Someone asked me this, “What was the turning point for you? Was there a stage where you suddenly began passing people? And how much of it had to do with your willingness to out-work everyone? Were there times when you thought your work wasn’t going to pay off?”
My answer might surprise you….
This is actually something over the past couple of years I have given a lot of thought and always am trying to take a look back my travel ball days! I was not always the #1 pitcher for my team growing up until probably my junior/senior year, and even then we had several good pitchers on my travel team and it was always good competition. In high school, my fresh/soph year I pitched behind a girl who was a junior/senior. I earned my way up to the #1 once she was gone. In travel ball I started as a #2/#3, then solidified #2 then later was in competition for #1. And then, once I actually got to college, I was the #1 pitcher starting on opening day as a freshman in the circle. Then it was solidified.
But there was so much that led up to that moment…
When I was growing up, I never thought of it that way of where I was on the “depth chart.” I never thought of how much I enjoyed playing softball by the number of innings I was pitching, I just knew that I liked to do it. What I think was a game changer for me was the fact that I had an amazing pitching and hitting coach (they were married) from around the ages of 11-15 who taught me and showed me the foundation of mechanics of a swing and a pitch. They did this by constantly breaking down the pitch/swing from the very beginning.
(Let me focus more on the pitching aspect…….) Because of how much we broke things down, I was a little bit slower to “come around” when it game to full pitch progress and speed and consistency – that would come later. There would be days where over half of the lesson I would not pitch a ball but just look in a mirror and work on a balance beam and do tubing drills. They taught me through SO MANY drills about where my body mechanically should be. At the time when I was younger, I thought it was a bit boring, but here was the kicker……we would do video analysis about 4 times a year. Back then, video analysis consisted of pulling out a video camera, then putting the tape into the VCR and slow-moing the VCR and holding up photos of old pitchers like Lisa Fernandez, Dee Dee Weiman and some japanese pitchers. There was a check list of different mechanics that I, myself, needed to look at as we went through the full video analysis and write down what I did right and what I did wrong. Why I liked this was because we did it enough to where I could see I was PROGRESSING and getting BETTER because of my hard work. I literally got to SEE it on the screen. So not only was I working hard in between lessons on the things I knew I needed to adjust, I was able to get satisfaction by seeing the progress I was having.
My parents were not result oriented in the sense that they were constantly letting me know I was a #2 pitcher or I pitched x amount of innings and the other pitcher pitched x amount of innings. No. They were focused on the fact that I was getting better at these lessons and my mechanics were forming properly. I could SEE it, they could see it, I could feel it. That part was more the focus than the playing time & field RESULTS. I saw what I needed to get better at, I went back and worked hard at it, and then I was able to see the results of my mechanics getting better. We all need our little forms of “success” along the way in this softball career.
How are you defining success? By playing time or by actually getting better and progressing at something that you love to do?
Were there days where I felt like I wanted to quit? YES, absolutely. Were there days where I cried, 100%. It’s normal. I guarantee that every college player out there has had those days. My parents never panicked when I had those days, they took it in stride. They did not overreact, which caused me not to overreact. The thing when I look back that was defining was that it was just 1 bad day. 1 bad day didn’t turn into a bad week. 1 bad day was just that. The next day, after I breathed a little bit, got some sleep, I woke up with a fresh outlook and ready to go back at it and practice and take on the world. But that’s how you know you really have a passion or it. You are wanting to go out and practice and the bad days don’t linger for long. When you are back at it practicing, you are pitching with getting better in mind, not pitching with # of innings pitched in mind.
Lastly, I will say, the best thing my parents told me growing up and would remind me during hard times was that I didn’t HAVE to play softball if I didn’t want to, and they would love me anyway.
They would ask me if I still enjoyed playing and they would genuinely listen to my answer. We communicate with so much more than words – with our actions, body language, tone. They asked me in a way I knew they cared and I felt like I could be honest with them, and I answered by more than just a simple, “yes” in the way that I was motivated to practice and how I looked when I was out playing ball.
Many just see me as an All American and during my time at Texas A&M one of the best players in the Big 12….but I am so much more than that BECAUSE of the time and emotions I invested growing up.
I am GLAD I wasn’t the #1 pitcher the entire time when I was younger. It taught me so much more. Mainly about myself and giving me the ability to help make my own decisions, work extremely hard at something and then feel the reward of what it is like to actually EARN a #1 spot and earn the awards that followed in college. That work ethic and the process of working on mechanics when I was younger made me into the coach I am today. Because of that foundation of mechanics that I would spend hours upon hours without a ball and paying attention to my own craft, I have the knowledge that goes along with pitching and was able to stand at 5’5 and throw 70mph especially once I got stronger and developed physically towards my my final years of high school and into college.
Everyone comes around at a different time and it’s unfair to compare yourself to anyone else other than you.
Soooo….I am sorry that this is a longer answer, but this particular topic defines me, what I coach, how I coach and the career I lead. Never would I have thought that when I was 9-10 and someone told me that I never would be a pitcher that I would play at the D1 level, and then lead me past college to coaching clinics around the country and being a college softball analyst on TV. I can’t HELP but think and know that anyone else can find their own passion AND if you have a passion for it, if you REALLY have a passion for it, then things are going to work out. The things that don’t work out are the things that shouldn’t be forced and aren’t supposed to happen, anyway. There are ups and downs, but the ups are all greater than the downs if you truly love to do it.
If you don’t love it, then you let the downs define you, and you’ll eventually end up quitting. But in my mind, it just means you are meant to do something else anyway.
I can only talk about my experience and my own story….but looking back, I think it’s a pretty dang good one and it’s more the “norm” of what softball players across the country go through growing up WITHOUT being the #1 pitcher their whole life.