Author - Amanda Scarborough

Dealing With Injuries Part 1 – Attitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) ATTITUDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

 

A Day of a College Softball Freshman in the OffSeason

The offseason for a college softball player is the fall semester August – December. When a freshman sets foot on campus, her life is about to greatly change when it comes to time management, responsibility and number of hours you are working out/playing softball.  The different things you have to time manage for in the fall are:

  • Study hall hours
  • Lifting weights/conditioning
  • Hours you go to class
  • Hours you are studying on your own outside of study hall
  • Softball Practice
  • Social Time
  • Recruits coming in

Every university is different.  I’ll give you a little insight as to what my schedule was like when I played at Texas A&M.

Coming into the fall season, right when school begins, most schools have a conditioning test to make sure that the players were doing work over the summertime. It’s usually a pretty big deal, as it’s the first glimpse at the team to see who put in time and effort over the summer to become better.  I feel like during the conditioning test you learn a lot about your team; you even learn who are going to be the leaders.  Not only did we have a conditioning test (ours was called the Gasser test), but we also had to get tested on our bench press max, vertical max, agility time, squat and deadliest.  For the freshman, the first time you get all these numbers, it is used as a baseline.  For the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, this number is used to monitor and compare to make sure you’re getting stronger, and once again, to make sure you worked out over the summer. For those sophs-seniors, if they did not come back in shape and pass all their tests, then they had to go to what we call Club Del Ray (our strength and conditioning coach’s name was Ray).  CDR are extra workouts during the week first thing in the morning in the fall to get you BACK into shape…preparing you for season coming up in the spring.

As a freshman we were required 8 hours of study hall a week.  This study hall takes place usually at night between the hours of 6-10.  Those were the most popular hours athletes were getting in their study hall time.  Athletes of all sports – football, basketball, volleyball, etc.  You go, check in, get work done, check out and leave.  The way you get out of study hall hours, is to keep a high enough GPA.  At your freshman year, if your GPA is high enough, you will no longer be required to go to study hall on an hourly weekly basis.  If your GPA drops at any time during your 4-5 years playing softball, then you’ll be required to go back.

As a freshman, we were required to live on campus.  When I was there, we had to live with someone from a different sport; I lived with a  golfer.  Now, the girls at A&M generally live with another softball player their freshman year, and they still live on campus.

A typical “full time” course load is 12 hours.  As a general rule, 3 hours = 1 class.  So in any given semester, you’re taking at least 4 classes. Some players will take 15 hours (5 classes) depending upon how heavy the classes are and knowing how much required work will go into them.

Softball practice is a little different in the fall.  During the fall, you will have about a month (the coach can decide when this takes place) of team practice.  This means that the team will practice every week day from certain hours, say 3-6, and everyone gets to be out there together.  Other than that month of team practice, you are doing what is called Individuals.  Individuals are much more limited, as every player is allowed only 4 hours with the coaching staff per week.  This is tough, especially for pitchers who hit, because you have to split up 3 things during that 4 hour week: hitting time with coaches, pitching time with coaches and defensive time.  Now remember, the team practice time and individual time are limited based on the coach requiring you to be there.  Outside of that required time, you can, and are encouraged, to get more work on your own.

Typical day of individuals:

6:30-7:00 – Wake up, eat breakfast

8:00-12:00 – Going to 2-3 different classes on campus, eat a snack before lift

12:30 – Weight room lift

Eat lunch

3:00-4:00 Individuals

5:00-6:00 Hit/Pitch on your own

Go home, regroup

6:00-8:00 Study hall

Home for dinner, then sleep

OR maybe it looks like this…

Typical day with Team Practice:

6:00 Team lift/Run

Grab breakfast

8:00-12:00 Class

Eat lunch, go home, relax, maybe study a little more, run any errands

3:00-6:00 (0r 7:00) – Team Practice

Go straight from team practice to study hall

7:00-9:00 Team Practice

So that is just a basic schedule for a freshman, and everyone’s will vary based on class times during the day.  The weekends in the fall are generally reserved for recruits to be coming into town (you hang out with the recruits as a team) and also reserved for football games! In that 1 month I told you about in the fall where you have team practice, you will also played around 10 games.  Could be a little less or more.  These games could be against anybody – Blinn Junior College or Texas State University.  They will vary.  They generally will be games with teams that are from close by to limit travel since and also teams that are not in your conference.

What’s your biggest worry about playing softball in college? What do you get most excited about when it comes to playing softball in college? Do you have any questions for me?  — go ahead, ask below!

 

Softball Pitching Tips 101

Was just going back through old videos and came across this pitching mechanics one that has basic tips to help you out a long the way. What I love when I look back over this video is the fact that no matter what age you are at, you can always re-learn from going back over basic fundamentals and make sure your body is in check.

I would love to hear your feedback. Here is what others have said:

Thank you, you helped so much! I am 12 and I am going to try to be a pitcher for the fall at my school. I love how you say stuff like “it is just like opening a doorknob” those tips help sooo much!

-Rebecca S

This video helped me alot i am a 12 year old going into 12 -15 and im a pitcher thankyou so much ur amazing!!! 🙂

-SoftballPitcher22

This helped soo much! im in 7th grade and working on my pitching. i just wish i had a softball when i watched to remember where my hand goes! thanks team express!!

– Anna Williams

Thank-you I’m really new at pitching.This video is helping me with the basics.I am 12 and trying to become a good pitcher.I CAN DO. THIS!! 🙂

-pancakelover5656

 

Leave your comments below

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!

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.

 

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!

It’s Possible…When You Have Passion

POSSIBLE • adj. able to be done; within the power or capacity of someone.

When you believe anything is possible, you are usually right.

When you set your mind to something and work hard at it, your possibilities with what you can do are absolutely endless. It’s so important to believe this at a young age and instill this in players.  They have to have someone who believes in them, and they have to believe in themselves if they want to have success on the field.

Our aspirations are our possibilities.

The picture above is from yesterday’s advent calendar for bellalete, as we continue the countdown to Christmas. My friend, and co-founder, Savana, made this and used my picture in it.  I was surprised and it gave me goosebumps when I saw it posted. And it made me think…

Passion enables possibility to grow.  When you are passionate about something, your work ethic increases because you love what you are doing and you can’t get enough of it.  Therefore, with an increased work load, the possibilities of where you can go in your sport grow, too. I am living proof of this. Softball is my passion, along with many of you out there – as parents, as players and as coaches.

What a lot of people don’t know about me, is that when I was young and first started pitching, there were people who told me that I shouldn’t pitch anymore because I wasn’t good enough.  I was not always the best pitcher on the team, by any means.  I may not have had the best stats or the best fastball, but what I had was a burning passion inside of me and parents who believed in me and believed in my passion. What if I would have stopped? Where would I be? I certainly wouldn’t be here now…I look at the picture above and I am so happy that no one took my possibilities away from me at a young age.  When I look at that picture I see more than just pitching mechanics;  I see someone who believes in endless possibilities. And if you know me, you know I truly believe that anything is possible for those who believe.

Players will go through ups and downs.  It’s inevitable.  The same thing happened to me, it happens to EVERY player.  Some downs may be longer than others, and some players will have to work much harder than others to achieve their goals. There is no set formula or math problem to give an exact answer of when it will happen.

I get asked the question from parents, “Do you think my daughter should continue to pitch anymore? or “Is my daughter where she is supposed to be for her age?”   My answer ALWAYS reverts back to questioning the passion for that player, as I answer, “Does she love to do it?”  You can’t teach passion, but you can teach mechanics.

If a player has passion, then who am I to say that she should not pitch anymore? With that being said, the actions must match up with the words.  If someone is saying they are passionate, does their work ethic reflect that? Because with passion comes countless possibilities; even for those who right now in this moment may look like they are “struggling” to the naked eye. When you are passionate, you look over the struggles you are going through and you keep on persisting because you truly believe in your head that the possibilities are endless.

Realize everybody comes around in their own time.  Don’t rush it just because you as a parent aren’t happy with the results going on in the moment – to me, that is selfish.  Don’t take away the passion from someone by being too results-oriented. Question the passion, not the results.

Passion is either in you for softball (or anything in life) or it’s not; eventually you can’t fake it anymore if it’s not in you.  That passion on the inside is going to help a player grow as a person in the long term much more than someone who is results-oriented with wins and losses.  Winning a game is great, but helping young players win at life is even better.  If a player is passionate and not getting the results that they want, why take something they care about so much away from them? That’s not teaching them a good lesson.

Passion creates work ethic.  Work ethic creates possibilities.  Possibilities creates happiness.

What are your passions? How important do you think passion is when it comes to creating possibilities? Players, parents, coaches — I’d love to hear from you and learn!

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

Mental Toughness vs Feeling Good to Play Good

What’s the difference between mental toughness and feeling good to play good? Are they one in the same or completely different?

Mental toughness and feeling good to play good are different in my opinion. Mental toughness comes into play when a game is on the line and you can stay calm and focused when all of the pressure is on YOU.  You are able to focus on the task at hand and ignore everything else that is going on around you (fans cheering, dugout hollering, the intimidating batter at the plate).  It’s very similar to that idea of “clear the mechanism” in the Kevin Costner movie, For Love of the Game (if you haven’t watched this movie you need to!).  Mental toughness also comes from ignoring tiredness that may be setting in or any kind of small pain you may be feeling.  When you are mentally tough, NOTHING ELSE matters but the task at hand.  Mentally tough hitters want to be the one up to bat with the bases loaded and 2 outs in a tie ballgame.  Mentally tough pitchers want to be the one in the circle with a full count and the 4-hole hitter up to bat with the game on the line.  Mentally tough players are not complaining about weather, umpires, opponents, soreness.  Mentally tough players do not even notice these things.  One thing about mentally tough players, they don’t even have to have the best mechanics — they are so mentally strong and their will to succeed is so high, they will do whatever it takes to win.

Feeling good to play good deals with the general feeling you get about the game itself. If a feel good to play good atmosphere is not created, then it will be more challenging for a player to be mentally tough in clutch situations.  Feeling good to play good deals with the atmosphere and scene that is going on around the game itself.  Do you feel like you have coaches who believe in you? Do you feel like you have parents who support  you no matter if you strike out or give up home runs? Do you feel good in your uniform? Did you prepare enough at practice that week? When a player plays in an atmosphere that gives her confidence, she is going to flourish and surpass anyone’s level of expectations.  Feeling good to play good is especially important for girls.  Girls are different than boys.  Girls have to FEEL good to PLAY good.  And boys PLAY good to FEEL good.  Surround a player in an atmosphere where it’s nothing but positivity, strong role models and a big support system, and you’re going to see a player SOAR when it comes to her results.

/* ]]> */