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…

What’s Wrong With Being a Beginner?

In a fast pace world, we are always thinking ahead and thinking what’s next? We are searching for bigger and better things. I think we can all say at one point or another that we have fallen victim to this. I especially notice this fast-forward thinking with pitchers and pitchers’ parents. Not many pitchers are ok with being a “beginner” pitcher for very long (usually less than a year). They are ready to move on to the next pitch or the next “level.” It’s that rushing before mastery can get them into trouble…

The beginning months and years for a pitcher are CRITICAL to the longevity and success of her future career. Beginning months should include LOTS of reps and drills working on spin, release point, balance and understanding the pitching arm circle. Ie. boring stuff for both parents and young players (I get it, I’ve been there). Too often, the foundational drills get glazed over like brussel sprouts in a buffet line.

Pitchers think that just because they have learned (not mastered) the beginner drills that are critical for a foundation and they have done them a couple of days in a row, that it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.

It’s just not true. You build that foundation by focusing on rep after rep after rep of the SMALL details.  The foundation you are aiming to build comes from muscle memory of doing these beginner drills relentlessly until you can do them in your sleep with the correct MECHANICS – not just looking at the result of ball or strike.

Too often when young pitchers are more focused on the result of balls or strikes or strikes, they let their mechanics go by the way side. They begin aiming the ball, not snapping the ball. Aiming results in slow speeds and less movement. By trying to throw strikes without solid mechanics, to keep the ball low for a strike, they lean their body forward instead of adjusting their release point and staying tall. Those are quick fixes in the game in order to get a result they want – a quick fix strike. Those mechanical quick fixes are not helping to build a foundation worth anything in years to come.

I am a HUGE advocate for starting a pitcher with months and months of drills, and in the first few months not even pitching from full distance/full circle (to an 8-10 year old, I know it sounds like a real life nightmare, but it’s worth it!).

I think getting the reward of pithing from full distance should be earned.

Getting to pitch from full circle is like a present! If you do the hard work, then you EARN your way back after mastering the progression drills. Pitching from full distance is the goal ahead…the end point, not the start point. Think of doing a crazy calculus problem, you’re not going to start with the problem, and then jump right ahead to the answer. You have to do all the little steps that make tape 30 min-an hour to get the answer to ONE problem.

It is very rare that I come across a pitcher and parents who are patient enough to put in the time to just focus on drills and not succumb to the pressure of wanting to move on to full pitch too soon. I love the idea of mastering one drill before you move on to the next progression drill. Master those progression drills before you pitch from full distance. Often pitchers and parents want to jump right into pitching from the full distance and aren’t willing to put in the foundational work that is done in the FRONT of the pitching rubber.

That foundational work is where pitchers can find REAL success later down the road.

The easy way out is to skip all the drills, or you do them, but not really DO THEM correctly (aka going through the motions to make your parents/coaches happy). Building a solid foundation takes more effort, which is why not everyone is going to do it. The true colors come out of the work ethic of a player and if they are willing to put in the time for the SMALL things that make BIG successes down the road. And let’s face it, it also is more work for the parents. The parents will need a better understanding of what mastery of a drill looks like. They will need to be knowledgeable about pitching and they should study pitching. This will help a pitcher know whether or not to move on because if the PARENT knows what the mechanics are supposed to look like, then they will be able to hold the pitcher back or encourage her to move on once the drill has been mastered with correct mechanics.

I’m not sure where the hurried pressure stems from – if the parents are getting pressure from the players or if the players are getting pressure from the parents. Maybe it’s the parents getting pressure from the coaches or the players getting pressured from their friends. Just like in life, we are always looking for the NEXT thing, I see the same thing with young pitchers. It’s almost like the pitcher gets bored with drills (similar to a hitter doing tee work). Every pitcher just wants to throw full distance and every hitter just wants to hit front toss or off of a pitcher only. They don’t want to do the DRILLS that are going to make them great down the road.

Think of this real life house foundation example that is comparable to a pitcher’s foundation:

A home starts with a concrete foundation. Before anything goes on top of that foundation, the foundation has to be SOLID and made sure it is poured correctly, because once you start to build a home on top of that foundation, there is no going back and fixing it. I’m sure the guys who pour the foundation would love to just find a piece of land and start pouring with little to no instruction, but those guys have to take their TIME to know ensure that foundation will be done right. A house with a compact foundation is a safe house, and one that will last forever. A foundation that is rushed and not done the right way may end up getting a crack in it. Thus, the house loses its value and it’s unstable. A home foundation that is not done correctly may look really good in the beginning, but years down the road, eventually the foundation will suffer and the overall house will suffer. It may look pretty and really good instantly, but then years down the road the truth comes out as time passes.

A pitcher has a mechanical foundation that is very similar to a house’s concrete foundation. It should not be rushed. A pitcher may be able to get by at first with rushing through the beginner drills and paying little to no attention to forming a solid foundation in the beginning years of pitching. Eventually, that poor foundation is going to get exposed the older the pitcher gets – whether it’s through not being able to learn new pitches because of incorrect body position due to poor mechanics or maybe that pitcher never gains more speed because they wanted to rush too quickly and not learn the proper leg mechanics. Also, years down the road, it will be MUCH harder to make mechanical corrections because of poor muscle memory when a coach is trying to work with you (just like trying to go in and fix the foundation of a house because so many things are sitting on top of the concrete foundation). I also see that those who rush through the beginner drills are those who stand out in 10u and 12u, but then they don’t get much better in 14u, 16u and 18u. (I am NOT saying this happens to EVERYONE, there are always exception to the rule). You have to ask yourself what is your long term goal? If you want to pitch in college, then you need to put in the foundational work NOW, not put it off until later, because LATER it will be MUCH more difficult to fix.

Before you move on from a drill or learn a new drill ask yourself these 2 questions. (Please remember, the answer must be yes to BOTH of them, not just 1 of them.)

  • Can I do the drill and throw 9/10 as a strike?
  • You can throw them as a strike, but are you doing that drill with the CORRECT MECHANICS? (have a check list made by either the paernts or pitching coaches so that there are expectations of the pitcher that she knows she needs to have)

It’s good if you can throw strikes – that’s the most important part of being a pitcher – being able to locate the ball where you want it. HOWEVER, if you are wanting to be a successful pitcher and pitch for years and years down the road, you must be able to throw strikes AND have correct form. Too many times form is sacrificed to throw strikes, especially in a game.

Always remember where you want to end up YEARS from now, not just next week. It’s so important to keep that in the back of your mind. Do you want to be the pitcher getting all the innings in 10U and 12U? ….or do you want to be the pitcher getting all the innings in 16U, 18U and in college? When I do these college softball games on TV, we definitely are not talking about a girl and the success she had in 10U or 12U. In fact, I can’t say that I have ever mentioned anything about 10U or 12U.

What are you rushing for? Is the reason that you are rushing and blowing past foundational drills more important than your daughter’s future softball career in high school and potentially in college? It can be hard, but focus on the future by focusing on the NOW at practice. Be aware of the future and have goals, but be present and understand each day a little pitcher’s foundation is growing. I can tell you right now, a pitcher is NOT measured by how quickly they can say they started to pitch from full distance or by how many pitches she has. Years down the road when your daughter is trying to make JV or Varsity, one of the questions at tryouts will not be, “So how many weeks and months did it take you to get back to full pitch?” Are you as a parent willing to show patience with your daughter and not RUSH her? Are you as a parent willing to not be pressured by the drills getting “boring” and instill in your pitcher that these drills are what are going to make her GREAT down the road? Create tenacity. Create work ethic. Create mastery.  Pitching will be full of drills from the beginning until the end. Hitting will be full of tees from the beginning until the end. They’re not going away, so a pitcher needs to learn to appreciate them and understand their importance!

ENJOY every moment of being a beginner at something. The beginning of something only gets to happen ONCE. Why rush through it? As a parent, take time to learn the DETAILS of pitching so that you KNOW whether or not it’s time to move on and you have a better understanding of the mastery of each drill. Ask questions of what to look for at lessons and google pitching drills and information online. If you are going to be her coach away from games and lessons, then it’s important that you have a foundational knowledge of what needs to be happening. You guys can learn it together.


 

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YOU Are YOUR Best Pitching Coach

Often, I will use the phrase, “Be your own pitching coach.”  You might not know exactly what that means or you might say, “But I have a pitching coach already…” and I would say that’s fine. BUT when it comes right down to it, and you’re in the middle of the circle with bases loaded and a full count on the hitter, that pitching coach can’t make the pitch happen FOR you. To “be your own pitching coach” means to learn to think for yourself, learn to FEEL for yourself and learn to make corrections on your own.

This just can’t magically happen in games, it has to be practiced at practice!

If you’ve taken lessons with me before, or come to one of my clinics, then you know one of my favorite things to ask is, “How did that FEEL?” I want a pitcher to slow her mind down, and actually have to take time to understand what her body just went through to create a certain pitch. In order to do that, you must take more time in between pitches to start to understand FEELING and let your brain figure out what exactly it did feel.  Feel is such a big part of pitching.

To feel means to understand what every body part is doing from fingers, down to hips down to knees and toes.

It means that someone can tell you an adjustment to make and simply by words alone, it can create a feel to that body part of what that body part needs to do differently the next pitch in order to make an adjustment. This is THE biggest thing to have as a pitcher. If you aren’t feeling, then you aren’t pitching. A pitching coach who is just going to tell the pitcher everything to do after every single pitch isn’t helping to create that feel. That’s making a pitcher a robot.  Robots don’t feel, they change on command. A pitching coach who tells his/her pitcher every single movement to make is not enabling that pitcher to think for herself

Being your own pitching coach is essentially like being your own boss.

How would you like it if your boss came into your office and said, “Do this…do that…no do is this way…no that’s not right…” Eventually, you would either get burnt out, or you would stop thinking for yourself.  Then, when it came time for you to change jobs or “perform” on a big stage, you might freeze, and not be sure of yourself because previously, someone had told you every single move to make.  Instead, I think it would feel more empowering to ask YOU, “What do you think about doing it this way?” or “How do YOU think we should do it?” Then you can answer, and think for yourself, and come up with an answer TOGETHER.  It’s teaching someone and not just TELLING them.  Teaching takes a little bit more time.  Just telling someone something is a quick way to get it over with, but it doesn’t help out the other person as much.  It’s the same way when a pitcher is learning not JUST what a pitching coach thinks, but also learning to form an opinion of her own about what she thinks works for HER.  By talking about what you feel with your pitching mechanics and having to actually talk about out loud about them, you learn to have more confidence and truly understand what your body does in order to make a pitch happen. You’re learning. You’re making mistakes. You’re growing. Most importantly, you are learning to take responsibility for YOUR pitching craft. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it is SO good for you, and you will eventually get more and more used to it.

Be your own pitching coach means thinking for yourself and being able to come up with an answer on your own without someone telling you what to do. Come game time, your pitching coach may not be at warm ups with you and he/she definitely won’t be out on the field with you. So how are you going to handle your own thoughts? How are you going to make your own adjustments and even REALIZE that it’s time to have adjustments? THIS is what pitching is all about. You can’t look to your parents for answers you can’t always look to your coach for answers. A lot of times, you have to look deep inside yourself. Don’t be a robot out there in the pitching circle. Be you.  Trust your thoughts in the game by learning to trust them in practice.

Look to yourself for the answers first.

Try new things. Be inventive. Something may work for you that a pitching coach didn’t TELL you to do, but if it WORKS (if it REALLY works), then you should be able to do it. I loved when I gave lessons and one of my girls would come up to me and say, “At practice, I was playing around with my curve ball, and I realized that when I throw it, if I put my hand HERE then it doesn’t work, but I slightly moved it back a little, and then it helped with the movement of it.”  <— THIS IS AWESOME…AMAZING…INCREDIBLE. If you can do this, if you are willing to even try new things on your own, you are going to grow and grow and grow. Nothing will stop you. This means that you are truly feeling what you are doing and are taking the time to understand pitching mechanics, think for yourself and isolating different body parts to make small changes along the way that will pay off to be big changes down the road.

At your next practice, think on YOUR OWN and be your own pitching coach. Think about what you FEEL is going wrong with a certain pitch or your mechanics. Slow your mind down to think about what your adjustment is. This pays off down the road. We should be free thinkers, able to express ourselves and come up with our own solution. It’s good to ask people for help, but it’s not good to ask people for answers ALL the time. Figure out some things on your own, it will stay with you longer and make you feel like later on when you need an answer or a quick fix, that the answer is already inside of you….just have to think about it a little to pull it out!

How Many Days A Week Should I Practice?

THE most asked question I get is how many pitches and/or how many days a week should my daughter pitch? Sometimes I think parents just ask me this question so that their daughter can hear me say or read that I say 1000 pitches a week or 6 times a week. It’s like parents are trying to use me as their backup and be able to say, “Seeeee, Amanda said you should pitch x amount of pitches every time we pitch.” Unfortunately, there is no magic answer for this question! I totally wish there was (it would make my answering questions a lot easier with an answer less lengthy).

I can easily say this as a GENERAL RULE. If you are practicing 3 times a week, you are most likely just staying the same. 4+ times of practice a week you are getting better and less than 3 times a week, hmmm how can I put this….? you probably aren’t getting better. (Please remember this is not a one size fits all rule, this is just a general statement. There are ALWAYS exceptions). I could throw out so many different workouts, but here is a general one where you can start if you are not pitching in games yet. 4 times a week, 100 pitches a day.

That answer is the easy way out! There is no uniform answer for every single person who asks me this question. In fact, every person will be extremely different. We are built differently with different strengths, flexibilities, minds and overall athleticism. We learn differently. We adapt differently.

But let’s try to work through this……The biggest question I can ask BACK TO YOU to answer is, “Are you getting the results you want on the weekend when it’s game time?” The answer is either yes or no. If it’s no, then you need to practice more. If it’s yes, then you can keep doing what you’re doing.

“But wait…I can’t remember what I did at practice this week…”

Write it down! Write down how many pitches you throw and exactly what you work on for every practice. This way, if you have a successful weekend, YOU can come up with YOUR OWN game plan about how you want to attack your practice plan.

I’m going to be completely honest…sometimes life isn’t fair….

Some pitchers may only have to pitch 1 time a week on their own and still go and dominate in a game. Those are the pitchers we are all so envious of. They are the naturally gifted athletes who are competitors and come from a genetic gene pool we can all only dream of.

Some pitchers may have to practice 4 times a week before they are able to go and dominate in a game.

The one thing I know is certain – you can’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are you.

This whole pitching thing is a LOT of work, I tell ya. It’s more than just learning how to pitch the ball and learning different pitches. Pitching is taking the time to understand what works for YOU and a big part of that is practice routine. It’s impossible to remember and make a practice routine without writing it down. It’s your own personal way of trial and error. Have a pitching journal that is YOURS and be able to write down any thoughts or feelings or anything you are working on in that journal.

“Okay on this week I pitched 2 times a week and threw 100 pitches, but I could have done better on the weekend. So next week I will pitch 3 times a week and throw 75 pitches each day and work on my spin every day while watching my favorite TV  show.” For every pitching practice, have a focus (i.e. leg drive, endurance, accuracy, spin, location, attitude, body language.) Mix it up! Try to engage the pitcher and have her pick what SHE wants to work on! You can even There is ALWAYS something you can be working on. Even the best of the best have something they need to work on!

You see this question of how many times to practice a week is such a blank canvas for YOU! I can tell you what worked for ME, but I am not YOU. What I can tell you is that I had to work my tail off to get to the level I played at. I can tell you there were days I didn’t want to practice, but did anyway. I can tell you there were days I didn’t want to practice and ended up just taking a day off and listening to my body. I can tell you there were days my parents pushed me to pitch when I didn’t want to (although they were way fewer than the days it was initiated on my own). And I can tell you every week was probably a little bit different. Life happens and causes us to not get out as much as we “should” on some weeks. But the week after that, do you continue to be “busy”, or do you sacrifice and find time to make the next week better than the week prior?

It is MUCH easier to just ask me to tell you a magic number of pitches to throw a week and you go and do it and we hope for the best. But to me, it is way more fun to figure it out on your own. It’s like a mystery and a puzzle. Every person who asks me the question of how many times their daughter should practice is at a different level than the next person who asks me. Remember, every month may be a little different for what your body needs. Take the time to listen to it. Take the time to go through your results from the weekend and investigate.

Ask yourself some questions so that you can have an a better understanding of how you pitched:

  • When I gave up hits, were they good pitches?
  • In the game, did I throw as aggressively and intensely as I possibly could have thrown?
  • Was I getting ahead of hitters?
  • Was I able to try out the new pitch I have been working at in the game?
  • How did my change up work?
  • Were my outs coming mainly from pop ups or ground balls?
  • How was my stamina? Did I get tired later in the game (this means you need to pitch longer in each session during the week)
  • What pitch did I throw the most?
  • What pitch did I throw the least and need to work on?
  • (Side note: If you do not know what any of these terms mean or are confused about any of these questions, you need to ASK someone!)

I firmly believe YOU are your best pitching coach, I promise!! It just takes a little bit more work and belief in yourself and your knowledge. As a family, come up with a schedule TOGETHER, as a team for what fits best with your schedule, what you need to work on, and reflect back on your past outings! If you can, pitch 6 days a week! If you are questioning whether to go out and practice or not, GO! The more reps you can get in, the better you are going to become and build a better foundation for your future! Pick up a ball and spin it in your living room or pick up an orange and spin it in the grocery store! There’s so much more to becoming a great pitcher than just pitching FULL distance from the pitching rubber!

Love to pitch.

What does it mean to be competitive? Part 2 – Competing for your position

(This month’s topic will be broken down into 3 parts)
Two weeks ago, I sent out Part 1 of this topic “Competing Against Other Teams.”
To see Part 1 of this topic click here
One of the words I most frequently heard at Texas A&M from head coach, Jo Evans, was “COMPETE.”
 

Competition fuels desire.  Competition adds drive. Competing has become somewhat of a lost art for this generation of softball players, and one that I hear from many college coaches that is a characteristic they are searching for in their future athletes.  Nowadays, more often than not,competing is a quality that is having to be taught, instead of being innate.

When I use the word “compete” I am referring to that inner fire that burns to go out on the field and beat the team in the opposing dugout, to compete for a position and to compete against yourself to see just how good you can really be.

Competition is one of those lessons that sports builds in you, if you allow it.  However, being around the softball fields at the select and college levels, I see fewer and fewer girls who are showing up and just flat out competing when they are out on that field.

Competing is one of the biggest things college coaches are looking for in players right now.  Many times, they are claiming that it is a quality that is missing In recruits across the country.  Some coaches will even take that desire to compete over a player who has better talent.  It’s that competitive nature that makes you a great teammate and allows you to be a player that other coaches and teammates would want to go to war with.  It’s not always about the player who has the most talent; it’s about the player who has talent and has a fierce competitive drive that runs deep inside of her.

 Competing for a position

 

Now this form of competition isn’t as basic as competing against other teams.  This one is a little bit tougher because it involves competing against your own teammate.  This is specifically tricky with girls because most girls don’t want to hurt other girls feelings.  Having competition at different positions around the field is so important for a team’s success because you get the very most out of your players.  If there is no competition for positions, players can get complacent and never really grow.  Competing for a position pushes both players to become the best they can be knowing that if they perform better than the other player, then they get to start in the big game.  Competing for positions is a big reason why college teams will carry more players on their roster than a select team.

Steve Martin Quote

Competing for a position is THE BIGGEST lost form of competition, and I will tell you why.  There are more select softball teams across the country than there ever have been before, meaning there are more options; and if someone is not happy with playing time, it’s very easy for them to pick up and leave and go to another team where they can fine more playing time.  I’m sure you know them, the typical team hoppers who leave because everything just isn’t right.  They always have different excuses for leaving the team, but in general, the biggest reason people leave teams is because their daughter isn’t getting enough playing time.  So let’s think about this for a second.  By allowing your daughter to change teams based on playing time, you’re telling her that she doesn’t have to earn that spot and compete for that position because if we aren’t getting what we want, then we can go find it somewhere else.  The easy thing to do is pick up and leave and find another team so your daughter can play.  The hard thing is to challenge up and stay on the team to earn that spot.   I promise, in the long run, she will be better because of it.

If a player isn’t playing…I guarantee there is a reason for it other than the coach just simply having favorites and/or not liking the player.  If I am the player who is not playing, I am going to find out why I am not playing (by asking the coach myself, NOT my parents) and then work hard on whatever the reason is when I am practicing.  Maybe the reason you are not playing is because you are not clutch with runners in scoring position.  Maybe the reason is because you make scary throws to first base on a ground ball.  There is going to be a reason, but there is NO reason not to go work hard on whatever it is it may be.  But here is the catch: if the player is NOT making the changes to become a better player, then WHY would the coach put them in?

Earning a spot can be difficult; earning a position can be challenging; but earning a position is one of the most rewarding things that can happen to a player.  If you’re not getting playing time and you think you’re working hard enough?  Work harder.  Do you think you’re putting in a lot of time? Well put in more. Want it more than that other person.  Eventually, you’ll get it; but it’s not going to come easy.  A big part of competing for a position is taking advantage of your opportunities.  For example: maybe a player doesn’t start but she is called upon to pinch hit with a runner at 3B and less than 2 outs.  Does the player cave in this situation? Or does she get mentally tough to embrace this opportunity and make the most out of it by hitting a SAC fly and getting the RBI?

Another example of making the most of your opportunity is if the player who plays defensively in front of you makes an error, and your coach calls your out to go play in the field.  The first ground ball that comes to you, do you boot it?  Or do you make the play cleanly?  TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES will be a way that you earn your spot and catch your coach’s attention.  If you are NOT taking advantage of opportunities, then why would your coach want to play you?  To take advantage of opportunities, you must be focused, you must know the situation and you must be mentally strong to believe in yourself.  Someone might make an excuse after not taking advantage of your opportunity such as, “well I didn’t come through because I don’t get to play as much as the other players.”  This is just an excuse for not coming through, and it doesn’t apply.  If you’re putting in the practice time and fall into the trusting mindset in the game, you will be better served to take advantage of these opportunities physically and mentally.

Find a way or fade away

Don’t teach your daughter the wrong thing – that if you’re not happy with something, it’s okay to pick up and leave.  Teach her work ethic by teaching her competition within her position.  Make sure you have a coach that is teaching this same philosophy, because maybe your daughter is the one at the “starting” position.  Is she being pushed? Is someone right there next to her at practice pushing her with every swing and every ground ball?  If not, then I can guarantee she will not become the best player she can be because there is no one right there next to her breathing down her neck wanting to take that position.  That is pure competition.

Competing for a position will prepare her for college.  The ultimate goal of any college team is to win, a coach’s livihood at his/her schools depends on it.  So you better believe that the best players will play and that coaches want this friendly competition out on the field within their team so players are day in and day out pushing each other.  If your daughter is not preparing for it now, she won’t be ready for it when she makes it to the next level, whichever level that may be – high school, all stars, league team, college.  Encourage competition, don’t shy away from it.  Teach your daughter that if she wants something, she has to prove a point and send a message by working harder than she’s ever worked before to be named the game day starter.

Lastly, an important thing to remember for this kind of competition is not to give up.  Anything can change.  Maybe the person you are competing with stops working hard, but you continued to work your very hardest and you end up beating them out at the end of the season.  If you want it bad enough, you will work hard enough to achieve your dreams.  If you don’t put in the work or make the changes, that tells me you never wanted it in the first place.  Every player wants playing time, but it should always be earned.  The reward is getting to be out on the field come game time. Passion, or lack of passion, is shown when competing for a position.  How bad do you want it?

Is there competition at your position?  Are you being pushed by your teammate?  Are you pushing your teammate?  Are you caving when you have opportunities?  Make the most of your opportunities…be so good they can’t ignore you. 

COMPETE EVERY PITCH.

 

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?

High School Softball Season Survivor Guide – Grievance 2: The Competition

In ANY situation we come up against in life, there are going to be things that we can control and things we can’t control.  It’s important to always take a step back in any situation, and understand which are which.  Limit the excuses and understand what YOU can do better to get the most out of a situation.

You will recognize that my grievances have a common theme — worrying about yourself, controlling what YOU can, keeping a positive mindset and working as hard as up can. If you missed Grievance 1: Playing Time, then click here.

Grievance #2 : Competition Isn’t “Good Enough”

Uncontrollables: How fast a pitcher is throwing; ball/strike ratio of an opposing pitcher; how well the other team hits; how well your defense fields behind you as a pitcher

Controllables: Your intensity and focus in the circle; your intensity and focus at the plate; playing YOUR game at YOUR level; learning from game-like situations; making adjustments

Ok, fine.  So maybe high school ball does not have as high of quality of players as the travel teams you play for during the summer, but really this excuse is laughable to me as an excuse of why they don’t like high school ball.  Does this mean you’re going to use it as an excuse to play down to their level?

You have a choice to play down to the level of your competition or you can choose to shine!!

“The Pitchers Throw Too Slow / Too Many Balls”

Controllable: Swinging at good pitches; trying to be on time; going opposite field; good approach at the plate

Oh boy, this one is pretty funny to me.  Okay, so you face a pitcher that doesn’t throw “hard.”  You should be thinking LUCKY me not POOR me!  A pitcher who isn’t throwing a lot of strikes? Perfect!  I can work on taking pitches, seeing the ball all the way in. and my pitch selection. Visualization training. Patience training. Working on patience at the plate and understanding your strike zone is essential to being a good hitter.

The BEST players will be the players who can adjust the FASTEST, no matter what is thrown at them.

A pitcher who doesn’t throw as hard as you’re used to gives you more time to see the ball, more time to make a decision whether it’s a ball, or a strike and gives you the ability to work on hitting opposite field. Hitting opposite field is one of the things I see out there that is hardest across all levels. EVERY PLAYER can pull the ball. But NOT ever player can have the patience to let the ball travel and work one riving it on the middle or to the opposite side of the field (right field for a right handed hitter, left field for a left handed hitter).  Clearly, if you are someone who struggles with slower pitching, this means this is something that you need to work on with your swing. I promise, even in college, there will be slower pitchers that you have to face and YOU have to be able to make an adjustment.

When you face a pitcher who is throwing slower, take it upon yourself to try to hit opposite field.  Work on keeping your wait back, work on pitch selection, work on letting the ball travel. This is showing bat control.  You can work on this and be someone who is able to adjust to different speeds of pitching with no problem. If you are saying this pitcher isn’t “good” then you should be perfect with you plate appearances and get a hit in your first at bat every single time that you go up to bat.  Set an example for your team on how to adjust to a pitcher.

  • Work on pitch selection
  • Take your walks when they are given to you
  • Work on letting the ball get deep and waiting on slower pitching (just like waiting on a change up)
  • Take slower pitching to opposite field
  • Work on quick adjustments

If you are worried about not being ready for travel ball pitching speed, then take some time on your own to have your travel team pitcher throw to you or go to a batting cage where you can raise the speed and still work on having quick hands and making quick adjustments. Also, go to the cage next to it and go to the slower speed. Alternate going from cage to cage and see how quick you can make the adjustment.

“I’m A Pitcher, and My Defense Can’t Make Plays Behind Me”

Controllables: YOU; Work a little bit more off the plate to get swings and misses; mix speeds to get them to swing and miss; add more movement or better location to induce ground balls that are not well hit;  keeping a good attitude/body language; learning how to work through long innings with endurance and precision

At some point in my playing career, I know I have either been on a team or been in an inning where my defense just can’t seem to make plays back behind me.  Does not matter what kind of level you are at, you will go through an inning or a game like this.  It’s one of those things like having a homerun hit off you – it’s going to happen, and then it’s probably going to happen to you again, and then probably again.  So you can get frustrated and upset over it, or you can figure out a way to be a little bit better in the circle to get more swings and misses or to not have balls as sharply hit to your infielders or outfielders.  This CHALLENGES you; it makes you think; it makes you be creative; it makes you be BETTER.

Pitchers who blame their defense behind them for reasons that they aren’t getting better as pitchers –  I can’t stand that.  This is another EXCUSE.

You’re working through real-game softball situations. You’re working through problems. These are problems you will be faced with again at some other point in your playing career.  Think of it as a challenge; think of it as making you a better pitcher to be able to work through adversity — working on your attitude and keep your emotions in check. BE A LEADER.

What CAN’T happen is that you get a bad attitude and show it to your teammates.  That is going to make your defense that much more tight behind you, and then they REALLY aren’t going to make a play for you.  This is a great test of patience of pitchers.  If you can get through a team that struggles to make defense behind you, it’s going to make you that much better mentally and physically when you get to a team that has a sharp defense. By having better body language and a better attitude, you will help your teammates stay confident behind you; ultimately you a making your TEAM better. By being more concerned with your own personal ERA or how many runs are scored off you, you are more worried about YOU than the team.

It’s ALL about how you choose to look at the situation and how you choose to view what you are getting out of it.

Also, this is a great time to work on being a good teammate.  It says a lot about a pitcher, whose defense continues to make errors back behind her, but who continues to stay positive towards that teammate and not letting it negatively affect her attitude.  This can be a challenge, but this is ONLY going to make you a better TEAMMATE to be around so that your teammates can trust in YOU and believe in YOU even more.

When your defense is struggling behind you, you should get STRONGER and step up.  If your high school team doesn’t play great defense, in my mind, the easy way out is to quit, blaming that the defense isn’t good enough.  You are NEVER bigger than the game. It is what YOU make of it. When you start feeling uncomfortable, do you rise up to the challenge, or do you surrender? YOU control how you handle it.

You can’t change your defense.  Instead of complaining and blaming, step up YOUR game mentally and physically. CHALLENGE YOURSELF.  Challenge your mind.

  • Stay calm
  • Stay positive
  • Work on small adjustments with locations of your pitches
  • Keep good energy
  • You get stronger when the situation gets tougher
  • Think strategically to which of your infielders field the ball the best. Work on throwing to the side of the plate where the hitter will most likely hit it to your best infielder.
  • Think of pitch calling and situations.
  • Look to hitter’s weakness by noticing what they are doing in their swing.

You can be getting better by being creative in what you are learning in tough game situations and thinking/analyzing situations to make yourself a more well rounded pitcher.

“I’m a Pitcher and I Strike Everyone Out, The Hitters are Not Challenging For Me”

This is a perfect time for you to work on a different pitch you’ve been trying to learn or master. Maybe your curve ball is your favorite pitch, and you throw it 85% of the time, and you’re learning a drop ball.  If you’re striking everyone out with your curve ball, then start working on your drop ball.  Throw it in different counts.  Work on placement of it and movement of it.  Know that you can always go back to your curve ball when you need a strike or need an out.  Working on a new pitch in a game situation is so important.  This can create a new focus and determination to add another pitch that will help you, once you start facing more competitive hitters.

  • Work on something new
  • You can still work on getting better despite your competition

There is SO MUCH to be learned from game time experience, regardless of what THE OTHER team is or isn’t doing. Challenge yourself during the game to be the best teammate and lead be example. Any game-time experience is our greatest teach. Softball presents so many different situations in and throughout a game that practice cannot teach you. Be thinking one play ahead. Think one pitch at a time, but when you can be really creative and you’re a pitcher, think one pitch ahead.


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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!

What’s Taking Away From Your Confidence?

I get asked about confidence…A LOT.  Mainly because confidence (no matter what your softball mechanics look like) is a HUGE key to an individual’s success on the field and in life. I might not know you, and I might not know your daughter, but what I know for absolute certain is that if she feels fully confident and happy, she will flourish and feel like she can achieve anything she puts her mind to.

Instead of thinking of confidence like it’s a big mystery, it’s important to keep it simple and know going into it that confidence will fluctuate (just like our bank accounts). It’s vital to realize what is taking away from our confidence (just like what is it that we are spending our money on) and also what is replenishing our confidence (just like adding money to our account).

Everyone knows what it’s like to look at your bank account and see deposits and withdrawals of money. Most people have a certain idea of where they want their checking account to maintain at. Maybe some people want $5,000 in there, maybe some people want $10,000. The amount of money each individual person wants to know is in there is different; the amount of confidence each person needs to feel is different, as well. Confidence is so subjective, but there is a way to make it more objective in each of our eyes…

Checkbook

Okay, imagine your confidence is like balancing a checkbook.

Your confidence has its own Checking Account. There are things in life that will withdraw your confidence, and there are things that will deposit into your confidence.  The items or situations that will deposit and withdraw confidence are different for every single person (in life and in sports). No two people are going to be exactly the same.

We each have different types of Confidence Accounts. For example, maybe you have a Pitching Confidence Checking Account, a Hitting Confidence Checking Account, a Fielding Confidence Checking Account.  Then, of course you have a “joint account” that is your Softball Confidence Checking Account.

Amanda Scarborough Confidence Checking Account

Let’s say you start at $1,000 in your joint Softball Confidence Checking Account, and $1,000 is where you know you perform your best. Maybe you are on a team where your coaches constantly yell at you, your parents don’t show you enough support and you also gave up 3 homers the last tournament and struck out 5 times. All of those things are major things that withdraw from your Confidence Checking Account.  The closer we get to $0, the less confidence we will have. (Just like a real checking account, imagine being close to $0 and the amount of anxiety and negativity one might feel). If you’re close to $0 in your real checking account, you are going to find ways to make money to get that account back up. The exact same thing should happen with our Confidence Checking Account, although I feel a lot of young girls don’t know how to get off of Empty.

So what is depositing into your Confidence Account? How is your “tank” getting filled back up? Most importantly, do you know what can fill up your Confidence Account? It’s easier to find the things that are withdrawing from our confidence than the things that are adding to it. Every person, every player, will have a breaking point. The situations that lead to that breaking point and the amount of time it takes to get there will differ for every person. There are SO many things that can go into it – did you just recently move? Did your best friend on your team leave? Have you practiced as much as you think you should? Are you making big mechanical adjustments? Is your family supportive?

There will be times where your Confidence Account is overflowing, and there will be times where it’s almost empty. It’s only normal. However, the biggest question is if you know what it takes to get it back to where it needs to be. Are you able to recognize the situations that give YOU more confidence? Do you know what to do to get back to your confident place? Are willing to put yourself in situations and surround yourself with great people to help get you back where you know you are best and happiest?

I encourage you to monitor your Confidence Checking Account just like you monitor your bank account. Sometimes things are taking out of our Confidence Checking Account that we don’t actually know are taking away from it. (Think of if someone steals your account information and goes on a shopping spree, and all of a sudden you look at your account and it’s lower by $2000) The same can happen with our confidence.

Also, remember the more accounts you have to manage, the more difficult it may be to keep them all balanced and give them the attention they each individually deserve. A pitcher who hits and plays short stop has MANY different accounts. The more accounts you have, the more time you have to invest to making sure they are all fully loaded and being refilled. It is also important to make sure that one account is not effecting the other account (i.e. a pitcher taking her emotions to bat with her).

Try to find the ways to keep your Confidence Checking Account loaded! Oh, and also, every now and again, put some into savings….you may need it at a later date…!

 

High School Softball Survivor Guide – Grievance 3: Teammates

(In case you missed the first 1 grievances, Grievance 1: Playing Time and Grievance 2: The Competition. )

Grievance 3: Teammates

Uncontrollable: Who is on your team; Other players attitudes; Other players work ethic;

Controllable: Being a good teammate; being a good leader; leading by example; not talking about people behind their back; putting the team first; being loyal

“I don’t get along with some of my teammates.”

“Most of my teammates have a really bad attitude.”

“My teammates don’t care as much I do.”

Well, you’re stuck with them!  So you can either figure out a way to handle different situations that are presented, or you can opt out to quit.  In high school, you don’t really have a choice of who you get to play with, what their attitude is like, how they treat people like and what their work ethic is like.  When you get a job, you don’t really get to have much of a choice either. You can never change people, but you can always have a voice and try to lead by example in your own actions.  When speaking up in a team meeting or to a teammate, have good intentions with where you are coming from with your statements.  It’s always about the team, not always about you. Trying to prove yourself as “right” usually does not work in conversations with a teammate. Leading, reminding of a vision, reminding of the mission of the team works better than pointing fingers. 

If you have a teammate who doesn’t have a good attitude, and you think it’s affecting the team, it’s completely acceptable to pull that player off to the side and let her know how you feel.

I recommend doing this before you go days upon days talking to your other teammates about the girl who has a bad attitude. Then it festers. Then it just makes the other teammates turn on her. It grows to become a cancer.  Say something to her before you talk to all of you teammates constantly about it. It’s HER job to take it the correct way, so long as you are telling her in an appropriate manner.  

Sometimes, before even going directly to the player, you can try to have team meetings. This works best without your coach even TELLING the team they need to get together. Be a leader and pull together the team before your coach recognizes that the team needs to meet together to talk some thing out.

If you are truly a leader on the team and want the best for the team, you are ok with standing up for what you believe in and what is truly going to benefit the team the best. 

Remember, you don’t have to want to hang out with every player on your team OFF the field and be best friends. But ON the field, it’s your duty to find a way to get along with each other and take care of each other. From the outside looking in, nobody should be able to tell that you are NOT best friends. Supporting someone on the field does not mean you have to go to the movies with that person on the weekend. It’s a very mature thing to do to be able to separate the two.  The same can be said in an opposite situation: your best friend plays on the team, but she is showing a bad attitude and not trying hard. It says a lot about you as a leader if you are able to tell your good friend that how she is acting is not helping the team, it is only hurting the team. You all have the same mission: winning together.  And THAT should be what is remembered when it comes time to compete on the field and at practice

  • TEAM comes first
  • How can you find a way to communicate with someone
  • On the field, get along and fight for each other; off the field you don’t have to be best friends
  • Think about what you say before you say it or repeat what someone told you.
  • Work as hard as YOU possibly can.
  • I’ll say it again, no matter what, TEAM COMES FIRST

There is only so much you can say and so much you can lead by example when you notice it’s just not working, but that doesn’t mean it has to pull YOU down. When someone has a bad attitude around you, if you’ve already tried saying something, it’s best to ignore it. The strength of the team has to move forward to try to drown that person out.  Don’t give that person energy. Don’t give that person time. If they’re not going to change, they’re not going to change. There will always be those “inbetweeners” on a team. Do you know who I’m talking about? Those are the players who could go either way – they can pull more toward the strong leaders or they can gravitate more toward the cancers. It’s your job as leaders to try to get them on YOUR side. They become the difference makers on the team. Empower them to feel the difference of what it’s like to be more on the positive side than the negative side.

Don’t get caught up in team drama!!!! Don’t do it! I know it’s temping, and it’s there (a lot).  If you hear someone talking about another person, say you don’t want to hear about it. Maybe even tell them not to talk about that in front of you. Maybe you can tell them that if they have a problem with that person, they need to go talk to that person directly.

It’s not “cool” to be the teammate who talks about other teammates behind their back once you leave the field. I PROMISE. 

What is your character like? What do you want it to be? It speaks volumes about you, not just as a player, but as a person, for the drama to end with you. It’s ok to be that girl who other teammates know they can’t talk about other teammates in front of! Be a loyal teammate. A loyal teammate does not talk about other teammates behind their back. For 4 ways to learn how to be a loyal teammate, click here.

Learning to communicate is one of the biggest things we can learn in this world.

Communication is SO VITAL in life and with your teammates. Learning to talk to someone in the right tone, and have a conversation, not a fight, is important in terms of respecting each other. Learn to say what you want to say with words without yelling.

Just because you are yelling doesn’t mean that someone is listening or understanding you that much better.

Set expectations and standards of how your team plays. Control your own attitude and your own work ethic. If you’ve tried to have a one on one talk and a team talk, and it’s just not working, don’t let it effect YOU. When talking in a team setting, it’s ok to say stuff out loud that you believe in and you know that’s right. At the end of the day, remember that every action is either hurting or helping the mission of the TEAM. I don’t know about you, but I like to win. Team chemistry and trust are huge parts of winning. Set a good example, treat your teammates the right way and do all that YOU can to help the mission of the team. 

How to Get Mentally Tough in the Circle

You’re inside the circle, both feet are on the rubber, it’s a 3-2 count with bases loaded, tie ball game and the clean up hitter is up to bat.  What’s going on in your head? Do you hear the opposing team in the dugout?  Do you hear your own thoughts more than the loud voices in the stands?  Is your mind clear?  The more important question that helps you feel good about answer these questions is, how did you prepare for this moment?  You’ve got to slow the game down….

PREPARATION GIVES MORE CONFIDENCE

To me, it all comes down to preparation for the big moments.  Preparation breeds confidence. The more prepared you are, the more confident you can feel to handle any situation that comes your way in a game.  Preparation gives you tools to handle adversity or tense situations.  Practice competitive, tense situations at practice during the week.  By putting players under pressure at practice to perform, they are going to be more used to the feeling when it comes game time.  If you have players who never practice pressure situations, then most of them are going to get tense and fail when it comes down to it.  Give the loser a consequence. OR give the winner a reward.  It doesn’t have to be anything major.  But, they need to learn what it feels like to be put under pressure and learn both – what it feels like to succeed and what it feels like to fail.  To appreciate both, you have to learn both.

In order to be successful in a tense, important situation, the one thing that has to happen, is that you have to be confident.

With confidence, you are SURE of which pitch to throw to get that clean up hitter out.  With confidence, the game slows down.  When the game slows down in your mind you have better chances of breathing.   If you’re not breathing, there’s no way to get oxygen into your body.  That oxygen is going to be another form of fuel so that your body uses so it can perform to it’s highest potential. Instead of giving focus to being nervous, give focus to remembering to breathe and slowing your breath down.  When your breath slows down, the game slows down.

WHAT ABOUT CROWD NOISE?

I’ve gotten asked, “How do you drown out crowd noise?”  Those players who slow the game down do not often hear crowd noise.  They are so focused on the task at hand and living presently in every single moment and every single breath, that outside forces do not affect them as much.  You are able to truly give focus and belief in yourself by preparing before game time comes.  If you are not as prepared, you are going to be the player who gives outside forces more attention and focus, and be the one who hears the crowd or dugout trying to rattle you.

PRACTICE IDEA: Have a pitcher and a catcher out on the field with a better up, with the rest of the team in the dugout yelling at them for an entire at bat.  This is going to help the pitcher focus, this is going to help the batter focus.  PRACTICE noise.  Practice working through adversity so that you are a little bit more prepared for it, or at least FEEL more prepared for it, when it comes down to a significant in-game moment.

STAY WITHIN YOURSELF

Stay in your own thoughts. Remember to have positive self talk. Don’t talk yourself out of the positive talk that should be going on in your head.  Be confident and so focused that nothing else matters other than the catcher who is in front of you behind the plate.  Be so focused you don’t even see the batter standing in the batter’s box – she doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is what YOU do.  Remember you are in control.  Remember if you put the ball where you’re suppose to, and you are 100% behind the pitch with confidence before you throw it, you will have success.

I can. I will.

SITUATIONS CREATE FEELING – (this to me is the most important to understand)

In this critical moment in a game, instead of letting thoughts run through your head about what might happen if you don’t succeed (i.e. she gets a hit off of you, you throw a ball, you a hit a batter), only let positive FEELINGS run through your mind before the pitch.  Yep, FEELINGS. What do I mean by this? Everything we go through in life creates a certain feeling (a reaction) when it is happening (happy, sad, mad, nervous, etc), even sports.  There is an instant feeling of excitement or happiness created after you throw a strike (if you’re a former player, you know exactly what I mean!).  There is an instant feel of madness or sadness after you walk someone or give up a hit. Whether you know it or not, those feelings are being created….

Before you throw the pitch, let a situation run through your head where you see yourself having success in an event that happened in the past. (This could be the pitch you threw before that was for a  strike on a corner; it could be a game winning strike out a year ago; maybe even you had been in a tough situation earlier in that game and you got out of it).  When you think about that moment, your brain automatically connects with the feeling that was created in that moment to give you more positive energy and positive feel for the task you have at hand.  When you see yourself having success, your body feels like it wants to create that same positive feeling again.  (Warning: it can happen for the negative situations too….so when you think about not wanting to walk someone, your brain thinks about those negative feelings and doesn’t want to feel it again, which makes you way more tense).  So, draw from past experience to create positive feelings in your head that you will feel throughout your entire body, so that you are entering the most important pitch in the game feeling nothing but positive energy towards what is about to happen. Have belief in yourself and confidence in your skills and preparation.

Being mentally tough in the circle is a huge thing to work on as a pitcher.  The more tense situations you are put in, the more experience you get with it, and the better you will be able to handle adversity when it comes along.  The best advice I can give is to be the most prepared person on the field; you gain confidence from that preparation.  Also, start paying attention to your feelings and being able to draw on past experiences and what they felt like.  Be in touch with your body and what you are feeling. Know how to talk about them, articulate them, and recreate those positive feelings!

What are other ways that you have found that help to be mentally tough in the circle?

 

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