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…

Maximizing Power in Your Push Off – Softball Power Drive

Exiting the Pitching Rubber – Maximizing Pitching Mechanics for Power

Leg drive starts from the VERY BEGINNING. It’s important to create an athletic, explosive position in your push out to maximize your leg drive.  Energy and momentum are created from the ground up.  You can have the MOST energy by creating the best position possible to push off the rubber. More energy at the beginning of your pitch will create more energy at the END of your pitch.  It all starts from the ground up!

If you enjoyed this video, please share it with one person you think it would benefit by using the social media tabs!

www.softballpowerdrive.com 

Do you Have Short Term Memory Loss?

Amanda Scarborough Short Term Memory Loss

Before you get scared- NO, this is not a spam post ad for some overseas medicine coming to America to help with short term memory loss!  In sports, a player NEEDS to have short term memory loss.  What do I mean by that? I mean you have to forget mistakes you make in a game – quickly.  Sports are filled with failures, but also filled with a lot of opportunity.  How are you looking at your next at bat or your next pitch you throw after you make a mistake? Are you looking at it as an opportunity to succeed or as a chance you might fail?

We all are going to make mistakes throughout the game.  It’s all about how we recover from that mistake that matters. We must understand that one play does not define you as a player – for better or for worse. We have to be able to move on from a play within SECONDS of it happening, in order to have full focus on what is still happening during that same play while it is being completed. Then, we must move on on to the next play, the next pitch, the next at bat.  Sports like softball move very fast.  The game will move on with or without you – hopefully, it’s with a fully focused, fully positive you – ready to make a new impact on the game when you have another opportunity.

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes. – John Wooden

A hitter might have 4 at bats in a game, an infielder might have 3-4 plays chances to make a play in a game, but a pitcher is touching the ball 80-130(ish) times a game.  A pitcher has more opportunities to make a mistake than any other person on the field, but also more opportunities to rebound from a mistake…more opportunities to have a chance to shine.  You have to be able to let things go. Forget about the last mistake you made. The game isn’t nearly as much fun when you are WORRIED about mistakes and hanging on to things that weren’t done “perfectly.” If you are worried about pitch number 24 you threw in the game, while you are throwing pitcher number 44, there is no way to throw pitch 44 to its highest ability.

It isn’t making mistakes that’s critical; it’s correcting them and getting on with the principal task.  – Donald Rumsfeld

The best pitchers are going to be the pitchers who move on with a new, clear focus on the next pitch.  After you throw a pitch, you CANNOT hang on to it.  You have to accept the outcome, do not JUDGE it.  It’s when we judge the outcome that we are more likely going to be hanging on to it and unable to move on.  You have a chance the very next pitch to redeem yourself to your coaches, team, and to yourself.  How are you going to rebound?

As athletes, we all want to be perfectionists.  It’s impossible to be perfect in sports.  We are trying to achieve perfection every time we take the field or the court, and perfection never going to be attainable. If you are a competitive athlete, you are always going to want to be better and better and better, and there never truly is perfection.  Even if you throw a “perfect” game, it doesn’t mean that you threw 100% strikes and had 21 strike outs in a game.  (If someone has had this, I applaud you, but I am not sure that this exists out there).  Go into a game not EXPECTING to make mistakes, but understanding that they might happen.  The best thing you can do is accept that you made a mistake, and move on.  The ability to do this can make a good player a great player.

Once you accept that you’re imperfect and are ok with making mistakes, it’s the most liberating thing in the world.  We are all perfectly imperfect.

Whether you are hitting or pitching, you must have the mindset of NEXT PITCH.  You took a pitch that was right down the middle for the first strike of your at bat? So what, next pitch.  In our game, you have the OPPORTUNITY to recover from a mistake within seconds of making that mistake.   Think of the next pitch as an immediate opportunity to bounce back whether you are at the plate, in the field or in the circle. If you are still down when that next pitch is happening, your chances of having success aren’t going to be very high because you are still hanging on to the past. Let go of the past, focus on what you can do NOW.

The first step in this whole process of getting better at having short term memory loss is PRACTICING having short term memory loss at practice and at lessons, even throughout the day in regular, every day activities.  If you cannot recover from a mistake in a lesson quickly, it’s going to be 1000 times harder to recover from a mistake in a game because a game moves faster and a game has more pressure.

Someone who does not have short term memory loss must first come to the realization that you are not good at letting go of mistakes before you can begin to change it.  Once you realize it, you become aware of it, and you can actually make a change.  If you never realize it, you are not going to change, and you will stay lost amongst the high percentage of players who hang on to the mistakes they make throughout a game and throughout a tournament.  When you hang on to mistakes, it’s exhausting and the game doesn’t seem fun anymore. Practice having short term memory loss in your lessons.

Know you made a mistake, do NOT judge it, learn from it, and commit to the next pitch with a fresh mentality.  By practicing it in lessons or at team practice, you will have a much better chance of putting into play your short term memory loss into a real game.

Don’t be so hard on yourself! Remember, sports should be fun!  Even though you are intense, and expect to be great every time that you go out onto the field to play, you are GOING to make mistakes.  The longer you hold on to that mistake, the less fun the game is going to be.  We are all perfectly imperfect and are allowed to make mistakes!  What is going to separate you from the rest of the players out there is how FAST you move on from mistakes!

Summer Tryout Q&A with Amanda Scarborough

Softball Tryouts

When I think of tryouts I think of the following emotions: nervousness, anxiety, excitement, eagerness, pressure.  This is a time, in my mind, where a player is tested mentally, even more than she is tested physically.  If you have practiced hard and worked hard during the summer, a try out should feel like just another practice in terms of what you are about to take on physically.  That’s the mindset you should have. You’ll take some ground balls, you’ll throw each of your pitches and you will take some swings either off of front toss or a machine. Your PRACTICES are where you should have been fine tuning some mechanics and working on fundamentals to make you feel COMFORTABLE heading into the tryout.

The tryout is NOT the time to fix mechanics and worry about making changes in your pitches, throw or swing.

How are you going to respond when eyes are on you and it’s your chance to take those swings in front of everybody? How will you handle the pressure?  A tryout is just like a game!  It adds pressure to completing the skills you were born to do.  You can either take that pressure, work through it, and learn to shine.  Or you can feel that pressure and crater.  I would be willing to bet that the players who crater at tryouts are the players who are not successful in a pressure situation in a game, either.

Here’s the thing: It’s all about what your inner thoughts are telling you, and also what your parents have been telling you leading up to the tryout.

How YOU are handling the conversations with your daughter days and weeks before the tryout is going to affect how she handles the pressure of the big day!  How you handle her successes and failures in every day life are going to be in her mind when she is at the tryout.  Is she afraid to let you down?  Does she know that you support her no matter what happens?  Can she feel from you that you are more worried about her well being, attitude and work ethic than you are about the results from the tryout? 

Explain to her in different ways that the tryout is NOT something to be fearful of, but the tryout is an OPPORTUNITY to SHOW a coach what she’s got!

If you have worked hard and prepared for this opportunity, then you should feel excited about it!  If you didn’t work as hard as you possibly could during the summer, and then you show up to the tryout, THEN that stands for grounds to be scared, unsure and anxious.  I would feel the same way if I didn’t prepare for something…any of us would feel that way! The best thing you can do as a parent is keep reminding them of their preparation, to believe in that and to stay within themselves. Remind them to breathe, and also remind them that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t make it.  Try to take away pressure, not add on to it.  Have a backup plan if the #1 team you want to go to doesn’t want to take you.  This is a perfect opportunity as a family to have a contingency plan, and remember that EVERYTHING happens for a reason. Yes, EVERYTHING.  Of course, if you don’t make the team you wanted it’s a bummer and you can feel like you aren’t good enough.  BUT choose to look at it in a different light.  If you don’t make one team, it means that there is an open door for you somewhere else, which is most likely going to be a better fit anyway. As a parent, you MUST have faith and stay positive for your daughter during this situation. 

If your daughter had a bad try out, it’s ok!  The experience alone was valuable for her to go through and LEARNFailure is our best teacher. Because of that experience, before the next try out (whenever that may be),  you can make some adjustments and think about what you want to do differently at practice and in your conversations to assure that that doesn’t happen again.  It should drive you more than it makes you sad.

Don’t DWELL on the bad tryout.  It happens!!  Just like a bad inning in a game happens!

There are SO many different questions you may ask about tryouts.  About a week ago, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me some of their top questions heading into tryouts, and below are some of their questions! Important to remember: there is NO SET answer for ANY of these questions.  I base my answers off of experience of being around the game as a player and a coach, and also seeing what OTHER people have experienced to give my best advice.

Q: Is Gold ball really worth the more than $12,000 cost per season (membership, airfare, hotels, meals, gasoline) or if my daughter is good enough will she be recruited without playing Gold? If Gold is the way to go, at what grade level do we make the switch?

A: –       First of all, there are SO MANY different directions to take this question, sooo that is why my answers are a little bit diverse. LOTS to consider, but wanted to give you a little bit of insight to a few things….

–        When entering the college recruiting world, remember that there are many different levels of collegiate ball.  Most people think of college ball and only think of the top Division I schools like UCLA, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, etc.  There are SO many more schools than that in terms of Junior Colleges, NAIA, Division II and Division III.  There are SO MANY opportunities to take your game to the next level that are outside of “The Dream Schools.” When you are thinking of Gold ball, most of the top athletes in the country are playing at that level on the top teams at the top tournaments which draws in the top coaches.  In my personal opinion, the word “Gold” doesn’t mean anything anymore, it’s so watered down and it has lost its allure because of its overuse. Every team wants to be a Gold team, even if their talent doesn’t necessarily match the “Gold” criteria.  At the 18UGold level, since they comprised of older girls, a good majority of those girls are already recruited and committed to go play ball, since many of them are Juniors and Seniors.  If the big Division I college coaches are there at those games, yes they are recruiting a little bit, but usually at that level they are just going there to WATCH the girls they have already recruited to go and play at their schools. The smaller schools will be at those 18U tournaments looking for the uncommitted/unsigned juniors and seniors. (Players are verbally committing to go to a school in 8th and 9th grade, it’s CRAZY).  So playing Gold ball is NOT the only way to get seen because college coaches are recruiting at these different age levels, too. Lots of them will be at 14U and 16U tournaments, as well in order to get an early look at those players who will eventually get up to the 18U level. College coaches want their players to play on the BEST teams because those top teams are playing in the top tournaments against the top teams in the tournament – which gives them invaluable experience and makes them compete at an even higher level.  Because of that competition level and how that prepares a player to play at the next level, you can see why college coaches would want to recruit players who play at the highest level possible when they are playing on their select teams.

–       I WILL tell you, in order to be recruited, you do need to play travel ball to be able to get the exposure to the college coaches.  There is probably a 90-95% chance that you will NOT be seen by JUST your high school team.  College coaches do not usually go to high school games to recruit.  My best advice in one sentence to truly answer your question: Play on the BEST travel team that you can play on where your daughter will be in the starting 9/10 on the team.  It does NO GOOD to be on one of the top teams and not play.  You are missing out on getting seen by college coaches when you are sitting the bench AND more importantly, you are missing out on game-time experience to prepare you to play at the next level.

–       Lastly, in regards to getting recruited, you need to start EMAILING coaches and putting your name out there to them.  Send emails to the schools that best fit your critieria.  Maybe you want to stay close to home.  Maybe you want to go far away.  Maybe you want a high academic schools.  Keep your options open and take TIME to understand what the options even are. They are ENDLESS.  But the player must decide what is the criteria she wants in a school, and then consistently email coaches and keep your name fresh in their minds.  College coaches are getting 100’s (literally) every day and you need to find a way to be different and stand out. When is a good time to start emailing coaches?  If you are serious about playing ball in college, you should start emailing coaches in 8th or 9th grade. If you are older than that right now and reading this, then get on it!

My favorite college recruiting website is NCSA.  They post SO MUCH helpful information.  It’s the best site I have found out there.  Their Facebook page is full of amazing tips.

Q: What should parents/players look for in a team? How do you pick the best fit – what should the decision be based on?

A: –       There are so many things that fit into a decision personally for YOUR family.  You can base it on finances and how much the team is traveling around and if you are able to afford that commitment.  You can base it off of how serious your daughter is about wanting to play in college.  The more serious she is, the more she should be traveling around to be seen in showcase/exposure tournaments with college coaches.  You can also base how serious your daughter takes softball as to how much she is practicing and the time she is willing to commit to playing in tournaments on the weekends and practicing during the week.  With that being said, are you, as parents, going to be able to make the commitment to driving her around and taking her to different tournaments?

–       More specifically regarding the team, I think you should also base your decision off of the coaches – this is a big one! Ask around about their personalities and how they treat their players and how they are DURING the games. Do they have daughters on the team?  If your daughter is a pitcher, how many pitchers are they going to take on the team?  I think it’s good to ask them point blank and get an honest answer about where they see your daughter fitting in to the lineup.  Ask the hard questions BEFORE you commit to being on the team.  Sit down as a family and think of questions that are important you know the answers to.

–       I would NOT base it just off of if your daughter has friends on the team.  That can be a big one that younger players hold on to.  You can make friends.  It’s good to get out and meet new people and explore new things!  It challenges a player to become more social and make them a little bit uncomfortable!  LIFE is about being uncomfortable in some situations and learning how to deal with it and handle it. She can make NEW friends and still have the OLD friends she played with before.

Q: Should you move a kid up in age group to challenge them or leave them down to shine and build self confidence?

A: I like for a player to stay down and play in their age group, especially in 10U, 12U and 14U. To me, this experience of “shining” can yes, give a player confidence, but also teaches them to be a leader and a player that their teammate looks up to. In my mind there is no rush.  NOW…with that being said, if a player is simply not being physically challenged enough, I think it is in their best interest to move up to be humbled, learn failure and how to play against the big girls.  I think the best person to make this decision is NOT the parents.  Usually parents (no offense parents) think much higher of their player than an unbiased opinion would from their team’s coach or their private lessons’ coach.  Be honest, be real.  Don’t move a player up just to be able to brag about it to other people.  That is not the point of playing up.  Playing up should be something that is earned and NEEDED and it should have NOTHING to do with ego.

Q: How do you demonstrate “softball smart” at a try-out? Seems like most coaches look for pitchers/catchers and shortstops, how do you make yourself shine at a try-out if you are not one of these?

A: GREAT QUESTION. If you make an error, you rebound quickly by having great body language and a positive attitude. Don’t let it affect you.  Players stick out who have a certain softball savvy without even TRYING to have that look.  They just walk on the found and have it because they are, like you said, “Softball smart.”  They are confident where to go with the ball.  They don’t question themselves.  Also, be LOUD with communication to call a ball or to cheer on other people at the tryouts.  Make new friends, be social and friendly.  Pick up another person trying out when they are struggling.  You can show signs of being a great teammate even when you don’t necessarily KNOW other people. Lay out for balls.  Hustle on and off the field, no walking.  Ask for extra reps if there is time. Ask the coaches questions.  Stay after the tryout and introduce yourself.  Play fearlessly.  Do not just fade in with the rest of the crowd with how supportive, energetic and passionate you are.  Make yourself stand out and be known. Along with these intangibles, either shine with your speed or shine with your swing!  If you are really fast, you will stick out.  If you have a pretty swing you will stick out. If you hit for power you will stick out.  Coaches love offense.  Know what your strength is.  When it is your chance to go up to the plate and show them what you’ve got, you have to take advantage of that opportunity to shine!  I also found this article, and it has some great little tips!

Q: Is it okay to try out for different teams even though you are staying with your current team so you see have you stack up against the other girls out there?

A: If you are really wanting to do this, I would say it’s VERY, VERY important to have an open, honest conversation with your current coaches. I would think the other coaches at the other try outs might think you are wasting their time when they are needing to evaluate players at the tryouts who are there really wanting to be seen? – that comes into my mind when I think of doing that.  Finally, I personally think the BEST way to see how you “stack up” against other girls is to do it on the actual playing field come game time.

Featured image from Ringor.com and this website.

 

Remember – We Are All in This Together

Amanda Scarborough we are all in this together softball

We’ve all had those LONG weekends at the ballpark, with early mornings and late nights, possibly 3-4 hours of sleep before you have to be back at the field for an 8am game. (8am games should be banned from our sport, by the way, they are just awful).  As softball players, coaches and softball families, we share these moments together.  Though our philosophies may be different on how to hit, pitch, throw or run a 1st and 3rd play, at the end of the day, we are ALL in this together and go through similar situations together, all involving things that actually make us more similar than sometimes it may seem or feel.

Amanda Scarborough we are all in this together softball

I used to get made fun of because I take pictures of EVERYTHING, from meals to desserts (I love food and I am not ashamed) to my friends & traveling across the country, you name it, I’ll probably take a picture of it. Sometimes my picture-attention is drawn to the sky and the beautiful sunrises and sunsets I see no matter where I travel to, no matter where or who I am coaching – the sky and the beautifulness of the earth remains a constant.

Amanda Scarborough sunset

It made me think, at the ballpark, we are all a part of different organizations and teams.  It feels like it can separate us because we are in different uniforms, wearing different colors, playing for different coaches.  We lay it all out on the field and may have different ways of competing, cheering and leading, but we all share a vision of beauty through a sunrise or sunset, where all of that individualism can go away, and we are able to share something together at a place that consistently feels like it divides us.

Because really, at the end of the day, we (coaches and parents) share a sunset just like we share the same vision to inspire and support as many girls as possible to get to the next level, and make every player out there the most beautiful player they can be.  This is REALLY what our game is all about.  A shared sunrise and sunset can be a daily reminder of our ultimate goal, and the very reason why we are even up there at the ballpark at all hours of the day.  We all share a common sacrifice of time and commitment.  However, so many times the true meaning of why we are out there is lost…

Next time you are at the ballpark and feel confused, frustrated, or annoyed, take a look at the clouds, stars, or moon and remember that no matter at who or why you’re frustrated, everyone out there shares stronger commonalities than differences.  If we keep it simple, and remember that we all SHARE a common vision, even though we may not be sharing the same colors we are wearing, the ballpark can become gathering place where familiar goals are trying to be achieved.

You see, out at the ballpark we are much more alike than we are different, even though sometimes the ballpark tends to bring out our differences, it should actually be bringing us together.

Amanda Scarborough sunset

Redefining Failure

Amanda Scarborough Redefining Failure

Simply put, the definition of failure is “lack of success.”

So if that’s the case, then we can’t define failure until we define success. How do YOU define success? Is it getting a hit? Is it pitching a no hitter? Is it having a quality at bat? Is it moving the runner? Do you even know how you are defining success to your team, to your daughter and to yourself?

In order to help their players define what success is, it’s important for coaches to have a concise message of what it is that they are defining as success. A clear cut message so that the staff is all on the same page, delivering the same message to a team no matter what the circumstances are. You don’t want to send conflicting messages of what is and is not success, then you end up with confusion, which leads to insecurity and tightness while playing.

So, how do you define success in softball?

Is a hit success?

If you are basing your success off of average and average alone, then yes, a hit for you would be considered success. However, batting average is the trap most players, parents and coaches fall into.   Basing success off of batting average is like falling right into quick sand. The sand looks solid, it looks like you will be able to successfully cross over to the other side by going over the quick sand. But as soon as you step on the quick sand, what happens? It falls through.

Few college coaches these days are paying attention to averages in recognition of their own team’s success. They are basing success more off of on base percentage and execution in a game. They base success off of how hard their team competed for the full 7 innings and how hard they fought for each other.  Those are the real successes throughout the game to notice.

Think about how a solid batting average is .300-.400. That means that 3/10 times you are getting hits (“success”) and the other 7 times you are not getting hits (“failure”). Well this would drive anybody nuts, and it would be hard to stay positive since in our game, when hits are defined as a success, we know that even the BEST players fail more than they succeed.

When you are focused more on batting average, you are focusing more on yourself and your own failure than the team.

When you are focusing more on competing, executing, and getting on base, the success becomes more focused around the TEAM rather than the individual.  Competing, executing, moving runners and getting on base represent items that help the team towards their goals.

If players are just thinking about to get a hit or not to get a hit, players allow the game to feel stressful to them, because of the amount of times you will “fail” in the eyes of your teammates, coaches, parents and yourself. It’s not fun to fail in front of people. And in softball, everybody knows when you strike out, everybody knows when you give up a homerun and everyone knows when you are the one that gets the big hit. It’s never a secret out on the field.  Where coaches and most parents don’t see success are the smaller things, like when a player comes up with a runner on 2B with less than 2 outs and hits a ground ball to the right side of the field.  The runner advanced to 3B on the ground ball, the hitter got throw out at first.  In my eyes – that runner moving up a base, is success.  However, most parents simply see it that their kid didn’t get a hit, therefore that at bat was a fail.  Not true.

As Americans we are prone to be individualistic and also because of technology, we all look for that instant gratification all day every day. In the game of softball, these are not good for our definition of success.  Instant gratification rarely comes in this sport, it is more about sticking with “the process.”  And I could see how one could get confused about it being an individual sport with so much pressure being put on one person at one time, but since its conception, this is a team sport, and always will be. 

So, what if we redefine what success is in our game and we stressed that new definition to girls the moment that they picked up a bat and a ball? Then they wouldn’t know anything different. We only know what we are taught. If no one has ever given us a different definition of success other than hit or no hit, then how could we ever know there is anything different? If we are taught that it is more about our individual results and less about the team’s results and process, then why would we think anything different?

Find the Mini Successes

Sometimes, success and failure are not that black and white in the game of softball. However, as humans, we like black and white definite answers. Black and white is easy. We don’t have to search. We just have an answer right in front of us, easily accessible. However, in a sport known for failure, sometimes you have to look deeper to find the “mini successes” throughout the game.

I always try to find the positives in any situation.   I coach and look for mini successes along the way. I like to stress to my students that you can’t go from striking out 3 times in a row to hitting 3 homeruns in a row. That MAY happen to someone, but it’s not very realistic. I look for successes that are realistic and achievable so that a girl can stay positive and not feel any negative energy, thus having a higher chance of having a better at bat the next time she goes up in order to help her team. The minute negativity starts to creep in and get compounded in a girl’s mind, then the real chances of her going up and getting a hit with a runner at 3B are slim to none. “Mini successes” can also be known as staying “in the process” and staying present.

So let me define “mini successes” a little bit more using examples….

Say a girl struck out in her first at bat chasing a rise ball that is over her head. If the other team is smart, what are they going to throw her again in her next at bat? That same rise ball. Well say that girl goes up for her second at bat of the game. She doesn’t swing at that rise ball, but she still strikes out on a curve ball that would have been a called strike had she not swung. What’s the mini success? Not chasing a rise ball. It could easily be looked at as a failure because she struck out 2 times in a row, but that’s not staying in the process and trying to stay positive in the moment. As a player it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact that you just struck out again and make that the take-away from your last at bat, instead of recognizing that you didn’t chase the rise ball. Because you didn’t chase out of the zone, you are giving yourself a higher opportunity to put the ball in play the next time and stay positive by not focusing on the fact that you struck out, but focusing on the fact that you didn’t chase out of the strike zone. That’s a mini success. Mini successes help stay positive for the benefit of the team.

Let’s use a pitcher for another example. Maybe the last time the pitcher had an outing, she walked 5 people in 7 innings and they lost the game. Her next outing, she walked 3 people in 7 innings and still lost the game. If that pitcher throwing balls and walking batters was an issue, I don’t want to put the focus on wins and losses, I want to put the focus on the fact she had more command that game and got ahead of hitters better. So what you lost. It’s all about staying in the process and reminding her of little successes along the way. Staying in the process is going to help the team more down the road in the future.

With these mini successes, not only does a player have higher chances of helping her team and becoming a more “successful” player in the long run, she also really learns the game. She learns to think about the game on a different level, thus becoming a higher IQ softball player and learning to think deeper than just wins/losses, balls/strikes, strikeouts/homeruns.

This game….haha, this game is tricky.

Softball is Life

This game will laugh at you.  It sets us up to fail in so many different ways, so we have to beat it by trying to set OURSELVES up for success. The easy route is to fall into the failure pit and get lost mentally in all the different failures that the game teases you with every time you step on a field. Then…you let the game win. Coaches get lost. Parents get lost. Players for SURE get lost. It’s most important parents and coaches don’t fall into the failure traps – they’re everywhere. Coaches and parents are the major influences for building a players understanding of the game. Players are looking to you and you will be the difference makers to helping them define what their success is.

In practice and post game talks with your team, how are you defining success to them? In the car ride home with your daughter (which in my mind is the place that makes or breaks a relationship with a daughter and her parents, but that’s a different blog for a different day), how are you helping her define success and helping her realize the positive takeaways from the game she can put in her back pocket for her next day’s work?

The better question to ask yourself is, do you know enough about the game to find those mini successes so that you don’t fall into the traps of the big failures that are out there?

Look deeper than the traps…those traps are set up for the individualistic players who only see the game as home runs, hits and strikeouts.  This game deserves more than that.  When you’re putting the team first, you don’t fall into those traps and you start to see the game differently.  However, it takes more effort, it takes more knowledge and it takes more explaining.

The big failures and the big successes in the game of softball that are easy to see (hits, homeruns, strikeouts) are for those people who are looking for that instant gratification and only define their success by results. This game is intricate. This game is detailed. This game is much more than wins, losses, strikeouts, hits and homeruns. The average fan, coach and parent go by the “big” fails and successes to define how their team approaches the game day in and day out.  Don’t be average.  Be extraordinary.

Coaches and parents look for quick fixes and quick judgments to determine whether or not a player and a team is “good.” Our game and our players deserve so much more respect than that, simply by being taught that it’s not about instant gratification, it’s about the process along the way by pointing out mini successes when it seems like all we have done is failed. LIFE is not about instant gratification, it’s about the long run.

Because believe me, there will be times in this game when you feel like this game has kicked you in the face, you’re a failure and no one on earth has ever felt what you are going through.

I know every player has felt this at one point or another. How are you going to get through this moment?  If you keep defining your success with instant gratification, you will keep feeling that awful punch in the gut.  Stay present and remember it’s not about you, it’s about the team.

It’s so easy to define and recognize a homerun as success and a pitcher striking someone out as success. The critical part is to look deeper than that. Our game is so much deeper than just that. If you are looking for the quick fixes and big successes, then honestly, this game is not for you. This game is about the long run. LIFE is about the long run. Pick successes that can build your confidence over time and stay in the process. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, but you can’t see the light if you fall into the trap of all the failures trying to pull you down.

How to Get Mentally Tough in the Circle

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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?

 

How Often Should You Practice? Guest Blog: Savana Lloyd (SL Fastpitch)

Savana Lloyd SL Fastpitch How Often to Pitch

Savana Lloyd, from SL Fastpitch, hit a hot topic, covering how often a pitcher should practice.  As pitching coaches, we CONSTANTLY get asked this question.  It’s everyone’s favorite!  There is no concrete answer…but Savana describes how YOU (as a pitcher and as a parent) can come up with your own, customized answer for pitching practice time.  Here below is a preview of the blog, to go ahead and skip to the full blog, click here

How Often Should You Practice?

“One of the most popular questions a pitching coach gets is, “how often should I practice and how many pitches should I throw?”  The reason this is the most asked question is because there is no simple or magic answer. One thing that always comes to my mind when I get asked this is not only how often are you practicing, but what are you practicing.  I am going to do my best to help answer this question in a way that YOU can determine your answer!

First, lets outline some of the questions you need to ask yourself…

Do you have a clear plan?

Practice is about excellence, educating yourself, being smart, and having a clear plan. To start, let’s determine your needs:

  • How much time can you give to pitching?
    • What can you commit and what is realistic?
    • Who is your catcher? Do you need a catcher every time you practice?
  • How old are you?
    • Younger pitchers need more drills to develop mechanics
    • Older pitchers need situational pitching in addition to basic maintenance on mechanics.
  • Are you having fun?
    • a. To have fun you need to have a certain amount of success and in order to have success you need to practice enough to get there.
    • Having fun is IMPORTANT
    • Losing the fun often leads to losing motivation

Becoming great at anything takes repetition, therefore pitchers who practice more often seem to have the most success. I notice pitchers who practice consistently for shorter amounts of time (5 days a week, 30-60 minutes) make adjustments faster than pitchers who go out for long workouts less often (2 days a week for 1-2+ hours).

With that said, practice too often can have a mindless approach: simply repeating drills and throwing pitches without thinking or having a specific focus will not help you. Your time is precious and it needs to be directed, not just random. What exactly is it that you need to work on; throwing strikes? your reaction when you throw a ball? your footwork? The older you get the more specialized these questions become, but you always need to ask them.

How to Set-up a Pitching Practice

  • Warm-ups
  • Before even picking up the ball its important to get your body moving. The movements you do in this part of the warm up should ask similar things of your body that your pitch will. For example, arms overhead, hips open like your stride, push-offs….”

To finish reading this blog, go to How Often You Should Practice by SL Faspitch.

Understanding The Strike Zone – As a Hitter

Understanding the strike zone as a hitter

A discrepancy that comes up in about 90% of all games is the umpire’s strike zone.  Pitchers complain about it.  Hitters shake their heads in the box about it.  Coaches whine about it.  And parents in the stands let the umpire know exactly what they think about the zone.

An umpire’s strike zone should NEVER be used as an excuse of not performing well.

Can you control the umpire’s zone? No. What can you control? Keeping your emotions in check to be able to adjust to his/her zone.  What are you going to choose to do about it DURING the game? An umpire should establish his/her zone within the first two innings.  All you can ask of that umpire is to be consistent with what he is calling, and as a player, it’s your job to pay attention to his/her zone.  You can actually use an umpire’s strike zone to your advantage if you look at it as an opportunity instead of disadvantage…

As a hitter..

Recognize if the umpire has a wide zone (calls a lot of strikes) or small zone (doesn’t call a lot of strikes).  You can recognize this by paying attention to the first couple of innings when you are in the dugout or out in the field.  Even when you are not up to bat, you always need to be paying attention to your surroundings.  If you do not hit at the top of the order, or if you are a hitter who did not start the game, your job is to pay attention to your teammates at-bats and recognize where exactly the umpire is calling strikes, and where he is not. Sometimes one side of the plate might be wider than the other side.  Sometimes he may be an umpire that has a lower strike zone.

Small zone

A game should be controlled by the offenses when there is a small strike zone.  Games with small zones usually lead to higher scoring games.  When there is a small zone being presented, it’s your job as a hitter to have patience at the plate.  With a smaller zone, you change your game plan and approach to not be as aggressive, especially in an important situation.  You want to challenge the pitcher to throw strikes.  Don’t help her out until she proves that she can find the umpire’s strike zone consistently. With a smaller strike zone, comes more walks.  It’s important to pay attention to the hitter in front of you.  Did the pitcher just walk that hitter on 4 straight pitches?  If she did, then you probably should not swing at the first pitch of your at bat, since clearly that pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone.

Finding a way on base is critical in our game.  Realize that a walk is just as valuable as a hit.  It may not seem the same to you as a hitter statistics wise, but taking that walk puts you 60 feet closer to scoring than you were before you started your at bat.  Have patience at the plate, and definitely challenge yourself not to swing out of the zone.

When you’re up to bat, look for a mistake in your at bat.  With a smaller strike zone comes more added pressure to the pitcher, not the hitter.  With added pressure, a pitcher is more likely to be more tense and frustrated.  She will probably start aiming the ball a little bit more trying to find the strike zone, and she is going to be more likely to come over the heart of the plate.  LOOK FOR THIS MISTAKE.  Don’t fall asleep at the plate just because a pitcher is throwing more balls than strikes.  Be ready to hit.

In the dugout, be paying attention to the pitcher’s body language.  If she is getting down on herself and showing that she is not confident with what she is throwing, then it’s even more important to not help her out in your at bat.  Don’t give a pitcher any confidence when she is struggling to find the zone by helping her out and swinging at a pitch that is not a strike.  That gives her a little bit of positive energy and could be exactly what she needs to get back into her groove. When a pitcher is struggling, offensively, it’s your job to keep her struggling.

Wide zone

A wide strike zone can be a hitter’s worse nightmare.  If the umpire is going to have a wider zone, you can be a little bit more aggressive.  You still never want to get out of your true strike zone.  If an umpire strikes you out on a pitch that was clearly not a strike, don’t get discouraged or consider it a failure.  Don’t let that at bat take you out of your next at bat, and more importantly, don’t let the wide strike zone carry over into the next game and get you out of your zone.

When I was playing and there was an umpire with a wide zone, I made it my goal to get not get 2 strikes.  I wanted to hit a strike early in the count so that the umpire didn’t even have a chance to strike me out! YOU can control hitting early in the count. You CAN’T control the umpire calling you out on a pitch that is out of the zone.  So be aggressive early in the count so that you get a better pitch to hit, and you don’t stand a chance of getting struck out on a pitch that is out of your zone.

Also, if an umpire has a wider zone, DON’T SHOW EMOTION.  Players show emotion at the plate when they get strikes called against them just to make sure everyone else knows who’s watching that they didn’t think it was a strike.  Control your emotions.  Don’t let your opponent know that something is wrong with you – that fuels them and let’s them think they have you right where they want you.  If you’re showing body language (i.e. rolling eyes, shaking head) after a certain pitch, and I am pitching against you, I am probably going to throw you that exact same pitch again, since you just clearly showed me disgust after the umpire called that strike against you. Why would I throw you anything else? Clearly you are not looking to hit that pitch that you were just shaking your head about…

Understand which part of the plate the umpire is being “wide” on.  For example: Is it the outside pitch to a right handed hitter that he’s calling way off the plate? If this is the case you have 2 options: 1) Go up looking for an INSIDE pitch, if the pitcher is still showing you that she is working on that side of the plate. 2) If the pitcher is controlling the outside corner because that of where the umpire keeps calling it, crowd the plate the very most you can, and take away that outside pitch so that it doesn’t seem as far outside to you.  The same can be applied for the inside corner by backing way off the plate and looking for that pitch.  If an umpire has a higher strike zone, it’s important to not swing at pitches that are too far high and out of your zone.  Something I did when facing a pitcher who threw higher pitches in the zone was to hold my hands a little bit higher when I was in my stance before the pitch was thrown; this adjustment helped me keep my hands on top the ball so that I was not as likely to pop up.  This was a small adjustment on my part to be able to able to win the “battle.” Your job is to win the battle and do whatever it takes to come out on top – no excuses necessary.

The best players are going to be able to adjust during the game, no matter what is thrown at them!  Softball is a game of adjustments.

Instead of complaining about a wide zone, be proactive in practicing during the week about the approach you will take as a hitter or as a team if you come up against an umpire with a wide strike zone.  It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.  By practicing this, you’re turning what some think as a disadvantage, into something you can feel more confident about at bat when it happens in a game.  Have the discussion before it happens about how your approach changes at the plate when facing different umpires.  An umpire is never the one who comes away with a win in the win column at the end of the game.  By letting the umpire beat you, you indirectly are letting the other team beat you.  Quit the excuses, and use an umpire to your advantage when you’re up at the plate by adjusting how YOU approach YOUR at bat.

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of “Daddy Ball”

Amanda Scarborough Daddy Ball

“Daddy ball” – slang term in athletics for a team that is perceived by players and players’ parents on the team to have coaches who give more playing time to their own daughter than to other players on the team.

How do you or would you approach a “daddy ball” situation with your daughter?

A question can arise of what to tell a player who is losing confidence in her playing ability because of “daddy ball?”  The question that comes to MY mind first is, “How does your daughter even know what ‘daddy ball’ is?”

Every situation is different and in various situations, “daddy ball” may or may not be actually happening.  But regardless, I feel like there is a right and a wrong way to handle this situation where playing time is at stake for a player.  In any situation, there are always things that you as a family can control with your daughter and there are things that you can’t control.  Remember these lessons you are teaching your daughter now are making an impact on her 20 years from now.  Consistently be teaching her about things that you can control, even as difficult as it may be in some situations for you.  Blaming is instant gratification.  Taking the high road pays future dividends that leave a lasting impression for everyone involved.

Do’s

  • Give your daughter ownership in herself and her effort.
  • Give her a voice by talking to her coach about playing time.
  • Encourage her to be a good teammate.
  • Encourage her to work even harder to earn playing time.
  • Stay positive.
  • Focus on what you can do.
  • Teach her other ways to stay involved throughout the game if she is not playing.
  • Evaluate at the end of the season is the team you are on is fitting your needs as a family.

Donts

  • Quit in the middle of a season.
  • Be negative around your daughter about her coach.
  • Get your daughter involved in “Daddy Ball” parent politics.
  • Make excuses.
  • Get other parents involved.
  • Complain to other people outside of your family.
  • Make everything about playing time.

In my opinion, the word “daddy ball” should never be communicated by the parents to the player.

To me, that just puts a negative connotation in a player’s mind and brings resentment to her teammates, who have nothing to do with the problem.  A young player doesn’t know how to handle emotions as well as an adult.  All she knows is what her parents put in her head.

So if her parents are telling her that she is not getting playing time because of another girl on the team getting preferential treatment, then that can call for resentment of that particular player.  This is going to hurt the lesson being learned of building team chemistry and being a good teammate.  These are such critical lessons for an adult later on down the road to be able to work with other people and not blame others.  Always remember why we play TEAM sports – to learn TEAM lessons and to win championships as a TEAM.  No one player wins a championship, it takes a complete team effort.  By causing negative emotions throughout the team because of politics, you are hurting the efforts of the entire TEAM!! 

The coach’s daughter in the “daddy ball” scenario has NOTHING to do with making the lineup, so she never should be brought up around your daughter in a negative tone.  She is just doing her own thing, minding her own business, playing the sport that she loves.  It is wrong to bring her into it, and it’s not fair to the team or to the player.

So, what can you do?

Stay positive towards your daughter!

Support her by encouraging her to work even harder!  Put more emphasis on work ethic than blaming.

Keep every conversation positive (as hard as it may be for you); do not make negative comments around your daughter about the coach, how he makes the lineup or about his daughter.   When you discuss as a family her playing time, do not make negative comments about the coach, then it is easier for your daughter to question the coach during practice and games, sometimes even players will lose respect for their coaches.  This will only make your daughter appear a bad teammate and un-coachable.  At the end of the day, he is the coach, he makes the decisions, and he is the “boss” of the team.  From a very young age it is important for athletes to respect their coach’s decision!  A lesson learned that will continue to impact a girl decades down the road.  

Amanda Scarborough

Instead of focusing on playing time, discuss with your daughter what she can be doing in the dugout to help the team and herself.  Study hitters.  Learn pitch calling.  Chart pitches.  Keep energy in the dugout for the team.  Try to pick signals.  Notice anyone warming up in the bullpen and what she throws.  Notice patterns the other pitcher is throwing to your hitters.  Teach her other ways she can be contributing instead of teaching her coaches who have daughters on the team give more playing time to their daughter.  If you don’t know things that your daughter should be doing, ASK.

The way that I would discuss playing time is by telling your daughter (depending on age) to have a meeting with the coach and see what she can get better at in order to earn more playing time.  Have a discussion with the coach instead of just blaming and assuming the “daddy ball” philosophy.  90% of parents think that their daughter should be in the starting 9 and are blind to what their daughter needs to get better at in order to become a part of the starting lineup.  Every parent thinks their kid is the best (as they should!), but it’s also very important to be real about if your daughter actually is the best.

If your daughter is high school aged, she should ask the coach to meet with just her.  At the high school age she is old enough to take this meeting on on her own.  If she is younger than high school, then the player can be with her parents meeting with the coach, but I would still encourage the player to ask questions and do a lot of talking.  It can be intimidating, but what an expereicne to give your daughter to speak to someone of authority! It also gives her ownership and responsibility in her own playing time, and it gives her a voice.  I would recommend writing down a list as a family of the questions you want to ask going in.  This will help your daughter speak up and give her comfort in not feeling like she is going to forget what she wants to ask.

Here’s how a few of the questions could be worded, “Hi coach.  I feel like I am not getting as much playing time as I would like.  I was wondering if you could tell me a few things I need to work on in order to get more time in the lineup.” or “Hey Coach, what are some thing that you would like for me to get better as so that I can more consistently find time in the lineup?”  Listen to the things that he tells you.  Write them down. Bring them to your private coaches and work hard on them at home.  Give it time, the changes won’t happen over night. 

The worst thing you can do in that meeting is blame!  “Coach, you give your daughter way more playing time than anybody else and it’s just not fair!” This meeting will not go well and it will only leave with resentment.  He will feel like he’s being attacked.  No one likes to feel attacked.  No one.  Put it on you not on him.

Then, when your daughters gets her chance to show her coach how hard she has worked and the changes she has made, she HAS to show him and prove it to him come game time.  You have to NAIL it when you get your big opportunity to prove yourself.   If it’s innings of relief pitching or a pinch hit opportunity, you have to believe in your preparation and make the most of it!!  Once again, another lesson learned of taking advantage of your opportunities.  Something that will stick with her FOREVER.

Hopefully this can work if your daughter is able to prove to her coach that she has worked hard and has gotten better at the things she needed to work on.  If it doesn’t work, then I encourage you to encourage your daughter to keep working hard and making the most of her opportunities she is given.  These two things can go a LONG way.

Even if she is not getting the playing time (which you can’t control) tell her to focus on things that she can control: attitude, work ethic, being a good teammate.  There are many things she can be learning, even if she is not in the starting lineup.

At the END of the season, if you feel like the team is not the best fit for you, it is then that I would suggest making a change and finding a team that may better suit your needs.  But until that moment comes, it says a lot about a player and a family that they take the high road and stay positive towards other parents and teammates.  Almost to the point where at the end of the season, people may be surprised that the player is leaving.

Blaming is instant gratification, and it can be a tease to make us feel a little bit better immediately.  We want lessons that will take your daughter further into the future and help her become a leader through sports.  “Daddy ball” is one of those teaching situations you as a parent come up against.  Teach the lesson that work ethic is everything and blaming is never the best option.   And remember; don’t refer to “daddy ball” around your daughter.   Your daughter may not have even known what the word “daddy ball” meant if it weren’t for you.