to allow an injury to be 4-5 chapters of a book?  Your response will be very telling.  The choice is up to you.  Now, I understand that there are the severe, catastrophic injuries that most likely will impact someone’s life in different ways for the entirety, but still I ask, how are you going to respond?  Every day we have choices.  Are we going to rise up to a challenge? Or let adversity overcome us?

With in injury, there come a lot of decisions in how you are going to handle yourself.  1) You now have a choice in the attitude you are going to have towards taking on life after the injury.  2) You have a choice in how you are going to still contribute to your team.  3) You have a choice in how you are going to try to figure out a creative way to practice to keep up with your skills.  4) You have a choice in how you are going to get treatment for your injury and take care of yourself.  ALL OF THESE THINGS affect life lessons and define your character,

and in the end, will help define what kind of player you will turn out to be after the injury.

1) ATTITUDE

In the paragraph above, I listed numbers 1-4 that I will be discussing.  Numbers 2, 3 and 4 are all affected by #1 – Attitude.  It all starts with your attitude.  If you don’t continue to have a good attitude, then nothing else that I talk about in any of the blogs on injury will be able to positively take place.  A bad attitude is going to make someone more unmotivated, selfish and a slower healer.

Believe me, I get it, it’s hard to be injured.  I know better than anybody.  I’ve been there and done that.  It’s okay to be sad at first, but then there comes a time when you have to continue to live on and change that attitude.

Your attitude affects EVERYTHING! Your attitude affects you, it affects your team, it affects your family and it affects your friends.

Remember, every day is a new day.  That’s the beauty of life.  Every morning when we wake up we have a choice in how we are going to take on the day, no matter what happened to us the day before.  Every single person reading this has their own problems.  An injury can be one of those problems, but are you going to let it affect the energy that surrounds you and your attitude to take on life?  Instead of letting it pull you down, allow an injury to actually make you STRONGER.

Look at an injury as something you are going to learn from, and in the end you will be stronger from it.  Turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  The more positive attitude you have, the faster you will be able to heal by not stressing and  wearing your body down even more.  A bad attitude affects your friends and family who are around you, too.

Don’t let your bad attitude affect those people and pull them down with you.

To keep a more positive attitude, think about how your body is healing itself.  That’s what our bodies are made to do! That’s a positive way of looking at it.  Know every day, your body is working to heal whatever wound you have.  When you look at it that way, you only know it’s a matter of time before you’re back out there playing!

Last thing I am going to say about attitude is, you choose it.  You can’t control injuries, they’re going to happen.  But every day you wake up, you can control the attitude that you bring to life.  Have an attitude that realizes the injury, accepts it, and thinks, “Okay, what can I do right now in this present moment to make the situation better?”  If you don’t have a solid attitude, then contributing to your team pretty much isn’t going to be able to happen, you will most likely stop practicing (or if you’re practicing, you have a bad attitude while you’re doing it, so it pretty much you won’t get anything out of it), and if you have a bad attitude, you’re going to be less likely to be proactive to go get treatment and find ways to make yourself heal even faster.

Don’t feel sorry for yourself!  To me, players who have that bad attitude after they get injured are selfish players and just want attention.  They think that bad attitude is going to get them the attention since they can no longer get attention on the field anymore.  Change that.  Don’t be that person.

You can get through anything with a great attitude.  Have patience.  Remember to breathe.  Look at an injury from the attiude that this can be a learning experience.  Approach every day as a new a day and make the most of it!

With or without an injury you have complete choice about what kind of attitude you will have daily!

Mental Strength & Your Environment

What do you think is the most important part of being a mentally strong female softball player? (I’m going to skim the surface of a topic that people write entire books on…but it’s still helpful nonetheless…)

In my mind, one of the most important parts of being a mentally strong female softball player is the environment she is surrounded by.  There are a lot of pieces that add to this environment.  It comes from outside forces around the player: teammates, coaches, and parents. ALL of these outside forces can play into the mentality of a player. Some might call some of these “excuses” and things that players need to get over.  But to me, these are real issues that need to be addressed and can affect the mentality of a player. Each one of these could be their own topic, but I wanted to just cover the basics first, then get into more detail some other time. Here are questions to ask about each of the following that can effect a player’s mental game:

Teammates

Do you get along with your teammates? Is there drama on the team?  Do you feel like your teammates have your back? Do your teammates have as much passion towards softball as you?  When you don’t feel like your teammates have your back (especially as a pitcher in the field), you start to over think, overthrow, overswing and try to be too perfect.  When you pitch on a field where you know players are going to make plays behind you, you can pitch your game and feel more confident to throw strikes.  When you’re worried about the defense making errors behind you, it can be a tough thing to work through, but it’s actually a really good experience and one that almost all pitchers go through at one point or another.  Teammates affect what is going on in the mind of a player – for better or for worse.

Coaches

Are your coaches yellers? Do they embarrass you? Do you feel like your coaches believe in your talent? How do they tell you they believe in you? Do they help you set goals to achieve? Do you know their expectations for you? (short term and long term) Do they explain to you your role on the team?  Yelling adds pressure.  There are very few players who actually respond to coaches who yell.  There ARE some players who respond to this, but the majority do not.  The majority will shut down.  Especially the coaches who yell across the field to a player and let them know what they did wrong.  If I played for a coach like this, I would be terrified to make a mistake.  Being scared to make a mistake is NOT a fun way to play sports (especially when you play a sport that revolves around failing: i.e. a .300 batting average is good).  When you’re scared to make a mistake in front of your coaches, you can’t possibly be mentally strong.

Parents

How often do your parents tell you they believe in you? (Your kids want to hear it often and FEEL it, no matter what their results are)  Do they talk more about results or about how you felt during the game? (All players are well aware of their results after a game, whether they went 3 for 3 or 0 for 4, it’s not necessary to remind them.  Ask them about the process they went through in getting those results).  Are your parents yelling out mechanics to you during the game? (Game does not equal practice).  As parents, you are the biggest influence they have.  Don’t talk to them about mechanical/coaching things more than you talk to them about believing in them and supporting them no matter what.  I PROMISE they do and will remember the belief you had in them more than they remember the outcome of any game.  Trust me on this one…

So here’s the thing…becoming mentally strong doesn’t happen overnight. You work on your mental game just like you work on a curve ball or hitting an outside pitch.  This is an important realization for all of the parties involved, especially parents.  A lot of times adults think that just by simply saying to a player, “You need to get mentally stronger” that that is going to help.  False.  That’s not going to help.  You’re not giving her any tools.  You’re not giving her any true support.

One piece of advice: Start with positive self talk, regardless of what is going on around you in your environment.  In the game, are you telling yourself what NOT to do? Or are you telling yourself what you ARE going to do?  Example: Don’t swing at a ball above your hands. (that’s telling yourself what NOT to do).  Example: Swing at a strike. (that’s telling yourself what TO do).  It’s been proven that the brain does not hear the word “not” in the first example.  Start by practicing positive self talk at practice!  Just like you practice other things a practice, be conscious of the thoughts that are going through your head.  Let me tell you though – it’s easier for a player to have positive self talk when she is in a positive environment with positive outside forces.  All a player wants is someone to believe in her.  When a player as 3 different sets of people believing in her (coaches, teammates and parents) it takes pressure off, allowing a player to feel more relaxed, thus being more mentally strong. Create a habit of positive self talk and recognize the different in your game and how much more fun the game is to play when you’re out of your own head.

With all this being discussed about a positive environment, and as much as I think that outside forces an effect a player, I am not for sheltering a player from working through problems and working through adversity around her.  I also do not endorse quitting teams in the middle of a season (I know there are exceptions) or being a team hopper because you can’t seem to find that “perfect” environment.  There are always exceptions to every rule…

Which of these, in your experience, can have the biggest impact on a player? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Top Five Q’s with A – II

Can You Pitch Too Much?

Q1: Is there a such thing as too much pitching at 8-9yo? Don’t want to hurt her, she says she’s fine so thought I’d ask.

A1: Nah! I really don’t think so! There’s not enough force on her arm quite yet! Just make sure you’re practicing all the right mechanics and focusing on detail with all those reps! Want to create good muscle memory! Maybe check in with a sports doctor just in case!

Getting Burned Out

Q2: My daughter will be 11 years old in September. She has been taking pitching lessons for a year and a half. She is really good and continues to get better. However, She seems to be getting burned out. Any suggestions?

A2: Keep it fun for her and keep encouraging her without putting too much pressure on her to go out and practice! Clearly she is athletic if she’s really good and is just getting better and better! Make sure to give her breaks, and make HER come to you about practicing and playing. If she is 10 and getting burned out already, that’s an early age for that to happen! Sometimes a player can be really athletic and talented, but they don’t always have the heart and passion to continue; it’s not THAT uncommon for that to happen! Remember that as she gets older, it’s only going to get more time consuming and the older you get, the more you have to sacrifice for lessons, games and practice! She is still young and growing, so don’t make any decisions quite yet, just see where her choices and heart take her! 

Longevity of Pitching Shoes

Q3: This might be a silly question…but my DD has only been pitching a year, and I’m sure we have a lot of things to learn about softball. But is there an actual training shoe or sneaker for pitchers for indoor pitching on turf. She wears her regular sneaker down on her front right toe from dragging it. Her cleats of course hold up really well to this. But around here we have to move practice indoors in the winter time so she is pitching on turf. This is really hard on sneakers….do they make something better built to handle this?

A3: There used to be pitching toes that you could put on sneakers that we were able to put the shoe laces through to keep on the toe and cover it up! I would google search “Softball Pitching Toes.” If nothing comes up and they don’t make that anymore, my mom would just buy me the cheapest sneakers at WalMart or a sporting goods stores. They would be my “Pitching Shoes.” Not worth spending $100+ on a pair of shoes that will just get ruined. They weren’t the PRETTIEST shoes around, and when I was younger I didn’t always like wearing them, but totally understood that you’re going to go through sneakers FAST from dragging! Also – another suggestion you can put lots of duct tape over the toe of the shoe to help it hold up a little bit longer!

Tendency to Pitch Too Inside

Q4: Hi I have a 15yr old daughter that pitches a lot of inside pitches she been pitching for about a year and half, can you help?

A4: For any pitcher, usually pitches that consistently miss too far inside is a true sign that your hips are getting in the way at your release. It’s so important at your release point that your hips are more “open” so that your hand and arm can get through the bottom of your pitch. When your hips get in the way and are “closing” too soon, then your arm hits your hip and causes the pitches to go low and inside. Your arm just can’t get through. So you can either a) speed up your arm speed or b) try to stay open longer to let your arm clear through. I would also encourage to have your catcher set up way outside to give her a different target and something to look for. Last thing, sometimes inside pitches are caused by falling off to the side before you release your pitch. Stay balance longer. For example: If you are right handed, don’t fall to the right BEFORE you release the pitch. Try to stay balance and on the “power line” for as long as you can through your release and stay balance at the end! 

Rise Ball Spin for Fastball

Q5: We have watched you over the years and my daughter looks to women like you to compare herself.   My daughter is soon to be 16 and she throws rise with the backward spin which in some places really blows others minds and batters get so frustrated.  My question is can this spin be thrown as a fastball all the time? Or is it too hard on the body?  She throws it all the time and starts it at the knees  and if it breaks  it breaks and if it don’t  it usually gets a an infield pop-up or a little dink behind first, that second can get or right plays in. Just wondering if this is okay?

A5: It’s always good to have good spin and a little bit of movement on your fastball. Really the NAME of a pitch is not as important as the ability to be able to get outs and throw it for a strike and throw it with command.  If you have correct foundation of mechanics, I don’t see it being too hard on the arm.  I honestly have never come across someone who has spun a “fastball” like that consistently, so I can’t tell you from experience if it will or will not hurt someone’s arm to repeat that motion thousands and thousands of time.  The best thing you can do is to just monitor how it is making her arm feel and since she is 16, I would start icing her elbow and/or shoulder after games.  Take good care of that arm, it is so very important for longevity in the sport. 

Are You Willing to Learn? BE COACHABLE!

One of the things every coach is looking for at any level are coachable players. Coachble means a willingness / openness to try new things and to learn new things. In order to be coachable…..

1) Show Humility – Have a sense of humbleness; a modest view of one’s own importance. You can always get better. There is always something to be learned. There are always people out there better than you.  You can learn from anyone.

2) Have Faith in Others – Trust others. Everyone has had experiences.  Be open to learning different points of views and seeing the best that others bring to the table.  You must trust yourself first before you can trust others.

3) Be Approachable – Have fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously.  When you are having fun, you are inviting other people to have fun with you, teach you and learn with you.  The more people who want to give you information the better! Now you have all this information, you get to try it and sort through what works and what does not work!  Invite people in to help you, don’t push them away.   

4) Look Attentive – Look at someone in the eyes when they are talking to you. No matter who is talking, looking at someone in the eyes is a sign of respect.  Your coaches, your teammates, family and your friends deserve this attentiveness from you.  When you are attentive, your brain is soaking more things in!

5) Be Curious – When given feedback, ask questions.  It shows that you’re more interested in digging deeper into what someone is trying to help you with. A lot of times people aren’t coachable because they are afraid to try new things and are scared of not understanding what is being asked of them.  To fully understand, take a pause after someone tells you something, take a moment to understand and process, and THEN make a decision of whether you do or do not fully understand.  If you do not fully understand, organize a question to dig deeper more into a better understanding.  Ask questions!

At all times – listen with intent to learn.  All of these fall under the umbrella and goes without saying, to have a good, positive attitude.  The more coachable you are, the more enjoyable you are to be around as a teammate and as a player under a coach.  

Understand if you are or are not coachable.  If you are getting feedback from others that you are not coachable, be willing to change.  If you are getting this feedback numerous times, quit blaming that it is other people, and understand that it is you not them.  Accept it, commit to making a change and DO IT.  There is always time to change and make a difference in your own life.  You can do it!  Have faith in yourself and have courage that you can become the best player you possibly can be!!  It all starts with being coachable!!  

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