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…

Summer Tryout Q&A with Amanda Scarborough

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.

 

What does it mean to be competitive? Part 1 – Competing Against Other Teams

(This month’s topic will be broken down into 3 parts, 1 in each of the next 3 weeks.)

 Competition Quotes

One of the words I most frequently heard at Texas A&M from head coach, Jo Evans, was “COMPETE.” 
 
Competition fuels desire.  Competition adds drive. Competing has become somewhat of a lost art for this generation of softball players, and one that I hear from many college coaches that is a characteristic they are searching for in their future athletes.  Nowadays, more often than not,competing is a quality that is having to be taught, instead of being innate.

 

When I use the word “compete” I am referring to that inner fire that burns to go out on the field and beat the team in the opposing dugout, to compete for a position and to compete against yourself to see just how good you can really be.
Competition is one of those lessons that sports builds in you, if you allow it.  However, being around the softball fields at the select and college levels, I see fewer and fewer girls who are showing up and just flat out competing when they are out on that field.

 

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

1) Competing Against Other teams

Competiting against other teams

 

The ability to be competitive against other teams…

 

 …sounds easy right?

 

Who would’ve ever thought that you would have to teach/motivate a player to just competeagainst another team.  This is your most basic form of competition a college coach is looking for.  This kind of competing involves stepping out onto a field and knowing that at the end of the game there is going to be a winner and there is going to be a loser, and dreadfully not wanting that loser to be you.  It’s these people who are the upmost competitive on the field who hate to lose more than they like to win.  Competing on the field against another teams means having an inner fire and inner desire to beat whoever is in the opposing dugout.  Most players will show up for the “big” game to compete, but it’s the most competitive players who will show up for the game against a team they know they SHOULD beat.  This kind of competitive player knows that at this time that all stats are out the window, and you compete knowing that anybody can beat anybody on any given day no matter who you’re going up against.

 

Even though this is the most basic form of competing, and some people take it for granted, I find that sometimes it has to be brought out in young girls playing today.  The mere idea that if there is a game being played, that you should want to beat the other team more than anything else going on in that moment at that time.  It comes out as a passion to win.  A passion to win should not just come out when there is a lot at stake for the game (ie. playoff games, nationals, championship games).  A passion to win should just come out because there is an opponent standing on the other side of the field in a different uniform.  A passion to win for those uber competitive players shines so much that it glows on other players on the team in attempt to lead the team and get everyone focused on the same goal.

 

One theory I hear all too often deals with the fact that nowadays, “everybody wins”, and “everybody gets a trophy”.  This is not how life really is when girls get older and are in the “real world”.  There are parents who are too overprotective and want to make sure that their daughter feels like a winner, even though she may have lost the championship game.  I am all for making a player feel better after a big loss, but there also has to come the honest truth and realization that there IS a loser.  By teaching a player that she lost, it makes her that much more hungry not to ever feel that feeling of losing again, thus creating that inner fire  to go out and win that much more when she steps out onto the field the next time.  More importantly, it pushes her work harder and get mentally tougher in game situations.  The idea that everybody wins is not realistic when you get to the “real world” and players are all grown up.  Build your desire to compete now, so that it pays off later even when sports are over.

 

In any type of game there will always be a winner and a loser, which is what makes sports so interesting to watch from the outside and from the inside, builds character.  It is that internal drive of simply not wanting to lose that makes the most competitive players stick out to college coaches when they are at the games.  College coaches are looking for more than a player who can hit a homerun or throw 68 mph.  They want heart, passion, drive and internal motivation so that when you get to their program, that is one less thing they have to teach.  Plus, if you are that player who is competitive, it can rub off on the other players on the team. Lead by being competitive.

 

Part of that inner drive deals with playing through injuries, sicknesses and being tough.  Competitive players compete through minor physical setbacks because they love to play so much and want to help their team win.  Players who are not as competitive look for reasons to get out of playing in games – a cough, a runny nose, bad weather, a broken nail.  Players who love to competeFOR their team and AGAINST other teams will do whatever it takes to be out on the field and play the game they love.

 

Are you competitive? Are opponents scared to play you?  Do your teammates look to you as someone they want to go to war with? Answer these questions truthfully so you know if you need to reevaluate your outlook and passion for this amazing game.
COMPETE EVERY PITCH.

 

Do you Have 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!

Why Fastpitch Pitching Leaves So Many In Awe…

I love everything about fastpitch pitching. It’s an art – physically and mentally. A very small percentage of people in this world can say that they have taken a stab at it, and even fewer can say that they ended their career as a pitcher and made it through the whole way. There is a certain splendor in watching someone perform the action of underhand pitching, and actually doing it well.

Let me be the first to tell you – pitching is not easy because of how unique the motion is and how each part of your body does something on its own while it still contributes to one full, complete, pitching circle. Softball pitching leaves fans who aren’t around the sport jaw-dropped. Pitching is an act that so many people want to do, but very few last until the very end in the collegiate or professional ranks.

What makes pitching so beautiful is the motion, the dedication and the pressure.

Amanda Scarborough Pitching

The Motion

There is such a high percentage of parents, especially dads, who have thrown overhand and can teach their sons and daughters the general idea of how to throw a ball in an overhand motion. The percentage of those parents who have any idea on how to pitch understand is minute, which causes it to have a certain mystique to those who watch. The motion of fastpitch pitching is intriguing.

When watching a fastpitch pitcher, there is truly so much more to it than meets the eye, especially when it comes to physical mechanics of pitching. It’s not easy to perform the action, and it’s even harder to actually excel at being a great pitcher. Because of all the moving parts through one pitch, all of them add to the allure.

There is so much that goes into creating 1 pitch:

  1. Explosiveness – you get ONE BIG PUSH every time you go to complete the act to get the absolute MOST energy from your body. One burst of energy, then you get a break, then another burst of energy. This explosiveness is NOT just a step or a lunge – it’s a giant glide off of the pitching rubber. Amanda Scarborough Fastpitch Pitching
  2. Balance / Smoothness – while you’re making that explosive push out, your head and eyes must stay still, you must stick your finish like a gymnast on a balance beam after exerting a ton of energy through your pitch.
  3. Rules – while you’re trying to be explosive, you have rules you have to worry about concerning your pitch being a “legal” pitch by the rulebook.
  4. Timing –there are many moving parts throughout an underhand pitch, and all have them have to be in the right place at the right time in order to throw a strike. Not only is timing critical for accuracy, the timing is critical in order to have speed and spin. Timing is everything. The muscle memory and repetition to create that timing is the most important because think about the full motion and how many different things are moving at once at a HIGH pace – elbows, calves, legs, finger tips, shoulders, core, wrist. Pitchers are asking their bodies to move at the fastest rate possible, but also be on time every single time in order to throw strikes. Because of that, timing takes repetition after repetition to master.

There is no other motion in sports quite like the underhand delivery, which leads people to be in awe of pitchers.

There are so many things that need to go right in every single pitch in order to have success in a single game, nevertheless in an entire career. The feel of knowing when a good pitch is coming out of your hand is a feeling that cannot be created with any other action in softball. It’s a feeling of success, effectiveness and control and a feeling only pitchers can understand.   To create that feeling over and over again through hard work and dedication is what it takes to create a beautiful, fluid motion that leaves ordinary people in admiration.

The Dedication (aka Sacrifice)

What adds to the attractiveness of a great pitcher is the fact that they are dedicated to their craft. Because of the things listed above about the motion of a pitcher, it takes repetition after repetition to form the correct habits and mechanics. There are so many small drills you can work on as a pitcher to make a complete motion beautiful. You can skip those drills, but being dedicated to those small drills day in and day out is what adds to the absolute beauty of a pitcher with a solid foundation and will add to her success in the long run.

It takes so much time and you must be willing to put in the extra work – more work than any other position player may put into their swing or fielding a ground ball. Are you will to sacrifice giving up some other things to become a GREAT pitcher? If you are willing to, I promise the sacrifice will seem worth it when you look back.

A pitcher pays more attention to detail than any other player every time you go out to pitch, as pitching is the most intricate position to try to master.

It’s that attention to detail and dedication to practicing that creates body awareness, feel and smoothness in a pitcher’s muscles.  Yes you may be dedicated, but a pitcher’s motion is always a work in progress. Mentally, it can take a toll on a pitcher to put in the work and always having to correct or tweak a little something here and there. For as many things that are going correctly in your motion, there is always something to work on, always something you can be doing better or getting stronger at. The devotedness to practice for a pitcher should be relentless. With devotedness comes perseverance, all the while you are learning the greatest lessons about yourself.

When you look back, you realize the sweat, fatigue, pain and sacrifices were all worth it.

The Pressure

The pressure a pitcher goes through in a game is extraordinary. Think of how a playing field is called a “diamond.” Who is in the middle of that “diamond”?  The pitcher.  Remember, a real diamond is made from high pressure and temperatures. So, seeing as how a pitcher’s position is right in the middle of a diamond, the pressure will be high… Amanda Scarborough Fastpitch Pitching

A pitcher is battle tested so many times throughout a season. If you have never been on a pitching mound or in a pitching circle when the bases are loaded and the game is on the line, you have no idea what thoughts go through a pitcher’s mind and the intense pressure that an be felt at that point. All eyes are on you and you play a tremendous part in what the outcome of the game will be. From the stands, you may think you know, but it’s one of those things one must experience in order to get the full effect.

In the middle of the pitching circle there is no hiding. Everyone watching THINKS they know when you are doing well or when you are doing bad. Sometimes they are right with their assumption, other times they are completely wrong. BUT, as pitcher, you have the most chances out of anybody on the field for others to see your results.You can look at it as the most chances for opportunity to show the world what you’ve got, or you can look at it as the most chances to mess up – the choice is yours. In a game, a hitter may get anywhere between 0-10 swings in 4 at bats. A pitcher is throwing 100+ pitches in a 7 inning game. Your skills are put on display for everyone to see every time you release the ball.

The pressure is a huge part of what makes pitching even more beautiful to watch and take in.

Pressure adds adrenaline and fuel to the fire. Do you use this to get motivated, or do you let it get the best of you?? At the end of the day, if you can handle the pressure and learn to take the bad results like you take the good results, stay consistent with your emotions and be able to handle the pressure one pitch at a time, the sky is the limit for where a pitcher’s abilities can go. You learn to FEEL the pressure, embrace it, but not let it take over your emotions. The pressure will ALWAYS be there, it will never go away. But what makes a pitcher even more amazing, is when they handle the pressure and are able to move on to the next pitch, next inning and next game with a fresh, clear way of approaching it. The best pitchers will change their mindset of thinking of pressure as something negative, and start thinking of pressure as an opportunity.

Amanda Scarborough Pitching

Pitching. I love coaching it, I love still getting a chance to do it. I just think that everything about pitching is beautiful. It’s one of the hardest things to do in sports, which is why the victory of having success when you pitch is one of the biggest highs of the world. It’s the hard that makes it great. There’s a beauty to being in control and having the ball in your hand. You feel the seams under your finger tips and you may even feel your palms sweat a little while you hold the ball. This feeling is OUR feeling – the pitchers in the world who want to take not only the ball in their hand, but they want to take the GAME in their hand and lead their team. This is what it takes to be a great pitcher, are you ready?

Not everyone can pitch. It’s mysterious, it’s difficult, it’s a never-ending project.  When you pitch, you get to be in your own world, like tunnel vision. No one else knows what is going on in your head and your inner thoughts. When you pitch, you can actually become a different person; it’s almost like a yearly Halloween costume. It is your chance to enter a different place and become a different person. If you have never pitched before, it’s hard to even remotely understand what I am talking about, for being a pitcher is its own special breed.

If you can dedicate your time to trying to perfect your mechanics, while perservering through the pressure, then THAT will get you through til the end.

If it’s in you, never give up on being a pitcher. Finishing your career as a pitcher is an accomplishment in itself; it’s like entering into a exclusive sorority. Compared to the mass numbers, very few will be there with you, but if you make it, you share an exceptional bond that very few will ever know.

Amanda Scarborough Fastpitch Pitching

Step Back. Enjoy

My recent vacation was a reminder to myself we all need a break and to take a step back sometimes. We easily get caught up in the go-go-go of every day life, working hard and pushing ourselves to our max. In America, the never-stop mentality is embedded in our culture and we get lost in the shuffle that surrounds us. I preach as much as anyone that hard work is my own personal manifesto, and I will never stop believing that hard work is the key that unlocks door to your dreams. However, sometimes our bodies and minds need a break, and it’s important we listen to their request.

Especially in the sport of softball, many play it year round, taking breaks only for the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pitchers throw thousands of pitchers, players take thousands of swings and get caught up in the current to become the best. Always remember, becoming the best means you know not only TO take a break, but WHEN to take a break. It’s all about finding a balance, and what balances one doesn’t necessarily balance another.

Take time off. Give the mind and body a break from the grind of continually wanting to get better at softball. Most who play ball are perfectionists, and softball is a sport of failure that takes a toll on the mind. It’s in those times we need to take a step back, remember to breathe and remember that sports should always feel fun and bring joy to our lives. Our lives are too short to feel anything but.

Allow time away from something so that when you come back to it, you fully appreciate its beauty in all its splendor.

 

Stay tuned for new and exciting updates …

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My Favorite Catcher. Ever.

My favorite catcher was never an All American.  My favorite catcher never caught me a single day in a college or high school game.  My favorite catcher is actually 31 years older than me, and I always call my catcher, Dad.

Now, you won’t be able to find his name, Mark Scarborough, anywhere in a press release, a starting lineup or recognized for any major collegiate award. But because of the impact he made and continues to make on me, I’ll always be able to find him in my memories of growing up playing softball and inside of my heart.  Some of my best memories are throwing at a park nearby the house where I grew up, where we put in endless hours of time, not just pitching, but taking groundballs, fly balls and hitting.

When I was younger, I knew my dad got off work at 5pm, and I would be waiting outside in the driveway around 5:15 with his bucket, his glove, my glove, and a ball, ready to go pitch.

He had just spent an entire day at work, but was always willing to catch me whenever I needed or wanted him to, without complaining at all.  He knew that it would make me happy and that we would get to spend time together.  I actually looked forward to wanting to go out to the park and work with my dad; I didn’t dread it.  I imagine that if I would have dreaded working with my dad, or my mom for that matter, I wouldn’t have WANTED to practice as much.  But because my relationship with him was so strong, I actually wanted to practice more, creating a work ethic inside of me that is relentless today. I don’t know anything other than working hard for what I want….it’s engrained inside of me from a young age. I’ve watched my dad forever, and when I was younger, my dad LET me work hard by helping me when I needed him to, even in the moments he may have been exhausted from work.

As a family, you spend so much time together doing softball (practicing on your own, going to and from games, at team practices, at lessons, etc), and at the end of it, I came out loving him even more.  Some players grow up despising their dads – not wanting to practice with them, not wanting to take their advice, and copping an attitude with their dads.  That was never really the case with me, and I can tell you, it still pays dividends in our current relationship we have to this day.  I love calling him and getting to have conversations with him, even though we both have a really crazy/busy schedule.  It never gets old.

Amanda Scarborough Dad

My dad has always had a calm demeanor, always wanting the best for me, but never going to raise his voice in order to get what he wants.

He didn’t raise his voice, because he could communicate with me in a way where he got his point across in a normal tone, and I would still hear him without him having to scream. 

Looking back at all the times I worked with my dad, I can tell that he was content with himself and his own personal achievements in his lifetime; never did I feel he was trying to live vicariously through me, whether it was at lessons or games.  By him having a calmer demeanor, I truly feel that it let my inner motivation develop, grow, and shine, so now it is a quality that I still possess today, even outside of pitching.

Every dad or mom is not going to have the same personality, and how they choose to handle working with their daughters will vary.  But know that no matter which personality you have, you are similarly having a daily impact with your daughters where you will see effects years and years down the road.  When I say “daily,” I absolutely, 100% mean daily impact.

The interactions you have now (at practices, during lessons, during games or AFTER games) are molding how you will interact with your daughter later on (when it really matters while talking about things that are outside of softball…..yes there ARE things outside of softball).  It’s not about what you know, it’s about how you deliver what you know.  The softball conversations, feelings and impressions you are making with your daughter now are shaping the relationship outside of softball you will have with her later.

Amanda Scarborough Family

I think the very most important part is that both parties (adult and child) figure out a form of communication and practice what works for BOTH sides.

Remember, Communication 101, is that for communication to happen, there has to be a sender AND a receiver.  If you are not being heard, then you are not communicating – plain and simple.

The more you get creative and figure out a way to talk to your daughter, the more she will listen to you and the more she will want to work throughout the week; thus, creating a better player and better work ethic along the way (which lasts a lot longer than softball). The parent may have to give a little bit, and probably will have to give a little bit more than the player, because at the end of the day it’s about the player, not about the parent.  And it’s about the player because you’re trying to get that player to 100% of her potential and do whatever it takes to get that to come out.  So….sometimes, it’s having customizable communication plans –  it could be different day to day, week to week, year to year. If one way of communicating is not working, and it’s leading to fights and unproductiveness, then it sounds like something needs to change.

One thing about my dad, is that I never felt like he was trying to PROVE anything when I worked with him – to me, to himself, or to anyone else.

When he corrected me, it wasn’t by yelling, or trying to hold above me that he KNEW more than I did.  He was teaching me, not just wanting to tell me what he knew – there’s a difference.

He offered suggestions based off of observations.  A lot of times he would wait until I needed help and asked for it before he gave it. When he did give it, he talked to me in a way that I respected listening to his input.  He established that connection from the first times of going out to pitch that we ever had.  We had conversations (two-sided) about pitching. This continued through all ages when I pitched with him, even when I would come back from college and throw over the summers or over winter breaks.  I would look forward to throwing to him, sitting on his bucket with his legs off to the side so that his shins/feet were out of harms way (there’s a story to this, and my mom has a theory….later blog, on a different date!).  I WANTED to throw to him. I enjoyed it; we both did. It’s some of the best times we have ever spent together.

I can’t thank him enough, and I am so THANKFUL for him and our relationship. I know I am a little bit biased, but a lot of people like my dad.  He’s definitely a fan favorite.  He’s awesome to be around; he knows sports, can talk business, can talk hunting or fishing, and boy, does he love his Houston sports (and the Cowboys).  He’s so humble.  (In fact, I know he’s going to be embarrassed when he sees this blog.)

I am so lucky that he is the way he is, because after all the time we’ve spent together, he’s had such a major, positive influence on me.  He’s so hard working, and in fact, he’s one of the ones who has taught me that hard work will pay off. 

It’s such a simple lesson, but when you are surrounded by someone who is truly living and breathing the hard-work-pays-off lifestyle and mentality, then only you, yourself, can take it on after seeing the rewards it reaps.  He rarely, rarely complains.  And somewhere along the way (maybe after watching hours upon hours of different sports on TV),  he taught me what it meant to compete.  He taught me a way of competing where you don’t rub it in anyone’s face – a quiet competitiveness – where you just go about your own business, doing your own thing, and prove it in your own way.   There’s never a need to rub it in or say loudly what you can do.   He taught me your actions speak for themselves.

It’s because of all these things that he’s my favorite catcher of all time.  You can spend A LOT of time with a catcher, and the endless hours and thousands upon thousands of pitches I threw to him mean so much to me. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what we worked on on all those different days, but what I can tell you, is the way he made me feel when I was out there doing the thing I love, getting to throw to the person I love, is what I will remember forever and ever.  I felt supported.  I felt like someone was on my side and on my team.  I felt like I was learning.  I felt like softball was fun. I felt like I had a voice. I never felt like I had  to pitch; I felt like I got to pitch.  He helped create an environment, where I looked forward to practicing to try to become the best player I could possibly be.  Indirectly, he was teaching me to become the best person I could be, as well.  In the end, it’s not about how you’re teaching to hit or teaching how to throw a change up, it’s about making a girl, with a ball and a bat feel AWESOME about herself, and like she can go out and conquer the world.  I know it’s hard to think about that in a 30 minute practice, but just consider that the way you are talking to your daughter now WILL, for better or worse, have a major impact on her (and your relationship) later.

Big thanks to my mom for choosing such a great guy. I love you both so much.

Amanda Scarborough family

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Competing for a position

 

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

Steve Martin Quote

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

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

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

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

Find a way or fade away

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

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

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

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

COMPETE EVERY PITCH.

 

Texas A&M HOF Induction Night

On October 31, 2014, I got inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame with 5 other Texas A&M athletes. Another softball player (Megan Gibson), a track runner, a football player, a soccer play and a volleyball player. 5/6 inductees were female – the most ever inducted in one year into the Texas A&M Hall of Fame. To write a Thank You Acceptance speech for such a meaningful honor made me stop and think about ALL of the people who had played a role in my life to get me to the level I played at when I played at Texas A&M. It wasn’t just my parents, it wasn’t just my A&M Coach; No. There were more than that. I could have written an entire novel on all of the different people who impacted my life for the better and have contributed to my success on the field. I am profoundly thankful and proud to have play at Texas A&M University.

Although when I got up there to give my Thank You speech I did not go verbatim from this speech, it gives a pretty good idea of how the speech went, and I wanted to share it because many of you had asked wanting to see it. So here it is!

“Never would I have dreamt I would be standing in front of you, getting inducted into the Texas A&M Hall of Fame. I am so unbelievably proud to be an Aggie and deeply believe choosing Texas A&M was the best decision I have made in my life.  From the minute I walked onto campus I understood very quickly that “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”

First, I feel honored to be standing on stage with these decorated athletes and to forever hold a place with them in a hall filled with history, memories, championships and an Aggie’s most sacred word, tradition. To all those Aggies who played before me, thank you for setting the standard for tradition. It is the tradition that is the heartbeat of all athletes and of Texas A&M. That sacred word Tradition was the daily reminder that I played for something bigger than myself.

Second, to the selection committee, thank you for voting me in. As if being selected into the HOF wasn’t enough, hearing that I was selected with one of my oldest and best friends was nothing short of a dream come true. Tonight would not feel complete without Megan Gibson up here by my side.

Megan, I don’t know softball without you. We grew up around the ball field wearing the same uniform and having friends AND family (including our parents) calling us the wrong name. “Amanda, I mean Megan. Megan, I mean Amanda.” We would always laugh. We were the same age. Both blondes. Both pitchers Both hitters. Both from Houston. It was so fitting that we would both choose Texas A&M.

You pushed me physically. You made me stronger mentally. You made me a better competitor and together, we supplied each other with the criticism necessary to become more successful than we ever thought possible.  Without you, I am not sure I would be standing here today.  To Megan’s family, Darren, Sharon and Krystal, you guys are like MY family. Getting to be coached by you, Darren, with the deadly combination of my dad, was so much fun and I wish we could go back and relive those memories. Thank you Gibson family for being such a big part of my life and career.

I can’t think of playing ball at A&M without thinking of our 2 other classmates, Jami Lobpries and Jamie Hinshaw. They’re to this day some of my closest friends. Our senior year, Coach Evans pulled us together and asked us to think about what we wanted to leave as our legacy; it was the conversation she had with every senior class that comes through the program. After the conversation, we didn’t have to say it out loud. We knew the mark we wanted to leave.  Our legacy only partly consisted of competing for a National Championship, but it’s roots were much deeper than that. We wanted to be  known as gritty, determined, fearless teammates who were dedicated to leaving every piece of everything we had on the field every time we competed. For each other, for our teammates, for the 12th man, and for the university. Thank you Jami, Megan and Jamie for the accountability you provided in our relentless perseverance to execute our legacy.

I had the privilege to play for a head coach who made me a better softball player, all the while making me a stronger woman. I do not have enough time to give her the amount credit she deserves in how much she has impacted my life. She taught me a refined way of leading, how to fight and most of all, she taught me how to trust in myself and in my preparation. She reinvented the word compete, didn’t just tell me, but showed me every day at practice. Little did I know, what she was really doing, was teaching me out to compete in the real world.

Coach Evans, thank you for choosing me to play ball at Texas A&M and trusting that I had what it took to be an Aggie. I was born to play for you. You believed in me more than I believed in myself.  You were able to pull the VERY BEST out of me and you played one of the biggest roles in all that I accomplished. Even though I no longer get to practice with you every day the role that you played in my life is present daily.

To Joy Jackson, Rich Wilegiman and Mary Jo Firnbach, each of you influenced me in your own unique way and helped me to grow. Your support and guidance throughout my career meant the world to me.

A player’s goal is always to leave college better, stronger, and wiser than when she comes in. Looking back, it was because of Coach Evans and her staff that I can honestly say I did that.

An honor like this doesn’t happen without being surrounded by incredible coaches before I stepped foot in College Station. As a softball player, it’s critical to your success to find private coaches you can trust. Ironically, my first ever pitching coach at age 9 was Robert Andaya, who was Texas A&M Hall of Famer and softball great, Shawn Andaya’s father. At that time, I didn’t even know what Texas A&M was, I didn’t know what the word scholarship even meant, but looking back, he was the first person I remember talking to about these things and the first person who officially taught me how to pitch.  How fitting that years later, I would receive a scholarship and play for the same school as his All American daughter. My other private coaches, Ron Wolfworth, Jill Rischel,  Ken Hazlewood, and Richard Schriener…you all came into my lives at different times, but you all taught me my foundation and pushed me every week. Thank you so much for all of the time you dedicated to working with me and not just becoming my coaches, but lifelong friends.

My family moved to Magnolia my freshman year. Lucky for me, I moved to a highly competitive high school playing for Coach Renee Bialas and Coach Sheryl Tamborello.  Playing at Magnolia High School gave me my first memories of competing for a championship. I remember this being a time I really started to come into my own on the softball diamond. Thank you, both of you, for your unwavering support throughout my high school career and beyond.

My family became a fastpitch-loving group of people – aunts, uncles cousins and grandparents, alike. They may not have been fans of softball before me, but by golly did they become fans along the way. Thank you each and every one of you for putting up with my crazy softball schedule that I’ve had since I was 10, and continue to have at age 28. Even in times when you were not present, I could feel your love and support from afar.

And finally, but most importantly, to my parents, Mark and Sally, when I think of you both, I think of the word “presence.” You guys were physically present for everything, but your presence went beyond that. It was and is a presence full of positivity, happiness and overwhelming love. Taking the field would have felt so different without your presence in the stands (as my parents only missed a handful of games home or away).  It felt amazing to play and travel, knowing you were there to constantly cheer me on. Through the ups and downs of a season – Win, lose, strikeout or homerun, your love felt unconditional from the time I picked up a ball at age 6 to now at 28.

Thank you for encouraging me to follow my heart and trust in my own decision making. That is what led me to the best 4 years of my life: playing softball at Texas A&M. My heart overflows with gratitude when I think of the 2 of you and lasting impact you have made in my life. I wouldn’t be here without your sacrifices, effort and influence.

This induction is for all of you – friends, family, coaches and teammates. You guys believed in me. You helped give me the confidence to go out and play the sport I love with a growing confidence. Each and every one of you played a part in helping me perform to the highest of my ability.

My time at A&M was more valuable than I could have ever imagined.  This University, the 12th man, the academic staff, the athletic staff, my teammates and my coaches each taught me values that I now have the privilege of paying forward…and for that, I am eternally thankful.

Thanks and gig ’em.”

141031_E28Q4766 photo 2 141031_E28Q4567 141031_E28Q4564 photoAmanda Scarborough and Megan Gibson Texas A&M HOF

 

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!

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.

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