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…

GUEST BLOG: Jami Lobpries …TEACH ‘EM HOW TO BRAND!!

TEACH FEMALE ATHLETES HOW TO BRAND, TEACH’EM, TEACH’EM HOW TO BRAND!!

What exactly is a brand? Simply put: a brand is an IDENTITY. It is a set of associations we make with products or services and what differentiates particular products and services from competitors. In sports, we have popular apparel brands like Nike and Under Armour, league brands like the NFL and NASCAR, team brands like the Yankees and Manchester United, and athlete brands like LeBron and Tiger.

Wait, are athletes brands? Similar to the associations we make with products and services, a personal brand is the set of associations we make with a particular person. Athletes with strong brands can benefit from lucrative endorsement deals during and after their careers. Even after their careers end, well-branded athletes can transfer their brand power to entrepreneurial endeavors, appearances, or other business aspects. Want to be like Mike still?? He’s over 10 years removed from his playing days and his Jordan brand is stronger than ever. Well-branded athletes not only earn more, but they have the ability to influence larger masses and opportunities to transfer their brand power beyond the playing field.

So what about the not-as-well-branded or not-as-well known personas in sport? Are they still brands? Tom Peters says: YESSS! Peters is the author of the article titled “A Brand Called YOU” where he claims we are all brands. In fact, we are all CEOs and brand marketers…of our own brand. The way you dress, style your hair, the friends you associate with, the books you read, the food you eat, the car you drive, the content you post on social media. All of this makes up YOUR BRAND. As brands, we each have our own unique name, reputation, credibility, and image. We all have our own brand personalities, or the human element of your brand. We all have different qualities…..

To read more on how branding affects you, click here: Women’s Sports Blog.

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!! 

High School Softball Season Survivor Guide – Grievance 4: Teammate’s Drive Not There

This is the last and final Grievance! If you missed parts 1-3, see below!

Grievance 1: Playing Time

Grievance 2: The Competition

Grievance 3: Teammates

Grievance #4 – The Drive of My Teammate is Not There

Uncontrollables: Your teammates’ drive; Your teammates’ attitude; Your teammates’ competitiveness

Controllables: YOUR drive; YOUR attitude; YOUR competetiveness

Yes, it’s hard when you are surrounded by players who aren’t as driven as you, and with high school ball, you don’t really have a choice!  You ask yourself, what are the things I currently can control? The answer is that it’s all about YOU.  It’s not about anybody else.  Now is the time you push YOURSELF harder and day in and day out try to maintain a consistent mindset.  Every day at practice you show up to the field wanting to get better. Every game you show up to the field wanting to leave it all out on the field.  Nobody else’s mindset should control this or change what YOU are about.

  • Lead by example
  • Don’t let others attitude affect you
  • Push yourself more and maintain a consistent mindset

This game is what YOU make it, not what someone else makes it.  Any given day YOU are in complete control of how you approach the game, how you approach your teammates and how you approach becoming the best player you can possibly be.  High school softball is preparing you for the next level of softball for you in college or the next level of your life in getting a job.  You must always be able to control what YOU can control, no matter what.

In the end, remember, you are playing someone else when you look at the scoreboard, but this game is really about YOU competing against YOURSELF.  You should be pushing yourself in different ways and getting uncomfortable in different situations so that you continue to grow, and you are prepared for anything that is thrown at you when you make it to the next level.

Always control what you can.  Look at every situation, and give an honest answer of what you can and cannot control about it.

Why Does Accuracy Matter?

Accuracy, movement & velocity.  Those are the three core items we talk about that go into being a great pitcher.

To me, the most important one is accuracy.

Yes, speed and movement play a part in being a solid, successful pitcher!  But, speed and movement should enhance accuracy.  In my mind, accuracy should come first. At the end of the day (especially at the higher levels of play), it doesn’t matter how hard you throw or how much movement you have if you are unable to hit your spots.  Being able to throw hard and not know where the ball is going will lead to you throwing 2 innings per game in college.  Being able to throw hard and know where the ball is going will lead you to throw a complete game in college.

At the simplest form, our job as a pitcher is to get outs.  No matter how those outs come – strike outs, fly balls or ground outs, it’s our job.  You get outs by hitting spots accurately, consistently and with precision.

At any level, if you throw the ball over the middle of the plate, it’s going to get hit.  We keep the ball on the corners because it’s a much harder pitch to hit, and a hitter has less chance of having success. The older you get, the further hitters hit mistakes.  The harder you throw, the further the mistake is hit.

Why accuracy matters

Less accuracy can lead to more walks…

Every coaches nightmare is to see his pitchers give up walks (especially leadoff walks and walks to the 9 hole). No matter what level, 4 balls always equals a walk.  It doesn’t matter if you throw those 4 balls at 75mph or 42 mph, a ball is a ball.  Even if the pitch breaks a foot and has the best movement ever, if it doesn’t cross through the strike zone, then a ball is a ball.

If you cannot find the strike zone, or a hitter is not chasing your pitches, it’s going to lead to walks.  This past year, even in the college game, I saw more runs walked in than ever before.  You can’t defend a walk. Your defense can’t help you when you are giving away free passes and putting people on board because you as a pitcher cannot throw strikes.  What did I say our number 1 job as pitcher is? To get outs.  Our defense can’t make plays behind us if we do not have accuracy and are not able to find the strike zone.  Walks are the death of pitchers and walks lead to runs.   The more accurate you are, the less walks you give up.  Hitters have to earn their way on base. Bottom line – If you don’t throw strikes (accuracy), then it’s going to be really difficult to win.

Less accuracy makes it harder for someone to call pitches…

Nothing is better than calling pitches for your pitcher and knowing exactly what you are going to get. (If you are a pitch caller, you know exactly what I mean). Nothing is worse than calling pitches for a pitcher and having no clue where the ball is going to go.  It almost makes it impossible and completely a guessing game.  I tell our pitchers that if they put the ball to the spot I am telling them, there’s probably a 95% chance we are going to get that hitter out.  To be honest, it doesn’t even matter WHICH pitch they throw to the spot I am calling, all they have to do is hit one spot, some way, somehow.  That’s it.  That’s their job.  It’s all about hitting spots consistently and being able to move the ball in and out without a high risk of throwing the ball over the heart of the plate.

You’ve got to be able to know exactly where the ball is going so you can set a hitter up to get her out.  The older you get, the more important pitch calling gets with setting hitters up, finding their weaknesses, and having scouting reports based off of what hitters can and cannot hit.  Good hitters are going to hit mistakes and hit them hard.  Even if a ball breaks 6 inches and it breaks right to the middle of the plate, it’s going to get hit.  I promise.  I’ve been there and done it and see it with my own two eyes.

Less accuracy makes it harder to adjust to an umpire’s zone…

As pitchers, we are going to have umpires we come across who have a small strike zone.  Pitchers who have the best accuracy and can put the ball exactly where they want to will not have nearly as much trouble with these umpires.  When you face an umpire with a small zone, it’s important to work inches and move the ball in a little bit more at a time to be able to find that umpires strike zone.  Pitchers who do not have great accuracy end up making TOO BIG of adjustments and putting the ball right over the middle of the plate when they are trying to find the zone.  They are the pitches who are more likely to get hit hard when facing an umpire with a smaller strike zone.  The key to umpires with small strike zones is making small, tiny adjustments to try to find exactly where that umpire is going to call it. The more accurate you are and trust in hitting your spots, the easier it’s going to be for you to find strikes in a challenging strike zone.

Now…I will be honest with you, the harder you throw and the more movement you have, the more mistakes you are able to get away with, especially at the younger ages.  This is why the pitchers who are younger and throw hard really stick out (if you are in 12U and even 14U, you know what I am talking about).  And, at a younger age, these pitches can get away with throwing it over the middle of the plate and not get hurt.  But, let me tell you, these pitchers aren’t learning anything other than throwing it down the middle works for them.  It’s positive reinforcement to these pitchers to throw the ball right down the middle because hitters will swing and miss and they will get away with it.  This method absolutely will not work for long as you get older and hitters get better.

Pitchers who just throw hard and throw it over the middle of the plate are just learning to be throwers and not pitchers.

(There is a huge difference, and I will save the comparison for another blog in a different day.)  Now, these pitchers, as they get older and start facing better hitters, will soon learn that accuracy is the most important thing they could have learned at a young age.

The pitchers who don’t throw as hard have to learn to be more precise at a very young age because they will get hit if they don’t hit a precise spot since the hitter has a longer time to see the ball coming out of the hand.  They learn from failure.  I pitch it here and it gets hit here.  They are learning where they can and cannot throw pitches in order to have success.  They learn from their failures.  They are learning from instant feedback on their mistakes about where not to throw the pitch.  If these type of pitchers have the courage and passion to stick with pitching and work their tails off on being AWESOME a hitting their spots, then they will have a high chance of success.  However, it is at this age that coaches are telling them that to be a great pitcher you have to throw hard and have 6+ different pitches.  This is just not true.  If these pitchers can work past all of the people who tell them that they aren’t a good pitcher just because they don’t throw hard, I believe they have a high chance of playing in college because they are learning from a young age to be pitchers who pitch with high accuracy and can put the ball where they want to in order to get outs.    

I PROMISE you, from my own past experience, and currently watching hundreds of game every year, if you put the ball over the middle of the plate, no matter how hard you throw or how much movement you have, it has a very high chance of getting hit, and getting hit hard.  It’s not all about speed and it’s not all about movement.  Strive for accuracy and command, and be working on this continually at practice.  It is not just about how hard you throw I PROMISE.

In a perfect world, you would have the best of all 3 – accuracy, speed and movement.

Someone who can hit her spots 95% of the time, throwing 70mph and every pitch she throws moves 6 inches.  This is unrealistic.  If you find a person who can do this, you will be showing me someone who is well on her way to be a National Player of the Year once she gets to college, so long as she has the mental toughness to go along with it.  Learning accuracy at a young age is critical and not to be overlooked, as it becomes the most important part of pitching, especially when you get to the Gold and collegiate levels of play.  When you’re pitching at a young age, learn good work habits and focus habits, thinking of accuracy and precision with your pitching on a daily basis.  Even though you may be able to get away with pitches over the middle of the plate in the 12U-16U levels, think about how you want to play long term and play at the highest level you are capable of.  Think towards big goals and the kind of pitcher that can get out the best hitters in the country.  That pitcher will be a pitcher who pitches with such great accuracy on both sides of the plate, rarely gives up walks, and can make in-game adjustments to adjust to the hitter and to the umpire.

Summer Tryout Q&A with Amanda Scarborough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image from Ringor.com and this website.

 

5 Essentials of a Change Up

A Change Up is a MUST HAVE weapon for a pitcher!  For almost all pitchers, a Change Up is the second pitch that is learned after a Fastball. A Change Up is a pitch that should be anywhere between 10-20 mph slower than your fastest pitch. The speed differential is determined on how fast you normally throw.  Being able to change speeds is critical to have success for a full 7 inning game where you will face the same hitter 3 or 4 times in the same game.  For a hitter – timing is everything.  So as a pitcher, it’s important to disrupt that timing by mixing speeds throughout the course of a game to show the hitter something different to keep them off balance and guessing!

There are lots of different ways to release a Change Up! If there were 100 pitchers standing in front of me, there would be 100 different ways they would tell me they release it!  A Change Up release will be unique to each pitcher and needs to feel COMFORTABLE for that pitcher to believe in and trust in it. However, regardless of HOW you choose to throw YOUR change up, there are a couple of things that need to remain consistent:

1. “Sell” the Change Up to the hitter.

The hitter must never know a Change Up is coming! This means from the facial expressions you show from taking the signal from the catcher with the nod of your head and the look in your eyes, to the way that you FINISH your pitch without slowing down through your release, EVERYTHING must look identical to your routine of your other pitches. Your arm speed should stay the same from the wind up of your pitch to the end release of your pitch.  You must fool the hitter and hide it from them until it is coming at them!

2. Throw the Change Up LOW.

When practicing this pitch AND throwing it in a game, you would rather miss it low and in the dirt than belt-high.  It’s much easier for a hitter to hit that pitch when it is up in the zone than ankle high. Aim low! Work on keeping this pitch down by adjusting your release point (releasing it earlier generally keeps the pitch lower) and you can also adjust where your weight is at release (having your weight slightly forward will angle the ball down as well).

3.  Keep it UNPREDICTABLE.

No matter how you throw it, it’s important to prove that you will throw a Change Up in different counts. Too often a pattern is formed to throw a change up only on 0-2 and 1-2 counts.  Mix the Change Up in to different counts to keep the hitter guessing. Throw it for a first pitch. Throw it on a 3-2 count.  Another way to keep the change up unpredictable is to possibly not throw it for an inning (please note this should be based on how the other team is recognizing the pitch and adjusting).  Or maybe one inning you throw it once, another inning you throw it 10 times. Do not fall into a certain pattern for how often you are trying to throw the pitch in a single inning. Maybe you don’t even SHOW the other team your Change Up until the second time through the order! This can be very effective as well!  Your job as a pitcher is to keep the hitter guessing!

4.  Find the perfect SPEED.

A Change Up can be too fast and a Change Up can be too slow.  If it’s too fast, it doesn’t affect a hitter’s timing, their swing can stay the exact same and they have a high probability to “run into” a pitch and get a hit.  If it’s too slow, a hitter can reload, sit back, see the pitch coming, and put a good swing on it.  It’s important to find the perfect speed for your change up and be able to practice it at that speed. I suggest using a radar gun for this purpose – so you know if you are consistently throwing the pitch at a certain speed and/or if you need to speed it up/slow the pitch down. Some pitchers can get away with their Change Up being 10mph slower.  Other pitchers need their Change Up to be between 17-20 mph different.  Generally, the faster you throw, the more mph you will need to take off of your pitch.  If you throw 70mph, you will need to take around 15-20 off.  If you throw 50mph, then you may only need to take about 10mph off.  Monitor what speed you are throwing your Change Up at in a game versus at practice. Pay attention to how and if you are fooling hitters. Are they getting fooled? Are they barreling up to the ball? Play with it! Try different speeds to see what works the best! 

5. THROW it!

Even if your change up is not your best pitch OR if your Change Up is your best pitch but it is not working in a game, keep throwing it!!  Keep a good attitude about it, and keep showing it to the other team.  When the opposing team and the hitter up to bat sees you throw a Change Up, it keeps it in the back of their mind that it is a pitch they may have to face when the hit against you.  You always want them to believe that there is a threat of you throwing it.  Even when it is not working perfectly, you SHOWING it to the hitter disrupts their timing by their eyes and brain SEEING a pitch coming out of your hand at a different speed.

Do not give up on your Change Up!

Just because you may not use your Change Up as your strike out pitch, does NOT mean to stop throwing it! If it’s your weakness right now, it can always turn into your strength if you keep working at it.  Be aware of the way you are thinking about your Change Up! If you always say it’s your worst pitch, then it will stay your worst pitch. Practice your thoughts and what you are saying to your friends, coaches and parents about your Change Up! It does NO GOOD to speak negatively about it. What are you doing at your practices to make this pitch better?!  This pitch is a MUST HAVE tool for a pitcher!

 

Remember – We Are All in This Together

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

Amanda Scarborough we are all in this together softball

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

Amanda Scarborough sunset

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

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

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

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

Amanda Scarborough sunset

Who are you Surrounded by?

Does being surrounded by players who share your values about confidence and being in the right mental state help you as an athlete?

 

 Being surrounded by players that share these values absolutely helps improve your mental state. Players can push each other on the physical side of the game, but can also push each other on the mental side. Players should be surrounded by other players who are reinforcing that feel good, play good mentality.  Try to get your teammates to hop on board with those same values. Confidence is contagious.  Be someone that your teammates can look to, who plays the game confidently and with a strong presence.

Be a teammate who makes your other teammates better and stronger.  By playing the game with confidence and with a strong mind, you make others around you play the game better, as well.  Not only will  you feel better and stronger off the field, but you will see positive results on the field — having more fun, winning more games, relaxing while you play.

These values not only affect you on the playing field, but off the playing field.  The confidence and the mental state you are learning on the softball field greatly affects you in every day life at school and at home.  To be completely honest, it doesn’t just have to do with players who share the same values, but with coaches who share similar values and are reinforcing a positive mindset and helping players to feel their most confident.

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!

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