My mission is to inspire softball players 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. Feel free to leave questions/comments, I’ll get back to them as soon as I can!

I pitched, hit and played first base in college, but I have a SPECIAL place in my heart for pitchers. While much of my motivation and many of my blogs can translate to any position on the field, most of what I write now is directed toward the leader in the circle with the ball in her hand.

I undertand, to the greatest extent, that pitching can take a toll on you and at times make you feel like you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never figure it out or like there’s no way you’ll make it through.

But you ARE strong enough to overcome.

You WILL build mental and physical strength along your journey. Let me help you…

6 Steps to Prepare for Next Weekend

So I’m sure a lot of you played this weekend and are just getting done this Sunday. You probably even play next weekend (because yes, it’s THAT time of year). Here are some steps to get back prepared for next weekend:

1) Reflect on this past weekend. Ask yourself, what can I work on? Divide it with pitching, hitting and defense. (pick out 1-2 things, not 6-7. be realistic). Write these things down.

2) From those things, list HOW you are going to work on those things. (Drills that would be beneficial. If you don’t KNOW of any drills, google it, youtube it, ask a coach what are some good drills).

3) Pull out a calendar/schedule and look ahead to this week. Plan out some practice time. You might even want to take Monday off if you had a long weekend- your body NEEDS REST.

4) Make sure everything is accounted for to make this schedule happen – time, needed catchers, parents who need to be there and work schedules, social life, etc.

5) Commit to that schedule.

6) Go into next weekend feeling prepared and ready to get better at those things you worked on during the week. Your mind and body should feel more prepared going into the weekend.

7) After next weekend, repeat steps 1-6. 

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.

Below a picture of an example of what I am talking about. 🙂 Let me know below in the comments if you need any help thinking of some ways to work on the items that you list!

Amanda Scarborough Prepared

What Exactly is “Normal”?

What really is “normal”? “Normal” has a different picture or movie next to it for every single person out there – in sports, careers, relationship, etc. We all have different experiences, we were raised differently and we all have different perceptions. Who’s to say that MY version of “normal” is the correct version or your very own version of normal is “right”? YOU get to personally give “normal” a definition in your own dictionary…

Live, love and work doing the following things:

1) Do what makes YOU happy – pay attention to what speaks to your heart.

2) Learn from your mistakes – there will be mistakes, they’re in the past, move forward.

3) Configure your personal equation of balance – every single person will have a different equation of what their balance looks like.

4) Envision where you see yourself in the future – all of your actions should reflect where you want to be.

5) Have faith in yourself – invest in your happiness, without fear, believe you have these thoughts and goals for a reason. TRUST in you.

Notice that none of the above things have anything to do with anyone else. They deal with YOU. You are on a journey, as is every other person you come in contact with. How each of us will go about this journey will be a little different. Each of our equations of balance will vary. The only thing you can worry about or control is yourself. Instead of deeming something as “wrong” or “not normal”, what if we spent that time celebrating our different endeavors, how hard someone is working and helping each other push towards goals and vision.  What if we chose to support each other instead of pointing out all of the different things that are “wrong” with what someone is doing and trying to bring that person down?

A perfect example is that infamous question of “how much should I/my daughter practice?” That is the number 1 question I get asked. There is usually a conflicting difference between how much you should practice and how much you want to practice. The amount a person “should” practice will be different person to person. The amount a person wants to practice will be different person to person.

But here is the thing: if you want to achieve things you’ve never achieved before, you have to do things you’ve never done before. 

Reflect over the above pointers. Once you do that, your answer for how much you should practice is already within you based on what makes you happy, what you’ve done in the past, how many things you personally have to balance, and where you want to be in the future. You are choose every day how much time you want to dedicate and how hard you want to work. If you feel you want to practice 6 days a week – go for it! If you feel you only want to practice 1 day a week – then that is your choice, but remember whatever your goal is, your actions (all of them) should reflect it. Your goals are yours. They should make you happy and excited when you think about them and the future. They should motivate you to where sometimes that scale of “balance” looks a little different than other times. It will teeter, it will never stay the same.

Worry more about you and what you are doing than what anybody else is doing. The biggest person you compete against is yourself. Make sure your dreams give you a clear vision. Make sure the way you are trying to achieve your dreams is by WORKING for them. Make sure you know when you need time for a break, time for family, time for friends and always make time to smile and enjoy the ride. Trust yourself when it comes time to shine. You are you, nobody else will be just like you. Work as hard as you can, support others, stay positive and strive to be happy.

Playing Big Being Small – Guest Blog by Chez Sievers

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

Playing Big Being Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Injuries Part 2 – Contributing to Your Team

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.

For Part 1 of Dealing with Injuries – Attitude, click here.

2. CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR TEAM

So you’re injured.  You know you’re not going to get up to bat.  You know you’re not going to throw a pitch or take a ground ball or have an at bat.  Does this mean that you won’t be able to help out your team because you physically can’t do anything? NO WAY!

Just because you cannot physically be out on the field playing does not mean that it’s okay for you to mentally check out and be uninvolved during a game.  To me, the selfish thing to do as a player is to not help out your team and not stay involved.  Don’t be a distraction in the dugout or at practice just because you are not taking reps or getting at bats.

Your job as a teammate changes whenever you are injured.  Don’t be a selfish teammate.  If you are a distraction in the dugout, you are making things about YOU and not about your TEAM.  The team always comes first. The team is bigger than you.

There are always things you can be doing in the dugout to help contribute to every game and every practice!  If you are injured, it’s always a good thing to have a clip board (or a notebook), pen/pencil and a sheet of paper in your hand throughout the game.  This way you can take notes, maybe even help keep score, and stay INVOLVED in the game.  I’m going to give you a TON of things in a game you can do to still stay involved and help figure out a way to help your team win:

  1. Chart pitches of the opposing pitcher to look for tendencies (Example: every time the opposing pitcher gets 2 strikes, she throws a change up).
  2. Chart pitches of your own pitcher to see if she is having any tendencies (Example: for first pitch of the last 5 hitters that have come up to bat, your teammate has thrown to the inside corner, which is a tendency the other team could pick up and start to use to their advantage)
  3. When you are in the dugout, and your team is on defense, and there is a runner on first base, your job is to watch that runner to be able to shout to your catcher if the runner is going or not.  Every pitch, you can make it your job to be a helper for the catcher to let her know what that runner is doing.
  4. When you are in the dugout, and your team is on defense, watch the hitter.  At first movement of her hands moving down the barrel of the bat to try to sneaky bunt, yell “BUNTT” to help your teammates on the corners.  Try to be the first one to spot a bunt. Don’t fall asleep in the dugout
  5. Also, when you are in the dugout, and your team is on defense, and there is a runner at 3B,  your job can be to watch the runner at 3B to see if the other team is running a squeeze.  If you see that runner at 3B take off on the pitch to try to head home, yell “squeeze” as loud as you can so that you can help give your infield a heads up to be on top of the play at the plate.
  6. Help your pitcher, catcher and defense remember who is coming up to bat next inning and where they hit it.  Say the leadoff hitter comes up to bat for the 2nd time in the game, and she hit it to your centerfielder, Jami.  You yell, “Hey Jami! She came to you last time.” Help your defense stay in the game and remember the play that happened before.
  7. When your team is hitting. and everybody is in the dugout, make it your job to try to pick up any signals from the opposing coach or catcher.  Try to figure out the other team’s signals so you can help out your hitter.  Even the catcher may be showing everybody her signals by not keeping her hand close to her while she is giving signals.  If you can see them, try to figure them out to help give your teammate an advantage up at the plate.
  8. When your team is hitting, take a look at the pitcher and see if she has any tendencies with her body when she throws a certain pitch.  Maybe before she throws a changeup her head tilts a certain way, or you can tell she gets a special grip in her glove.  Consider it a challenge that you are going to sit there and watch that pitcher to see what exactly she is giving away.  All pitchers give away information every single pitch – it’s up to you to be able to identify it.
  9. Another job that you could help do, is when your team is on defense and you are in the dugout, help get the 3 hitters who are due up the next inning’s gear ready for them to come into the dugout to slip on – heltmet, batting gloves and bat.  You can have that at the front of the dugout ready for them, so they can come in and make a quick transition to go up to bat.  Help them get focused sooner.
  10. If your coach calls pitches from inside the dugout, and you are a pitcher or a catcher, go sit by that coach.  Ask what he/she is calling and why they are calling it.  Learn how to set up hitters.  Be a sponge.  Even though you are physically not throwing pitches and getting better physically, you learning how to set up hitters and learning a method behind calling pitches is going to make you a stronger pitcher or catcher once you are healthy and get back out there.
  11. Be the your team’s biggest cheerleader.  More than that, be a leader.  Be supportive of your teammates, keep them up in the dugout.  If someone had a bad at bat or seems down during the week, try to have a talk with them and bring them back to being more positive.  What will speak the most about you and your character is the communication and support that you have towards that person who is in your spot.  Say, you you’re usually the starting short stop, but you can’t play because you rolled your ankle.  Now, the back up short stop is in, who doesn’t have that much experience.  You can take it upon yourself to help her know where to be in all situations.  Coach her throughout the game and monitor over her to make sure that she is always in the right spot.  Also, give her encouragement or any kind of helpful hints that you know from playing that position.  You now become that new short stop’s biggest fan.  You want her to do well, because if she does well, then your team has a better chance of winning.
  12. Make it your job when your team is hitting to make sure that whoever is supposed to be on deck is ready and knows that their turn to bat is coming up.  Make sure there is always someone on deck and always someone in the hole. Help your teammates be ready and focused so they have the best possible chance to have success when they are up at the plate.
  13. Overall, it just comes down to being a student of the game.  Study hitting, pitch calling, body language, situations.  When you cannot play, you can go into more of a coaching/observation role to help take your game to the next level.
  14. Read the defense when your team is on offense.  A lot of times teams have their middle infielders or outfielders shift depending upon which side of the pate the pitch is going to be.  So sometimes the defenders are giving away to the hitter which side the pitcher is going to throw to.  Example: A right handed hitter is up, you see the short stop move more towards 3B, and the centerfielder move more towards LF before the pitch is thrown.  They’re positioning themselves for an inside pitch to come to the hitter).  Look for this, and if you notice it, make sure you call together a little team meeting and tell your teammates what you see.  You may be able to pick something up, to once again, help your teammate deliver a hit while she is up to bat.  It might even be the game winning hit that you help her get.

What do all have these things have in common? You’re still contributing to helping your team WIN.  By finding ways to still contribute, you are putting attention on the team and taking attention off of yourself.

After an injury, you should actually come back to the game as a smarter player once you can play again.  Take an injury as time to become a smarter player and think more like a coach.  Ask questions and become a leader while you are contributing to your team. An injury is not an automatic ticket to become a spectator during your teams games.  An injury means you step up and find a new role to help your team win.  Every day you are a part of a team you should ask yourself, “What can I do today to help my team win?”

Put your team before you.  Even if you are injured, you are still a part of a team.

For Part 1 of Dealing with Injuries – Attitude, click here.

Dealing with Injuries Part 3 – Practicing & Training

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.

For Part 1 of Dealing with Injuries – Attitude, click here.

For Part 2 of Dealing with Injuries – Contributing to Your Team, click here.

3) Practicing & Training

Even though you are hurt, there are probably different things that you could be doing to still stay in shape or still be practicing.  Even if they are little, it’s important to do them to continue to work on your skills, and stay as strong as possible.

For example, if you are a pitcher and your foot is hurt, you can still be doing drills on your knee or spins.  You can get creative and do things that do not involve your feet, so that you make sure your arms stay in shape with your snap.  If the opposite is hurt, say your arm is hurt, you can find ways to strengthen your leg drive. Maybe even you can still do wrist, firearm and finger strengthening to make sure that your spin stays strong while your shoulder is injured.

When you are at team practice, still take this time seriously.  Ask your coach if anything can be modified so that you can still participate.  If you can’t do any of the drills, find ways to strengthen your core.  Do some abs throughout the practice.  Your core can never be too strong.  When you come back from your injury, it will be important that your body feels stronger than it would have if you would have chosen to do NOTHING while you were injured.

The choice is yours in the action you are going to take to continue to try to get better as a player even though you are injured.  To me, this shows dedication.  Are you still going to find a way to get better even though things aren’t exactly perfect?  Continue to try to practice and train as much as you can so you can stay in shape as much as you can and still be working on your skills to get better.

Experience Makes You Shine

I’m a firm believer in experience.  There’s nothing like the experience of pitching or hitting in the “big game” or with the bases loaded, and the game is on the line. Your thoughts are rushing quickly through your mind, you are completely aware of what’s at stake and how the next pitch you throw, the next time you swing or the next ground ball you field can be a defining moment in an important game.  In this moment, all eyes are on you, and believe me, you can feel it.  The experience itself comes down to more of a mental state than a physical state.  Your physical skills are there from the hours of practice and thousands of reps you have taken at your skill. However, your mental state will determine how your physical state is allowed to perform during the game at any point, especially those few defining moments in every game when it comes down to that one pitch.  One of the biggest questions is how to help a player to be strong in that moment.  A big part of that strength comes from drawing on past experience.

How are you going to handle your defining moment?

It’s hard to simulate this same sensation you get in the big moment in the game without actually living through it on the field itself.  There’s really no practice that you can do to fully compare to the same feeling that is created when you are actually in that big moment with the ball in your hand. The only way to simulate it is to actually do it…multiple times.  The more you do it, the more relaxed you can feel to be able to play to the highest of your ability without your muscles tightening up and thoughts overwhelming your brain in your head. The pressure you feel is as much a mental sense as it is a physical sense of feeling pressure and tightness throughout your whole body.  I’ve felt it.  Multiple times.  It’s that adrenaline rush that you get before the game and during the game that never goes away and is what makes sports addicting.  I want to be frank, if you’ve never been the pitcher in the circle or the hitter at the plate in that game-defining moment, you truly have NO IDEA what it feels like mentally to be present in that situation.  You don’t have the experience.  There may be things that you have been through that are similar, but it when it comes right down to it, the feeling that is created with the “big moment” is sometimes incomprehensible.

But it’s these moments that we all live for in all sports – as players and even as fans at the edge of our seats. 

How do you deal with the pressure?  You have to experience it.  You have to breathe through it.  You have to learn from it.  You have to be confident that you can handle it.  You have to recognize what it FEELS like, be in tune with your body and grasp how to cope with the tightness, the pressure and all of the intense energy that is surrounding that big moment. The more familiar you become with these feelings, the more you understand what it is like to tackle them and become victorious in that big situation.  It’s in these situations where you give more thought to breathing and calming your brain and heart down than you do to actually how to throw a pitch or swing a bat.  You practice experiences.  You practice breathing.  You practice how to keep your emotions under control when the game is on the line.  The more you have at practicing this, the more you WANT to be the one in the key point in the game.

Experience in ANYTHING we do gives us confidence the more and more we perform an action, in a certain situation, under certain conditions.  If you are bad at something (anything, no matter WHAT it is), the more you do it, the better you become at it, as your body and motor skills become more comfortable with handling the new skill you are trying to pick up.  The skill in the “big moment” is practicing how to control your emotions, thoughts, and calmness.  Even if you start as “good” at something with little to no experience, you will become GREAT at it the more and more you do it.  We can see this in real life outside of sports in our careers or different hobbies that we take on.  Sports are the same and even more pressure-filled because in a sport, everyone attending the game knows immediately if you failed or succeeded.  You are out on a stage called a field, and all eyes are on you watching your physical performance and waiting to deem your physical performance as a success or a failure.  Immediately after you perform a skill, every single person watching knows if you failed or succeeded.  Think of a player giving up a home run – everyone watching knows that the pitcher just “failed” and the hitter just “succeeded,” or at least they think they know.  Think of a basketball player and the eyes that are watching every shot taken.  We all know as fans whether or not a player messed up when he/she took a shot based off of the physical result of the ball going in the basket or not.  A job can be different than sports.  Maybe only 1 person knows that you “failed” – your boss.  Many times in a job, you aren’t out on a stage where literally every single person watching, or in the room, knows when you failed.  In a softball game, if you strike out or have a homerun hit off of you, AT LEAST 20 people know if you failed or not (at least 9 on each team, plus a few coaches on each team).  The thought of failing in front of people added creates pressure.

Okay, so I set the stage for you.  After innings and innings of play, and numerous games, sometimes we forget what the “big moment” is all about and what it really feels like to be in that pressure situation – we take it for granted that a player should be good at handling the big moment. This especially happens because we, as coaches and the parents, are older and have either seen or been through those experiences many times ourselves, so we assume that the 11 or 12 year old should be better at dealing with it.  Not the case!  They are just babies, they are just learning and trying to get their feet underneath them.  They are just getting a grasp at the physical part of the game to think about, and now they are having to think about this monumental mental side of it that can make or break them.   To understand what is at stake in the experience, is almost as important as learning to understand and deal with the actual experience itself – from a support position as a parent or as a coach.

Everyone comes around in their own time.  This is life.  We all learn differently, we all experience differently.

Take walking for example (not the softball walking of 4 balls take your base, but the actual skills of walking as a baby) – an experience that all of us can draw from – one of our first physical skills we attempt to do.  We got up, we fell.  We got up again, we fell again.  After days, maybe even weeks of getting up and trying to take that first step, we eventually stand a little longer.  We eventually take one step, then maybe two steps,  And before you know it, we are cruising all over the room and our parents can’t keep up with us. We had to experience each fall  before we could actually get to the end result we wanted.  Now, I imagine that standing for the first time or trying to walk for the first time is a bit uncomfortable. (I honestly can’t remember, but I’m just going off of a simple guess here) Your body is probably thinking what the heck is going on? What am I trying to do?

It’s new.  You have to figure it out.  You have to learn.  You have to understand what you’re feeling and your muscles and brain are learning each step of the way (no pun intended). Each and every one of us didn’t all learn to walk in the exact same amount of time, or at the exact same point in our lives.  Our parents were there supporting us, encoring us that we could do it.  They believed in us, and they knew it was only a matter of time.  We experienced failing to become the walkers we are today.  We may not have walked exactly when our parents expected us to, but eventually we figured it out.

Playing in the “big moment” is the exact same way.  It can feel and will feel uncomfortable.

Anything new feels uncomfortable.  Experience will create a comfortability (just made up my own word there, but you get the point).  We don’t get as many experiences in the “big moment” as we do when we were walking.  When we were walking, we were working on that every single day of our lives.  For the “big moment,” you MAY experience it once a weekend.  Maybe you don’t experience it on a weekend of games at all.  If someone is not experiencing different situations, then you cannot be upset with them for not being good at it.  Our parents didn’t get mad at us when we couldn’t walk on our first try.

The more you can experience the pressure situations and the make or break moment, the better and better you will become at being able to handle it.

THE REACTION

Nobody wants to fail.  Nobody likes to fail; but it’s the failing that can make us GREAT.  That “failing” moment where a homerun is hit off of you or someone strikes you out should be looked at as a learning moment, not a failing moment.  Where was that pitch she hit? Where could it have been? Where did she pitch you this at bat? What part of the plate was strike 3 on? Where do you think she will pitch you next at bat?  What are you going to do the NEXT time so that you feel more equipped to have success than feeling like a failure from your last experience. Teach teach teach teach!  When you react, don’t judge the experience, teach the experience.

No matter what age someone is at, especially a young girl, we don’t want to let someone downespecially in the big situation.  I PROMISE this is the case. Some might not admit it, but I’m telling you it’s true – I know from experience. Most girls don’t want to let other people down more than they don’t want to let themselves down.  Girls are looking for a reaction from their coaches and from their parents. Girls are pleasers.  They don’t want to see a reaction that they let anyone down – especially someone important to them.

If you are a coach or a parent, what reaction are you giving when someone “fails” out on the field?

That instant reaction you are giving with your words, facial expressions or body language IS IMPACTING THE NEXT BIG MOMENT THAT PLAYER WILL PLAY IN. No girl fails on purpose – no chance, no way.  When she looks to the dugout or into the stands, she is looking to see if she let you down.  Yes you – the coach, the parents.  If she did let you down, then you’re making it more about you than you are about her.  Remember, it’s about those players wearing the uniform, learning every step of the way.  They should never feel as if they are letting you down if they don’t make the plays that you think they are supposed to make.

If a girl is scared of a bad reaction, when the big moment comes, she will be drawing back on that experience in her mind from the last time it happened.  Even if it is not consciously being thought about, I promise to you it is in the back of her mind.  This is only going to make her TIGHTER in the big situation, not relaxed.  The player that is in the positive, encouraging atmosphere and mindset will become the player that does better the more and more they get to experience the big situations because they will become more relaxed and more comfortable. These players will be able to understand and deal with those tight feelings and a brain that is running at 1000mph.

Sports are similar to how life works in all aspects.  We do something, we fail, we learn.  But in the same breath – we do something, we succeed, we learn.  There’s a chance for both, but you have to allow the failing to teach you without effecting your confidence.  Learn from your successes just like you learn from failing.  More importantly, how people are reacting around you are teaching you how to feel about and how to feel in the defining moments of the game.  The first thing you should look to if it looks like a player plays down when the pressure situation increases are her coaches and her parents.  How do they react? What are they telling her after the failure? What do they look like when things don’t go exactly how they planned?  Was there a certain situation that happened in the past where maybe the parents and coaches didn’t even know that they showed to the player that they let her down? I’m telling you — you want a player who can handle the big situations, then you want coaches and parents (authority figures) who react in a positive manner. 

SEEK OUT THE EXPERIENCE

Experience is absolutely critical in the development of a player, especially at a young age up until high school.  Don’t get me wrong, even in high school and college, experience is one of the most important things, but the experience the older you get becomes more about dealing with extra outside forces.  The games start to mean more, the competition becomes tougher, the games become televised.  Gaining experience and a mental edge at a young age is instrumental for gaining confidence in the big moment at the older ages when it matters even more.  You can’t start from scratch one you get to high school and college.  If too many poor, negative experiences and bad reactions are engrained in someone’s head in high school and in college, then it’s toughed to overcome them – similar to bad mechanics and poor muscle memory

It does no good to be on a really well known/best team in the area if you are sitting the bench watching other people get the experience – especially as a pitcher. In 10u, 12u and even moving into 14u, you’ve GOT to be getting experience in the circle and up at the plate.  You have a few choices:

  1. Say you are the #2 or #3 pitcher on the team.  You can stay on the well-known team, even though you aren’t the starter and keep practicing very hard to continue to get better.  Stick it out for a year or two, BUT sign up for a local league and get pitching time.  Yes, I know the competition isn’t as good, but I don’t care.  You are getting mound time and you are practicing throwing to an opposing team while working hitting your spots and gaining command.  This is a perfect place to improve confidence, get reps and work on some mechanical issues you are trying to get better at.  PLUS, if you are staying on that team where you are the #2 or #3 pitcher on the team, you add to the competition to be the lead pitcher.  Because you a re getting better, you are making the other pitchers better and there becomes more competition at your position.  I actually did this, and I know from experience that it worked to my benefit.  I wasn’t getting as much pitching time as 1 or 2 other pitchers on my select team in 12u, and me and my parents weren’t in denial about it.  We knew that I needed to get better in order to earn more pitching time.  So we signed up for a fall league to get more innings and more pitches thrown.  To this day, I really think it’s one of the best ideas we came up with as a family. I got drastically better after that season because I was getting the experience I needed, and my results on my select team started to improve and eventually I got more and more time.  Yes, it was a bit of a time crunch, and there were probably times I didn’t want to go, but I really feel like it helped out in the long run.
  2. You can change teams.  I always recommend doing this at the end of the season and not in the middle.  With this being said, I am not an advocate of team hoppers.  However, I am an advocate for experience and how essential it is to have playing time at a young age.  Experience, when it comes to time in the circle and number of at bats you are getting, is SOOO important.
  3. I DON’T THINK QUITTING IS AN OPTION IF SOMEONE LOVES TO DO SOMETHING.  This will be an option that many people are quick to jump to.  The only time I would encourage quitting is if the passion is not there for someone and they are not putting in the time and effort it takes to become solid player.  There is a difference between not having passion and not being as talented as the other players VS having passion and being slower to catch your talent level up to speed.

If someone has the passion to do something, I am convinced they can and will achieve anything they put their mind to, and you can’t tell me otherwise.  The people who don’t have passion end up quitting and weeding themselves out.

PRESSURE IS PRIVILEDGE

Have you ever heard this saying before? I love it. It reminds me of that movie, Remember The Titans.  The older I get, the more I understand those 3 words.  When you look at pressure as an opportunity, not a fear, the game becomes a bit more simple….not easier, but unescapably more simple.  When you get more experiences to choose how you are going to handle different in game situations, you get more experience in choosing the right thoughts, and understanding which thoughts connect with which results.  When the bases are loaded and the game is on the line be thinking, “I get to show everyone how good I am and how I am going to come through” not “I hope I don’t mess up and fail.”  The experience of being in tight situations is all about controlling those thoughts.  It’s easier to control those thoughts when you are in a positive, encouraging environment with your parents, coaches and teammates who support you.

Positive self talk should be something that is without a doubt engrained in players from a young age, especially when they are young and most impressionable.  It should be discussed with players as much, if not more, than the actual mechanics of softball.  Take time for it.  It is so important in the development of players not just in their physical game, but in the part of the actual game itself when the “big moment” comes up and it’s time to shine.

It’s that positive self talk that will help you understand and realize that pressure really is a privilege and you should WANT to be the one with the bat or ball in your hands to come up to be the one for your team.

Realize this: We aren’t going to be perfect, especially in this game of failure we call softball.  Every time you are in that pressure situation it’s a chance to prove that you’re in the right frame of mind.  The “success” and “failure” comes from being in the right frame of mind and giving yourself a chance to have success when the big moment comes; it doesn’t always necessarily come with the outcome, despite what all eyes watching might think.  When you take pressure off of the outcome and the fear of doing something wrong and not pleasing others, you give yourself the opportunity to have more success.  The experiences you go through should be learning moments that are making you a better player.  It shouldn’t feel like punishment or that you did something wrong as a player if you don’t come through in the clutch.  It should be used as a moment to teach, so that when the moment presents itself again, you absolutely nail it.

Only YOU can define your moment.  YOU create your opportunities – what are you going to do with them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Pitchers Throw Too Slow / Too Many Balls”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Questions Answered with Amanda: Wind Up, Drag & Follow Through Mechanics

Hi everyone! I was asked a really good question this week and I wanted to share with ALL of you as it goes over some very important, basic mechanical details of pitching that I feel like everyone can benefit from:

“Value your opinion of course so hoping for a response. My daughter is 8 and started taking pitching lessons a few months ago, from a reputable coach in our area and I do my research but there are a few things I would like your take on.

1) I notice most pro/college level pitchers cross drag, but he is teaching her to drag straight fwd. (I understand why, which is to close up fully) why is it that most do it the other way? Is it better, why or why not?

2) Also on the follow thru of the pitch (just a normal pitch no change up or curve) some people teach to cross the body? I personally prefer straight (keeping arm long of course and not hurting elbow) is there a right or wrong to this, or is this preference?

3) Also she is taught not to swing her arm back at the beginning of pitch she starts circle straight from glove. Reasons being A) not to show ball it will matter later B) prevents keeping arm from staying straight C) Although I do think it will take a few mph off her speed I feel starting in this position has more advantages, do you? I hope you have time to respond and don’t think my questions are to crazy! Loved your video on the power drive Coach Lisle posted, we utilize one all the time for pitching and hitting, you really helped me understand it better; you have a gift for coaching and explaining!”

Answers

1) I THINK I know what you mean by “cross drag.” I am picturing in my mind a drag that doesn’t just go straight towards the catcher. I call a “drag” a slug trail because if you look down at the ground when you are pitching in dirt, it’s like your drag leaves a slug trail from where your toes drug while you were pitching.  That slug trail is indicative of your mechanics and what your body is doing in your pitch – it is VERY important. A proper slug trail should look like a question mark. From the pitching rubber, it should go straight towards the catcher, and then after about a foot, it should go a little bit behind you. The little bit behind you part of the slug trail is when your hips and shoulders are opening up! Which is a VERY important part of the pitch. If the slug trail just stays a straight line towards the catcher, that would mean the hips are never getting completely open. I would not recommend a straight forward drag (we are girls, we have HIPS, and those HIPS needs to get out of the way of our release by getting OPEN in the middle of our pitch so our arm can clear our hips at our release point)

2) My personal preference for how to teach someone to finish is going to be where their hand NATURALLY finishes, not forcing a certain place to finish after the snap of the pitch. It’s called Pronation – it happens at the end of a pitch after a snap. When you throwing a ball overhand, you see pronation – baseball players do it as well as football players. I do not agree with the hand to shoulder finish or elbow up finish. That’s a forced position. The most natural place you can finish is with your fingers inside your wrist, wrist inside your elbow, elbow inside your shoulder. This forms a little bit of an angle with your arm.  (Hold your arm out in front of you and try to get into that position, it’s easier if you actually TRY to do it rather than just imagining it). The most important thing is that you are loose after your snap at your hip and don’t FORCE a certain finish. However, with that being said, the finish should be consistent and repeatable with a natural ability to relax to that position after the release.

 

3)[A] I like swinging the arm back because it felt like it generated more of a load and more energy at the beginning of my pitch. One solution if you want to do that is to hold multiple pitches the same way. i.e. Hold curve and change the same, so this way, no one can pick up what your grip is before the pitch is coming. Or rise and curve the same. Those are 2 totally different pitches. It’s best to hold a faster velocity pitch the same as an off speed pitch or change up since that is the pitch most coaches are trying to “pick.” You are seeing lots of college pitchers go away from swinging their arm back because of how often college coaches are picking up grips, BUT it is NOT non existent. There are definitely still ways to general power without an arm swing back – remember everything starts from the ground up (with your feet) and putting your lower half into a SOLID EXPLOSIVE position to get the most out of your leg drive with your hips and glutes.

[B] As far as a wind up with an arm swing preventing the arm circle from staying the straight, that is not necessarily so. You see LOTS of players who have their arm swing back, such as myself and also, Jolene Henderson, who is on Team USA. Any action can become repeatable by creating muscle memory with hard work and determination. Get in front of a mirror and look at yourself and repeat 100-200 pitches a night. THAT is one of the best ways to create muscle memory because you are FEELING and SEEING your body in certain positions. There is no one size fits all for every pitcher. Everyone has different muscles strengths to be able to get their body into the same position over and over again.

[C] Total personal preference regarding the advantages of taking an arm swing out of your windup. You are asking someone who did NOT do that wind up, and I was a 2-time All American and competed at the highest level in college. There are other pitchers who are out there who are super successful without starting with that wind up. It’s all about YOUR PITCHER and what can feel the best for HER. Other things can be changed to compliment your wind up, like I suggested before – changing grips to look the same if the wind up where your arm swings back seems to compliment your daughter better to get her more speed, more consistency and more spin.

**Important to note: Wind up is PERSONAL PREFERENCE. Whatever makes you feel comfortable and whatever you can do the most consistent to make the beginning of your pitch the exact same every single time. Make the BEGINNING of your pitch the same in order to help make the END of your pitch the same! No matter what:  that consistency in your delivery is key in order to maintain accuracy, increase and pitch at a consistent speed, and grow spin rates!

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.

The Power of Shaking Off

As a pitcher, I’ve never understood a coach’s philosophy of  NOT allowing pitchers to shake off a called pitch. I, personally, never played for a coach that said, “Never shake me off,” or “You better throw what I’m calling.” 90% of being a successful pitcher does from feeling confident…feeling good….feeling comfortable.

How do you feel those things?

By being 100% invested in WHAT you are going to throw the next pitch. The slightest bit of uncertainty will show in your pitch if you are not fully committed. (Parents, I’m SURE you know what I am talking about and you can see it from in the stands.) Also, in my mind, being able to shake off a pitch holds higher implications than just trying to get the batter out.

As a little background….The majority of the time, my dad called pitches for me for my travel ball team. Occasionally, another dad would call them who also had a pitcher on the team, but nothing beat the comfort of having my dad call for me.

In high school, my catcher and I called the game together, as well as when I got to Texas A&M.

For 8 years I got my own practice and in-game experience of calling my own pitches with my catcher.  I had to think for myself through the ups and downs of a game or even in the ups and downs within an at bat. “What pitch should I throw next?” “What’s my next move?”

These are decision making skills being a pitcher teaches you. When the pressure is on, bases loaded, playing the best team you’ve played all year, tie game, one pitch can make the difference, and I got to be the one who had the last say. Pretty awesome when you think about it – giving a young woman that much power and leadership at a young age.

Of course, at first, the concept of knowing what I wanted to throw seemed like a different language to me. It was nerve racking. My brain was in constant work mode. But I learned. I distinctly remember (to this day) the feeling I would get of know exactly what pitch I wanted to throw after I delivered a pitch and my cacher threw it back to me. I was so focused and trusted myself so much that I already knew what I wanted to throw the next pitch before I even got back to the pitching rubber.  If you have ever pitched and taken control of a game before, you know this feeling I am talking about. It was a feeling that ran threw me after watching the outcome of the LAST pitch, and I would know instantly what I wanted to throw next. I was going to shake off until I got THAT pitch because that’s what I had the most confidence to throw.

When you have coaches who allow you to think for yourself and help you learn HOW to think for yourself, you grow as a pitcher; you grow as a young woman.

You learn to trust your gut instinct. Being able to trust your gut is such an important trait to have in life and that gut instinct can be a pitcher’s best friend and your inner guide. That instinct does not always come naturally, it progresses and can be felt over time.

In a game, if you throw 100 pitches, that means you have 100 chances, 100 reps, of learning to feel and trust your gut instinct if you are getting the opportunity to throw your own game.

You can still throw your own game even when your coach is calling pitches from inside the dugout if he/she is the type who allows you to shake off. You’re thinking EVERY pitch, focused on one pitch at a time in what you want to throw.

As with anything in life, the more you practice calling your own game, the better you get at it. Little by little you start to trust that feeling in your stomach more.

All too often, as pitchers and as human beings, we push that gut feeling aside and try to out-think the situation. But then when we look back, it was like we had the answer all along if we would have just trusted that initial feeling/thought.

This is a large part of how a pitcher grows and matures in the circle come throughout her career.

She learns to think for herself.

She learns to make her own decisions.

She learns to eat her own mistakes.

She takes responsibility.

She becomes a leader.

She might lose the opportunity to learn these important values if she is a robot out on the field, looking at a signal, getting no feel of the situation, and just automatically doing what someone else is telling her to do without the option of shaking off – the power of saying no.

Take a step off of the softball field for and think about that-  THE POWER OF SAYING NO.

Let it sink in for just a few moments.

The power of saying, “You know what, I don’t feel comfortable with that” or “I would rather not do that.”

How many times in life have you had the option of saying yes or no? MILLIONS. Every day.

Sometimes, saying no is not always easy, but it’s IMPORTANT.

You don’t always have to say yes, you can choose to say no.

A lot goes into our decision making, but practicing saying no and getting the confidence to do so on the softball field could translate to having more confidence to say no OFF of the softball field.

Think back to middle school, high school, hanging out with your friends, being confronted with situations where you have to make choices.

If you have relied on someone else to make a decision for you your whole life without the ability/care to say no (shake off) on the softball field, then why might at a high school party where there is peer pressure be any different? That kind of pressure feels just like when you are in the circle, all eyes on you, tie game, 7th inning, 2 outs. Added pressure and YOU get to pick what pitch YOU want to throw.

Pitching has the ability to teach us different versions of STRENGTH. Yes, the strength to throw hard and hit corners, but the real STRENGTH comes in being an individual in the real world who can make her own decisions.

Learning how to say “no” is hidden deep in the life lessons you learn when being a pitcher. Having the body/mental awareness to trust your gut instinct of whether a pitch feels right or wrong and whether an outside situation feels right or wrong. The more experience you gain in saying no, the easier it is to say no. 

Allowing your pitchers to shake off pitches is just one small example within softball to coach these girls the way you would want them to live their lives outside of the softball field.

Give them tools to gain strength every time you are with them at practice and in games that allow them to be independent thinkers, make decisions on their own and take ownership of those decisions.

Empower them to feel peace with the decisions they make – whether it turns out being right or wrong within the game. That’s the way you learn. That’s the way you get through to them through softball, which is where they are spending the majority of their time.  It’s where they can learn through trial and error the pressures and the ups & downs life will throw at you sometimes.

It means shaking off a pitch to get the pitch YOU want because you just feel it on the inside and there are specific details you have noticed that the pitch you want, if executed properly, will get the out.

Allowing a pitcher to shake off pitches is powerful BEYOND MEASURE.

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