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…

Softball Community, Where are you??

I asked “Where are you?” and you guys told AND showed me!  From all over the country and from all over the world, softball brings us all together.  Texas, Michigan, Germany, Kansas, Alabama, California, Georgia, New York, Italy, Canada, and MANY more…..We go through the same problems, and we all learn the same lessons no matter what uniform or state we are in.

 

When I looked through these photos I saw SO much coming out of them – family, fun, pride, happiness, independence, teamwork, mechanics, drive and absolute passion shining through them all.  THANK YOU for sharing your pictures with me and giving me a small glimpse into your own personal softball world!  Love seeing others play this amazing sport

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

Sent in by Melissa Ortega. Socorro, NM.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

Sent in by Tim Richards. Spring Hill, TN.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 Sent in by Jennifer Brady Dirickson. Comanche, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

Sent in by Monica Pendergrass Farley. Sydney (pictured) from Robbinsville, NC.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 Sent in from Kim Perez Dominguez. Galveston, TX Galveston 8U Lassie League.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Natalie Danules Williams. Byron, GA.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Johnny Garcia. Lil Sis Madison is from Odessa, TX. Texas Express 10U.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Missy Vires. London, KY.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Stefani Moldenhauer. Central California.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Cristina Zunker. Bryan/College Station, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Paula L. Miller. Rantoul, IL.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Kacie White. Moss Bluff, LA.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Nikki Gomez. Bertram, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Leslie Franks Brewer. Liberty Hill, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Brad Reid. Newark, TX. 10U Firecrackers.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Steve Ward. Hernando, MS.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Kim Wendelboe-Gaffney. Little Elm, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Crystal Fonville Rogers. Blue Ridge, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Adam Pena. Hereford, TX. Lady Legends 14U

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Jen Seidel Sowers. Pennsylvania.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Bev Wasinger. Addisyn Linton (her granddaughter) from Garden City, KS, but she plays in Colorado for the Majestix. Addisyn gets to see the Rocky Mts almost every weekend. Bev lives in Colorado Springs

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Picture from Danielle Ratliff-Reed. SlapOut Alabama (Holtville)

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Stephanie Koch. Austin, TX. Pictured is her daughter from Impact Gold 12U with Amy Hooks, her catching coach and former University of Texas Catcher and Big 12 Player of the Year in her senior year.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Mai-Iinh Goins. Maryville, TN

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Michelle Duva Gurysh. Langhorne, PA (Bucks County)

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Send in from Tracy Leter Bizzee Hawkins. Location Unknown.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Rachael Craigen. Warren, TX

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in from Misty Hogden from Orange, TX

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Tisha Wilson from Centerville Texas. This team is from Mexia, TX and they just took 2nd place in a tournament in Grand Prairie, TX after just their 4th tournament playing together as a team.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Saybra Slayton. Olivia (pictured) is 9 years old. Over the years their local softball league has lost some support, so some creative coaches planned their first “Westmoreland Girls Softball Tu-Tu Tournament.”

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Jessica Dirk. Bismarck, ND.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Heidi Troche. Bayou City Boom. Katy, TX.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Kendra L. Key-Garrigan. Jasper, AL.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Angela Guillot. Anna (pictured) from Millbrook, AL.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Christine Minor Dudgeon. Columbus, OH.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

 

Sent in by Johnny Garcia. Yuma, AZ.

Amanda Scarborough Where are you

Sent in by Carlos Menchacha. McAllen, TX. (3 games where the high was 107 degrees!!)

 

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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How do you get “The Look”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Look Blog

The Look Blog

The Look Blog

The Look Blog

 

Danni, 10U, Indiana

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?

 

Mental Strength & Your Environment

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

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

Teammates

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

Coaches

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

Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

 

Playing Big Being Small – Guest Blog by Chez Sievers

Allow me to introduce Chez Sievers to you! I must start out by saying, Chez is a Longhorn, but I absolutely love her anyway. Chez is one year older than I am, and I played against her from across the diamond for 3 years- me wearing maroon, Chez wearing burnt orange. I remember Chez – not vaguely, but distinctly. Chez is a competitor. Chez loves the game. Chez knows the game.  Most importantly, Chez respects the game of softball. I am THRILLED for her to write from HER perspective of what it was like to be a softball player with her much shorter frame. I think this is something that many players go through, so to get her own words on here is my pure pleasure….

Playing Big Being Small

Throughout my life, I’ve heard every short joke imaginable. It used to drive me crazy! My father taught me such a valuable lesson in my young life. Because I was small I had to do everything harder, faster, and more efficiently. I grew up with two older brothers who never took it easy on me. At the end of every practice baseball/softball and basketball practice, we would end with a competition. I never won one shooting game or one hitting game. It was incredibly frustrating, but I always felt that there would always be a chance for me to win because I had the opportunity to compete.

When I was 11, I played on two basketball teams and two softball teams. I played softball for my Bellflower Bobbysox softball league and the Tustin Wildcats, which my first travel ball team. I was a starter on every team except one, the Tustin Wildcats. I was by far the smallest player on the team and I either rode the bench or played left field in the late innings. During the course of the season, I began to get discouraged. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Why wasn’t I playing? I hit and played whatever position they put me in.

Our national qualifier came around and I still wasn’t playing. The qualifier was double elimination. We lost to the Firecrackers and we were on to the next game against the Newberry Park Pumas. If we won, we would go on to Nationals in Oklahoma. I didn’t start, but I kept my head up and still supported my team. We were tied up in the bottom of the sixth with a runner on second. Tensions began to rise. That’s when I got the call to pinch hit. I put on my helmet, strapped on my gloves and grabbed my Steele bat. Finally! Here was my chance to play. As I walked up to the plate, the coach from the opposing dugout signaled to the outfield to move in. With a Cheshire grin, I dug into the batter’s box. I visualized crushing the ball in the left center gap hoping that they would be running for days. First pitch, ball. I stepped out and set my sights for the left center gap. Pitch two, I swung like my life depended on it. I crushed it into the left center gap for a triple. My adrenaline was pumping and my team and parents were going crazy. Pure satisfaction.

Looking back, I wasn’t bitter and I didn’t use my size as an excuse for why I couldn’t do something. In my mind, I was so hungry for the opportunity to compete. In my mind, I was fearless and 10 feet tall. I believed I could make every play on the field.

That was a defining moment in my playing career because I carried that mindset with me through high school and on to the University of Texas.

Playing at a high level no matter your size is all about your mindset and your work ethic. In life, you always encounter roadblocks, but it’s how you respond to those situations. You make the choice to overcome and persevere or give up. The power within is your greatest source of strength. If you believe in yourself and have the discipline to be great at everything you do, there is no limit to the things you can accomplish in this life.

You can find TONS of softball information on Chez’s website http://smart-softball.com. Her website includes podcasts with some of the TOP names in college coaching, instructional videos on hitting, instructional defensive videos, and her own personal blog. SO proud of her for what she is doing for our sport and her passion for the game!! Thanks Chez!! 

Power Drive Photo Shoot

About three years ago I was searching pitching and pitching tools, and I stumbled across the Softball Power Drive.  I spent some time on their website truly studying the tool and soon realized that it was a tool that helped teach exactly how I taught my pitching students.  Immediately I searched for a contact email and sent an email to Softball Power Drive explaining who I was, how much I loved their tool and if there was any way we could work together.  I thought that email was going to go into a black hole, but it didn’t.  I got contacted back a few weeks later by the inventor of the Softball Power Drive, John Miller, and his father Brad. After that conversation, we have worked together ever since.

We made this video in Indiana about 2 years ago with a high tech camera that shoots at 1000fps.  What’s so cool about this video is that it shows how to use the Softball Power Drive while also showing fastpitch mechanics at a speed where you can actually see where the body is supposed to be.

I was very lucky growing up; I had tremendous pitching coaches who taught me solid mechanics and how to put my body into the most efficient spots to get the most out of my size and muscles.  I stand at not even 5’6 but could touch 70mph.  Think of the normal pitcher you see in college and most of them stand above 5’6, lots of them over 6′ tall.  So I get asked where I got that power from a lot.  My answer to them is: I used my lower half in the right way in order to get the most energy out of my frame.

This video has over 400,000 views on youtube and does not include the numbers of views it has had on the Softball Power Drive home page.  I haven’t really found anything else out there on the internet that shows the fastpitch mechanics in slow motion at 1000fps like this video does.  So please share or leave any comments and questions! Enjoy!

Understanding the Strike Zone – As A Pitcher

Amanda Scarborough - Texas A&M Softball Pitcher

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 the zone that is set. You can actually use an umpire’s strike zone to your advantage if you look at it as an opportunity instead of disadvantage…

All you can ask is for an umpire to be CONSISTENT with his zone and whatever he is calling

As a Pitcher…

There is a lot a pitcher has to think about during a game.  Pitch calling, setting up hitters, what a hitter saw her last at bat, what a hitter hit her last at bat, situational pitching, etc.  To add to that list, it’s important for a pitcher to understand the zone behind the plate.  You recognize it, understand it, and work with it.  You are seeing with your own two eyes what IS and what is NOT being called.  Is the umpire’s zone wide? (calling a lot OFF the corners of the plate or up/down in the zone). Is the umpire’s zone small? (squeezing you, not calling a lot of pitches you think are strikes).  Recognize it.  Don’t be fearful of it.  Rise to the challenge – this is a great time to prove yourself.  This is your time to bring out the competitive mentality that sports is all about.

Small Zone

You are definitely going to come across umpires out there who will have a smaller zone.  Realize on the day you throw to these umpires, you will probably get hit a little bit more than you’re used to. Honestly, this is a tough challenge for a pitcher, especially one who is inexperienced with this type of situation.  Consider it an opportunity to get better, not a disadvantage.  An umpire with a smaller strike zone is making you tougher mentally and physically.  Can you handle it?  Look at it positively rather than negatively.  An umpire with a smaller zone is challenging you to get more accurate and precise than you ever thought you would need to be.  When you have a small strike zone, work on the plate to try to establish the strike zone early in the at bat, then as the count goes on and you get ahead, work more off the plate.

Work inches.  Have you heard this term before?   “Working inches” as a pitcher means to not make MAJOR adjustments at first with your location to try to find the strike zone. Work on bringing your pitches a little bit higher in the zone (if the umpire is not calling a low zone) or a little bit more on the plate (if an umpire is not giving you much off the corners).  See how far you can still live on the corners and get the umpire to call it a strike.  If an umpire is not calling a certain placement of a pitch a strike, STOP THROWING IT THERE! It’s not rocket science!  Don’t go from throwing a pitch a little bit off the plate to throwing it right down the middle when you are trying to adjust to the strike zone.  WORK INCHES to find the zone.  Try to find the pinpoint spot that makes an umpire happy.  Remember, he’s not going anywhere.  It’s your job to adjust to him, not his job to adjust to you.

It’s important with a smaller strike zone to challenge the hitter.  Still make them earn their way on (i.e. put the ball in play, get a hit).  Try to limit your walks, as when you have an umpire with a small zone, walks usually increase.  Challenging the hitter means on a 3-0 or 3-1 count, you come more on the plate, even if it means throwing it closer to the middle of the plate, so that you do not walk the hitter.  Challenge them to hit a strike.  When you are challenging a hitter, think in your head how a hitter is meant to fail (remember a good batting average is around .300-.400, which means 6/10 or 7/10 times a hitter does NOT get a hit).

What is even more important, is not to get frustrated and show it with your outward appearance – your body language, facial expressions and overall presence.  First and for most you are a leader on your team, and your team feeds off of your energy.  If you show them that you are frustrated with the strike zone, they are going to get frustrated with you and play tight back behind you and up at the plate.  If you show them that everything is under control, they will play more relaxed (aka stronger) defense back behind you — you will need it as hitters usually put more balls into play when there is a smaller strike zone because you have to come more on the plate to the hitter.  Not only do your teammates feed off of the energy you are giving off, either positively or negatively, in response to the umpire, the opposing team recognizes your body language, confidence and attitude towards the zone.  Don’t give the opposing team  any ammunition to use against you as they will try to push you further down than you already are if you are showing emotion.  And finally, the umpire is looking right at you for most of the game.  When he sees your attitude and body language, that’s not really going to give him a reason to have more calls go your way.  In fact, it’s probably going to have the opposite effect because you are embarrassing him and pretty much calling him out when you are showing emotion for not getting your way.  Don’t make balls and strikes about you.

Wide Zone

A wide zone should be in every pitcher’s dream.  A wide zone should help a pitcher dominate a game.  Understand how/when the umpire is widening the zone – Is it a certain count where he/she widens it up? Is it a certain pitch?  Is it a certain location (up/down, in/out?)  Analyze the strike zone! Analyze the umpire!  If you are given a wide zone to throw to, there is no even point of coming on the plate with your pitches, unless it’s a 3-0 or 3-0 count.  Why would you?  See how far you can push the limits of the zone. Don’t come with a pitch on the plate unless you absolutely have to!  When you have a wide zone, you have the ability to work off the plate first, then come back onto the plate later, only if you absolutely need to.

Notice the furtherst distance you can pitch off the plate (or down) and still get it a called strike.  Live there until the hitter proves they can make an adjustment to hit that pitch.   Honestly, most hitters will never be able to adjust to the wide zone, and you will be able to live on a corner or live on a certain pitch.  Trust me on this! (Something extra to pay attention to is if a hitter makes adjustments as to where they are standing in the box based on the strike zone at hand).

With a small zone, you work inches to come back onto the plate.  With a wide zone, you work inches to move the ball off of the plate.

Use a wide zone to your strategic advantage.  A hitter is going to feel like they are going to have to defend the plate when there is a wide strike zone.  They are going to be more defensive than offensive.  With that being said, when you have a pitchers count, 0-2, 1-2, a hitter is going to be more likely to chase.  The hitter is aware of the wide strike zone, just like you are.  When she is aware of it, she is going to be more likely to swing at something out of the zone, especially with 2 strikes, because she doesn’t want the umpire to strike her out with his crazy calls.

Be proactive in your approach to understanding strike zones.  Practice on your own by pitching “innings” to your catcher at lessons or your own practice time.  Pitch to fake hitters in a line up and keep track of the count and outs as you try to work through the innings.   Be your own umpire and challenge yourself.  Work on a wide zone, where you are able to give yourself a lot of calls off the plate.  Work on a small zone, where the umpire is squeezing you and you have to challenge up.  Both of them are important to work on so that when it comes game time, you feel like you already have experience under your belt in dealing with adversity.

Don’t ever blame the umpire for not getting results you want in a game.  The only person you can blame is yourself.  There is always some kind of adjusting you must be doing as the game goes along, and adjusting to an umpire is something that can make or break your game and possibly even make or break your pitching career.

How do you practice dealing with umpires? I’m interested to hear other ways you guys have either practiced this situation or how you made adjustments in the middle of the game!

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