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.
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!
I recently was introduced to the book Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Davis Casstevens, and I absolutely feel in love with it. It has great stories, very motivational and inspiring, right up my alley in so many different ways. In one of the chapters, Riding the Pines, Casstevens writes about an article he himself had read about being your own boss, thus leading him to come up with the idea for an athlete to “inc” himself/herself (ex. AmandaScarboroughInc) and the idea that your “company” (ie YOU) are a stock. Everything you do increases or decreases your value to the public. The “public,” in my eyes, can either be considered your current team OR the “public” can be a college recruiting you. OR, if you are a player already committed, the “public” is your current college you committed to, as they are wanting to see your stock continue to increase in value before you actually set foot on their campus.
Even if you are not the star player of your team, you are still a commodity to your team. However, being a commodity is not just handed to you, you have to make yourself a commodity by earning it. Every day you have to work on getting your “stock” to climb…this could apply to every day starters, players who are injured or players who are not in the everyday starting lineup. Ask yourself the question every day when you are playing or practicing, what are you doing to get YOUR stock to climb? Having a bad attitude would decrease your value, not giving your best every single second at practice also would decrease the value of YOUR stock. Those of you who are not in the starting rotation have to remember, you are ONE PLAY away from being a starter. At any second the person in front of you could get injured, and then it could be your time to shine. It would be YOUR opportunity and YOUR chance to make the very most of it. Don’t you want to be the one prepared for that opportunity?
Your coaches are a reference…
If a company (ie college coach) is going to ask about acquiring your company (ie you as a player), what are your coaches going to say about you? Are they going to say you have a good attitude, works hard, coachable, and a real team player? Or are they going to say the complete opposite? Your coaches’ opinions do actually hold weight and college coaches take that into their opinion when thinking of whether to buy your stock (recruit) you or not.
Along the same lines of this is social media with Facebook and Twitter. Before you put something up for the world to see, ask yourself, if my coach saw this, would this increase or decrease my value as a stock? Before putting your entire life and every personal move on twitter, be careful and think twice when it comes to language, relationships, friendships or any kind of social scene. Ask yourself, “is this tweet or status going to increase or decrease my value?” Twitter and Facebook should not be used to show that you are an emotional rollercoaster. A college coach is looking for someone who is positive, steady, and a leader. And remember, at any second, a college coach can get online, and go and check out these social media outlets.
On the field, every inning think about if your stock is decreasing or increasing in value. This is not necessarily simply performance based, but think of other things that help raise your “stock” like being a leader and helping out your younger or new teammates . Are you going to be the teammate who watches as someone sturuggles to learn the system or to learn a drill? Or are you going to be the teammate who goes over and helps them work through things, thus increasing YOUR value and your TEAMMATE’S value? If you are the “boss” of a company, you aren’t just worried about yourself, you’re worried about the employees who work for you, too.
If you are injured, because let’s face it, injuries are GOING to happen, but consider it a perfect time for you as player to start thinking about situations, pitch calling, trying to pick up grips of opposing pitchers, trying to pick up the opposing team’s signals, making sure your teammates are in the right spot on defense, helping to keep your team’s energy up. There are SO MANY things you can be doing during the games and at practice. If you are a player who is injured, and you are not doing anything to help your team on a consistent basis, your stock value is dropping. You can do nothing or use the time you are injured wisely, the choice is yours. Observe. Visualize. Go through situations mentally, so once you get into the game and get back out there, it’s like you’re picking up right from where you left off. You possibly could be a bit behind physically wise from not being able to practice, but mentally pick up right from where you left off because you still visualized yourself being out there in any situation, and your mind is still as strong as it was when you were healthy.
In Mind Gym, Casstevens talks about “can-do” planning. This is when a player makes a list of things you can do when you’re “riding the pines,” whether you are injured or just not in the start lineup. The list is made up of things you can still be doing to help contribute to your team, and I listed a few things above such as studying your opponent by trying to pick signals (defensive and offensive), trying to pick pitches by seeing if the pitcher tips any pitches, cheering your teammates on, or exercising in the weight room. Write these things down and see all the different ways you can still contribute to your team and to yourself.
One thing in the game of softball we NEVER can control is the lineup, and who is in the starting 9. One thing we ALWAYS can control is our attitude and how we accept that lineup. Everyone wants to be playing, without a doubt. Have the attitude though, that you are continuing to learn and at any moment you could be called upon to action. You can control that aspect of the game, always. Be so ready in the dugout, that if someone gets hurt who plays in front of you or you get a chance to pinch run or pinch hit, that you are ready for that opportunity. Make it be as if that opportunity doesn’t come as a surprise to you during the game, because mentally you are ready, and it’s as if you were already in the starting 9. When you get that opportunity to go into the game, you’ve got to be able to make the most of it, and take it and run with it. THOSE are things you can control. Remember you can never never, (as a parent or a player) control the lineup of a coach. Casstevens quotes the serenity prayer in Mind Gym,
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
A simple quote that many players and player’s parents can really learn from and keep in their back pocket to remember. This is a helpful motto not just in our game of softball, but in life in general.
Teach your kids life lessons….
From a perspective of being a coach, I see parents all too many times who are not necessarily helping with this idea of their players being all they can be and “increasing their value” even if they are not in the every day lineup. They actually KEEP the player from increasing their value because of what is being said in the car ride home from games or in between games, or wherever the conversation may be taking place.
Let me say, that I totally understand that some players and families are not going to be happy, and there will be players who switch teams. It happens. It’s a part of our game, and I do think it is important to be in an environment and in a situation where everyone can be happy, as it’s a two way street with the team and also the player. A player will THRIVE in a positive situation, as it’s important to find a place where your daughter can feel the most beautiful (ie. happy) when she is playing. However it’s how you handle it before the move that decreases or increases the “value” of your daughter as a player and the lessons you are teaching her with such an important change. Even if you are not happy with your situation, it should NOT be shown in the stands or on the field. There is a time and a place for everything, and if you want your daughter’s “stock” to be at the highest value for the “trade,” then it is important to handle it in an appropriate manner. Even if you KNOW you are switching teams at the end of the year, or whenever it may be, still enable your player to get better every single game and practice no matter the situation. There is always learning to be done in any situation. Switch teams when the time may come for that change, but up until that last second, encourage your daughter to continue to increase her stock.
Teach young players that it’s NOT just about the players who are in the starting 9, that there are lessons to be learned that are outside of softball and bigger than the game of softball. Kids are so observant and are always learning and picking up things. Even if you are not happy with your team and situation, it is not an out to not work hard and not continue to invest in yourself. Teach your young players that even when there is a tough situation, you work through it until the time comes for the actual change Don’t teach them that when a tough situation comes up, it’s okay for them to “check out” of practice and games by having a poor attitude towards their teammates and coaches and not working hard. Commit to being your very best, at all times, even when no one is watching. Player’s stock value is dropping or increasing due to the lessons that parents and coaches are teaching them by their actions, especially by what parents are saying to them outside of the actual field.
Important for all of us to remember as players and as coaches that:
What lessons are you allowing your players to learn along the journey? A lot of times we get caught up on the outcomes (wins and losses), but really when we look back, it’s not all about championship rings and innings played and batting averages. I don’t remember those things as much as the lessons I learned from my parents and coaches, the way that those people made me FEEL and the great mentors I met along the way who have made me the person I am today. We get caught up in the moment and forget about the longrun. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We all learn from mistakes and from failing, much more than we learn from when we don’t fail. Allow your players to fail, this allows them to learn. The failing is part of the journey. “Failing” could be striking out. “Failing” could be making an error. “Failing” could be not being in the starting lineup. Once you define a fail, more importantly, define how you are going to learn from it.
EVERYTHING is a process in life, and your goal is that that your “stock” is TRENDING upward. This means you’re going to have moments of downs, we all do. But when you look back, you hope to see that if your playing career or life was a graph, you would see the trend increasing over an amount of time.
My “company” was surrounded by mentors who helped increase my “stock” every day, and I was not faced with the social networking animals of Twitter or Facebook (until I got to college). Whether you’re injured, not an every day starter, or you’re in the starting 9, engage in can-do planning and recognize the things you CAN change vs the things you CANNOT change and see the difference. Every day, commit to increasing your value, as a player and as a person, whether it’s on or off the field. Remember that there are bigger goals ahead for you, and the actions that you have now are going to effect what happens to you later.
Went to Palm Springs for the Mary Nutter Softball Classic at the Big League Dreams Park. What an amazing weekend of watching high level softball, getting to listen in on interviews from many of the top teams’ coaches and players, and then an awesome video shoot with a camera called the Phantom that shoots at 3200 frames per second. (In comparison, this video was shot at 1000 frames per second). By the way — the views you will see in these pictures are stunning. AWESOME weather with sunny skies and beautiful backdrops! The teams that were there at the tournament included Tennessee, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Stanford, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Cal St Fullerton, UCLA, Cal, LSU, Pacific, Cal State Northridge, Oregon State, UNLV, Missouri, amongst others! To see all of the results of the many, many great match ups from this weekend, click here.
What I learned:I love this game more than anything, this weekend was definitely a reinforcement for that. But what I also learned, is that the talent at the D1 level is spread out amongst all conferences. In the past, there were just a few schools who would “take the cake” year in and year out. What’s so fun about going out to a game now, is that you really don’t know who is going to win simply by looking at the names on the uniforms.
Who I enjoyed watching: I really enjoyed being able to see Ellen Renfroe pitch in real life. She is someone who doesn’t really throw above 60mph, but her spin is amazing. She is a true pitcher. She is not going to blow the ball by you, she is going to be crafty in her locations and precise in her spots by mixing up her pitches in different quadrants. I highly recommend being able to go and watch this senior pitch in real life or on TV to see a real pitcher and not just a thrower. She is living proof that you do NOT have to throw hard to have success at the collegiate level. (If you remember, she helped pitch Tennessee to the National Championship game last year in Oklahoma City to go up against Oklahoma).
Offensively, I enjoyed watching Stanford third baseman Hanna Winter. She plays third base and she hits left handed. If you want to see someone who might be one of the quickest, most athletic players in the country, she’s your girl. I saw her make some amazing plays at 3B, and the way she runs bases and has such great bat control front the left handed side of the plate is just awesome.
Tatum Edwards, senior All American pitcher for Nebraska, throwing against senior, All American short stop, Madison Shipman, on Fenway at Big League Dreams in Cathedral City. Great drop ball and change up that Edwards has and throws about 65mph.
All American, senior pitcher, Ellen Renfroe led the way for Tennessee, So awesome to get to watch her pitch from back behind home plate. The first time I had seen her pitch live. Remember the National Championship Series last year when she went up against Oklahoma and threw an amazing game against them? Some of the best movement and spin of any pitcher in the country.
Always a packed Wrigley Field whenever UCLA takes on anybody at the Palm Springs Classic. Californians love to come out and see their Bruins play. Check out the background and getting to play in the mountains.
Senior pitcher for LSU, Ashley Czechner, going up against Oregon senior third baseman, Courtney Ceo on Fenway!
Texas A&M taking on Cal on Yankee.
Throughout Friday and Saturday, teams were stopping by to take go through different stations, taking pictures, getting video footage and also interviewing with Holly Rowe and Jessica Mendoza. I tagged along for some! They interviewed over 12 teams this weekend, and next weekend they will go out to another big tournament in Orlando, to get some of the top teams there, too. I got to hear about so many different team’s cultures and head coaches talking about individual players who make a difference on their team. There were tons of good stories from the head coaches and the players, many of them you will be able to catch on ESPN’s coverage of the regular season and post season, which will start at the end of March.
Head Coach of Texas A&M sitting down and talking to Holly Rowe about the 2014 Aggies, their experience in the SEC, approaching 1000 career wins, and previewing their televised match ups against Florida and Tennessee.
Senior pitcher for Tennessee talking to Jessica Mendoza about her senior year and last year’s WCWS National Runner Up season.
Stanford Head Coach, John Rittman, talks with Stanford alum, Jessica Mendoza. Cool moment to get to see them interact, as he used to coach her when she was a player in the PAC 10.
Saturday morning, the ESPN crew met up at the field to use an incredible camera that shoots at thousands of frames per second — 3200 frames per second to be exact. Kristyn Sandberg, who played at Georgia and currently plays for USSSA Pride, caught and hit, I pitched, and Jessica Mendoza also came to hit, too. This camera was so awesome – the detail it catches of every little thing is so amazing. They zoomed in on my release from a side angle, my drag from a side angle and then they filmed from back behind Kristen catching me to get the ball coming out of my hand, too. They also shot some catching, fielding and hitting clips all done by myself, Kristyn Sandberg and Jessica Mendoza. These will be used for different shots throughout the coverage of college softball. You most likely won’t be able to see or tell that they are me or Kristyn, because they were more about cool shots like the look of a ball coming out of a pitcher’s hand at release, the look of a pitcher’s feet dragging, the ball coming off the bat, a tag being made at 3B. WE will know that the shots were of us, but not very many people will probably be able to tell!
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.
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 down – especially 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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
As you grow up and reflect on the years of your life, you can probably count on 1 hand the people who have made a major impact on you. You are told to surround yourself by people who make you better; a search to seek out the people who pull out the very best in you. But what if one of those people actually found YOU, knowing she could be the one to get the very best out of you? And then, what if you were surrounded by that person for 4 years, 40 weeks out of the year, 6 days out of the week, 4-5 hours of every day? Do you think this person would have a major influence on you in your life? I know firsthand, the answer is yes. I know from having the opportunity to be around Jo Evans, Head Softball Coach at Texas A&M, who just recently won the 1000th game of her career.
When deciding where to play ball in college, some players look at what majors a school has to offer, some decide based on athletic and academic facilities, others may look at a previous win-loss records or national championships. I looked at Coach Evans.
I saw a coach who could make me a better player, but more importantly, I saw a coach who could make me a better person.
I still remember being 15 or 16 years old, and seeing Coach Evans in the stands recruiting me and watching me play. I get asked often if I always knew I wanted to go to Texas A&M. To be honest, I wasn’t one of those players who ALWAYS knew she wanted to go to Texas A&M. I have no family members who went there and had no real ties to the university before I made my decision. When I was that age, I had no idea where I wanted to go to school! But then…Texas A&M showed interest in me, and it was almost as if I knew instantly that I wanted to play for her from the moment I met her. Jo Evans is what pulled me in.
The decision to play at Texas A&M for Jo Evans is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. When I was there, taking the field every day in College Station, I didn’t realize the magnitude of all that she was teaching me on a daily basis. In those 4 years, I was constantly growing as a player, growing as a leader, and helping to grow a program, all by the guidance of a spunky red head, named Jo.
Coach Evans makes a “big deal” about leaving a legacy, as she asks every senior class, “What’s going to be your legacy?” She reminded our senior class, as she does with every senior class, that we are leaving a lasting mark on a program, and we got the chance to control what it was going to be. From her, we knew we would be leaving a legacy at Texas A&M, but what she did not know at the time, was that she, too, was leaving a lasting legacy on us. A first impression may stay with you for weeks, a lifetime impression stays with you for eternity; it’s one that will stays with me well after I left my cleats on the field in Oklahoma City signaling my playing career at Texas A&M had come to an end. Coach Evans makes lifetime impressions on the players who play for her at Texas A&M University.
Little did I know when I was 16 years old, making the decision to play for Coach Jo Evans, that I would be playing for a coach would achieve the 1000 wins mark. That coach, the one who chose ME to come and play for her at her school, had a monumental weekend, as she won her 1000th career Division 1 game this past Saturday. Quite a milestone, as she becomes the only active coach in the SEC to have 1000 career Division 1 wins and becomes the 8th coach in the country to achieve this.
But in my mind, Jo Evans is more than a softball coach piling up scoreboard victories under her belt.
What has helped lead to those thousand victories is the fact she is a coach who teaches more than the game of softball through the game of softball. She genuinely cares about her players, and has the ability to get them each in the right mindset to go out and compete to their highest talent level, thus the ability to compete for championships. By caring, by teaching, by directing, she is making them better women when they leave her program to go and take on the real world, once their cleats are left on home plate.
It’s a college coach’s duty to teach more than the game of softball, as those 4-5 years of a player’s life are preparing them for the rest of their lives in more ways than one. I know in my heart that many other players feel like I do about the relationship they have or had with their college coach. I speak from my heart and from my own experience as to what I was taught in those 4 years that has honestly, completely changed my life and made me into the woman I am today.
I could write an entire book about what all Coach Evans has taught me. (I laugh because this article is already going to be long enough.) Looking back, I honestly cannot tell you which of these things are the most important and rank them in any particular order, but I do know that they all continue to change my life. Jo Evans left her legacy on us, just like she told our senior class to do on the A&M program.
1) Plain and simple — She taught me the game.
I really learned the ins and outs of the game from Jo. At practice she’s teaching, in the game she is teaching, after the game she is teaching. Doesn’t matter big or small, she will see it, and she will use it as a teaching moment at many point at practice or in a game. At practice, I learned the details of defense from her. In between innings, during a game, I remember her going over pitch calling with me for different situations and letting me know what I could have done better or chose differently. I learned a little bit deeper about what the whole “make adjustments” thing meant as a hitter and as a pitcher, alike.
In post game talks, she would let us know down to certain at bats and certain pitches/counts within that at bat what went wrong, what should have gone differently, and why it changed the energy and outcome of the game or an inning. Because she taught us, we could be more aware of different situations in future games to be able to make adjustments on our own when we experienced that same situation again. She was the best at reminding us of plays of execution throughout the game, that may never go down in the scorebook or get written about in the newspaper, but they were parts of the game that you can’t be a championship team without. During and after the game, she reminded us which plays were a “big deal” for our team.
A huge part of this game is knowing your role on a team. She made me look at the game in a whole new way when it came down to actually playing the game itself, but also, she taught me every player has a “job.” She pointed out different roles that were an integral part of a team; roles that went deeper than the star pitcher and the homerun hitter. Every single player on a roster has value and has a job to do. When you are being reminded that everyone has a role and a job to do at any point in the game, it brings a team together. EVERY player has value.
The more you respect each other’s roles, the better you play together, thus leading to more wins. You keep it simple and worry about doing YOUR job, not someone else’s.
This idea of roles and doing your own job made the game much more simplified. It was important to remember what YOUR job was, and not try to do everybody else’s. You have a job. You execute it. You succeed. “What can YOU do to help OUR team win?” — love that quote.
Looking back, her teaching me the knowledge of the ins and outs of the game has helped me immensely in my career as a softball analyst on ESPN. We did not learn to play as robots on the field – we learned to take responsibility and ownership for every situation throughout the game. Because I wasn’t a robot, I learned quicker and the concepts I learned were able to stay with me longer. Now, I can talk about an array of situations that happen on the field defensively and offensively, taking that knowledge I learned playing under her to relaying knowledge to the viewer on TV listening and watching the game. I know the game from Jo.
2. Respecting the game
Coach Evans takes more of an “old school” approach. She loves textbook softball when it comes down to execution and more importantly, upholding a certain standard to which the game should be played and respected on the field.
Our game has history and our game has value, and she is a coach that doesn’t just ask for her players to respect that history, she demands it. Respecting the game is one of the few things Coach Evans demanded of us, as she is really not a demanding coach. For the few things that she “demanded,” we knew that they were of extra importance, because her demanding anything from us, were things we knew WE could control.
Along with respecting the game, comes respecting the players who played in front of you. Not just at YOUR school, but the players who paved the way to get our sport to where it is today. This is a respect of what they sacrificed, and what they have accomplished ahead of you. Our sport is growing, and our sport is beautiful. This didn’t happen over night. It was made this way from those who laid the foundation before us to make this sport as we know it today. And for that, every time you take the field, you are playing for something that’s bigger than yourself.
What else does respecting the game mean? It means you play hard. It means you leave it all out on the field. It means that when you step out onto the field, nothing else matters – not school, not relationships, not any personal problems. It means keeping a good attitude. It means by knowing that if you stick with the process, the game will reward you. If you are player or former player, you know exactly what I mean.
I had never really thought about the game in this way until I had played for Coach Evans. Yes, I loved to play hard, but I did it a little selfishly, not understanding the real importance of respecting the game. However, she taught me to play hard, for something bigger than myself. Because she loves and respects the game of softball, it’s something that she has pulled out from inside of me to the forefront. Not that it wasn’t always there, because it was, but she showed it to me in a way I had never thought about the game before. If you know me, you know I love EVERYTHING about this game. Coach Evans brought that out of me.
3. Respect Your Opponent
With respecting the game comes respecting your opponent. Jo kept us humble with wearing that Texas A&M across our chest. Yes, we played at a school who week in and week out, usually found ourselves ranked in the Top 25; but she taught us the game doesn’t know who is supposed to win when you step on the field. She taught us that no matter who we were going up against, they deserved our upmost respect, because anybody can beat anybody on any given day. The more I’m around this game, the more I see this, and it’s actually one of the things that still gives me the most excitement about spots in general. As sports fans, we live for the underdog to get the big win. It happens, and it gives everyone out there a little bit of extra hope, as we all feel like an underdog at some point in our lives.
She taught us that even though we respected our opponent, no matter who they may be, a win and a loss 90% of the time comes down to a team playing THEIR game and not worrying about what the other team was doing. She taught us to give so much more attention to ourselves than to the other team, and control the things that WE could control. This is something that as we were playing, made the game seem a little bit more simple. Wow, what a thought – I don’t have to worry too much about the other team, because if we play OUR game, the way WE are supposed to play, then we will put ourselves in a position to win.
Coach taught us a part of respecting your opponent is winning and losing graciously. Any kind of attitude towards another team or disrespect of the game was not allowed. To be honest, we never even really came across anything like this during a game, because we were so engrained to respect our opponent, that it never was really an issue. Respecting your opponent means playing with class and playing within yourself. Jo reminded us of this.
4. Ownership Of OUR Team/ OUR Actions
At the very beginning of the season, Coach Evans will remind a team, “This is YOUR team.” The players are supposed to run the team, with the help of the coaches – it’s not the other way around. This gave us accountability for all of our actions. We monitored and patrolled each other for everything – whether it was about tucking in our shirts at practice, making in game at-bat adjustments or making the right social decision outside of the field. It’s kind of like when your parents buy you a car versus when you buy a car yourself. When you buy the car yourself, then the responsibility and accountability seems to go WAY up. It’s YOUR investment and it’s YOUR car. Every decision you make from that point on has more weight on it.
With ownership of your own team, came ownership of our own pitch calling. As a pitcher, I loved being able to call my own game. It made me LEARN. It made me a better player, and it made me a better coach after college was done. I loved challenging myself and having to think constantly throughout the game. In a way, it gave me independence and confidence in my own decision making. Think about it – I threw 100+ pitches in a completely game, which meant I was making 100+ decisions every time I was in the circle. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a direct bi-product of pitchers/catchers calling their own game, and I’ve never really thought about it this way before, but I think it’s pretty awesome, and it gave me accountability and confidence with my own decision making.
When the players take ownership of THEIR team, it’s astounding how much more accountability and investment it creates. You no longer want to just worry about yourself and YOUR actions, you worry about the TEAM more than you worry about yourself. The team comes first. Because of this, the team starts thinking big picture, monitors each other, and really, the team should pretty much be able to run itself. I can still hear her saying in our team meetings, “This is YOUR team,” and it was true. When we ran OUR team, it gave us more ownership of every win and every loss.
Jo Evans loves to compete. She HATES to lose. “Compete” was a word that we heard daily at practices and in games. The idea of not competing is just like not respecting the game. It’s a long season of over 50 games and Coach expected us to compete for all of them. She wanted us to go out and compete to represent the name on the front of our jerseys.
We had a duty to wear that jersey proudly with Texas A&M represented on the front, and we knew we were representing the 12th man and our incredible university. By not competing, we weren’t just letting our team down, we were letting the 12th man down.
Part of competing is that never give up mentality. To compete and to fight go hand in hand. Not every game is going to be an easy win. There are going to be times you fall behind and need to come back. When you have a coach with the experience and drive that Coach Evans has, she teaches to her team that there is always a chance to win if there are outs left in a game. If she thought that and believed it, then why wouldn’t we, as players, believe it, too?
I remember being a freshman and losing games for the first time early in the season. Some of the losses, we were just beat. Other losses we beat ourselves. But, a loss was a loss. A loss was to be taken seriously with no laughing and cutting up after the game. Our freshman class learned this very fast from our seniors (remember, we patrolled each other). A loss in college was taken much differently than in high school or tournament ball. I learned to hate the way it felt after a loss. As a team, we hated disappointing ourselves, but more than that, we hated disappointing Coach Evans. We hated the way losing made us feel, and we didn’t want to have to feel that feeling very often. We learned from our losses, and were able to move on, but losing was never fun.
Because she was so competitive, our team was competitive. Because she had fight, our team had fight.
Individually, we were expected to compete, and as a team we were expected to fight until the very end. It wasn’t a demand, it was an expectation. It is because of her I am more competitive and have more fight in me than when I entered her program. If you want to win, you’ve got to learn to compete and learn how to fight until the very end, because you never know when the game can change if there are any outs left…
I sincerely believe that Coach Evans taught me the true meaning of what it is to be loyal. She constantly talked to us about loyalty throughout my 4 years. Loyalty means allegiance and trust. When you build a loyal team, you build a team that is going to trust each other and play better together on the field. She encouraged us to be loyal to the program and to our teammates. If we were supposed to take ownership of OUR team, then a big part of that is feeling loyalty from and towards our teammates.
It feels good as a player to be surrounded by loyal teammates. It’s a long season. Not everything is going to go your way. There are going to be team talks, team meetings, and adversity. There are going to be things that are said in a team meeting that need to stay within a team. A loyal team keeps those issues within the team. It is so important to be a loyal teammate. Loyalty establishes faith and belief, and helps with team cohesiveness. Loyalty forms a team who plays for each other8
A team has to feel united at the end of the season to win games and win championships.
When you are a loyal teammate for 4 years, it becomes a habit in your every day life outside of softball. Because Coach Evans taught me the true meaning of loyalty, I bring that quality into my relationships with my friends and family. I hope that they call me a loyal friend – that might be one of the biggest compliments someone can give me. So much of being a good teammate and a good friend comes down to being loyal and trustworthy. If you have teammates who represent those things, then your team chemistry is going to help you get more W’s than otherwise, as Coach Evans taught us throughout the years.
As I saw in Coach Evans, motivation stems from passion. Coach Evans has the ability to speak in a room and motivate everyone who is listening – from the trainers to the managers to the players. Even now, in the rare cases where I get a chance to hear her speak to the team in a pre game/post game talk, it’s moving. It makes me want to go play. It doesn’t just make me want to go play, it makes me want to be great.
She can move you and change your mindset with the passion in her each of her words. Even when it can seem like there is nothing positive to build on after a bad game, she can find it. She can turn a room of emotions from defeat to compete within a few minutes of listening to her speak. She is an extraordinary speaker, because she speaks right from her heart. You can tell it comes from deep within a place built by experience and a place of confidence. It’s hard to NOT be motivated before a game when Jo Evans is your heard coach. It’s that motivation that gets her players ready to play before any given game.
8. She “Gets” Her Players
Coach Evans genuinely cares about her players on and off the build. She takes the time to get to know each player, and figure out a way to coach and communicate with them. Because of the way she forms relationships with her players, a sense of family is built within the program, firmly assembled on the foundation of respect. She can tell her players the hard thing. She is a coach who will always be honest with her players. It might not be always what you want to hear, but she can say the hard thing. She KNOWS her players. She even knows qualities about her players that the player might not have figured out about herself, yet. Sometimes, it takes a few years to understand and appreciate some of the things she brings to your attention in those meetings. It’s hard to hear the truth, and it can be hard to learn about yourself and understand how you are being perceived from the outside. This was “grown up stuff” we were learning to deal with throughout our tenure at A&M. However, in the end, no matter what, Coach Evans told us that she had our backs – each and every one of us – and she meant it. Because we knew she had our back, we had hers.
Coach Evans exuded these noteworthy qualities on a daily basis. We wanted to play and fight for her and for our school. She exemplified what it looked like to model all of the qualities that she was teaching us through her own actions. Because we saw it every day, eventually it just became a part of us. You want it to become a part of you. In some of our most impressionable years, ages 18-22, we were around a woman who was constantly teaching us how to be a good teammate, but an even better person.
For me, playing for Jo Evans at Texas A&M is like the gift that keeps on giving. The life lessons I have learned from her through the game of softball are amazing. I learned a way to play and understand the game, but more importantly I learned ways to improve myself that I could carry on into the real world. When you dig deep to understand why she is a coach who now has 1000 wins, it’s not too hard to figure out how win after win has accumulated over the years. You can tell she has passion, she surrounds herself with a trustworthy coaching staff who exemplify the same qualities that she is trying to teach and she has the ability to reach the players who are in her program to a deeper level. It’s the coaches who have surrounded her and who currently surround her, who cannot be forgotten about as well. Without the help of an incredible support staff, not as many games and championships can be won, trying to steer a program in the right direction.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter how much softball you know and how much strategy of the game you know, if you can’t get your players to play for you, play for each other and play for themselves, then that knowledge is meaningless. I look back to 12 years ago, and I am incredibly thankful she picked ME, Jo Evans picked ME, to play for her at Texas A&M. I cant imagine having played for anybody else, and I would not be the woman I am today without her.
A BIG congratulations to Coach Evans! Her 1000 wins mile marker is a “big deal!!”
Often, I will use the phrase, “Be your own pitching coach.” You might not know exactly what that means or you might say, “But I have a pitching coach already…” and I would say that’s fine. BUT when it comes right down to it, and you’re in the middle of the circle with bases loaded and a full count on the hitter, that pitching coach can’t make the pitch happen FOR you. To “be your own pitching coach” means to learn to think for yourself, learn to FEEL for yourself and learn to make corrections on your own.
This just can’t magically happen in games, it has to be practiced at practice!
If you’ve taken lessons with me before, or come to one of my clinics, then you know one of my favorite things to ask is, “How did that FEEL?” I want a pitcher to slow her mind down, and actually have to take time to understand what her body just went through to create a certain pitch. In order to do that, you must take more time in between pitches to start to understand FEELING and let your brain figure out what exactly it did feel. Feel is such a big part of pitching.
To feel means to understand what every body part is doing from fingers, down to hips down to knees and toes.
It means that someone can tell you an adjustment to make and simply by words alone, it can create a feel to that body part of what that body part needs to do differently the next pitch in order to make an adjustment. This is THE biggest thing to have as a pitcher.If you aren’t feeling, then you aren’t pitching. A pitching coach who is just going to tell the pitcher everything to do after every single pitch isn’t helping to create that feel. That’s making a pitcher a robot. Robots don’t feel, they change on command. A pitching coach who tells his/her pitcher every single movement to make is not enabling that pitcher to think for herself
Being your own pitching coach is essentially like being your own boss.
How would you like it if your boss came into your office and said, “Do this…do that…no do is this way…no that’s not right…” Eventually, you would either get burnt out, or you would stop thinking for yourself. Then, when it came time for you to change jobs or “perform” on a big stage, you might freeze, and not be sure of yourself because previously, someone had told you every single move to make. Instead, I think it would feel more empowering to ask YOU, “What do you think about doing it this way?” or “How do YOU think we should do it?” Then you can answer, and think for yourself, and come up with an answer TOGETHER. It’s teaching someone and not just TELLING them. Teaching takes a little bit more time. Just telling someone something is a quick way to get it over with, but it doesn’t help out the other person as much. It’s the same way when a pitcher is learning not JUST what a pitching coach thinks, but also learning to form an opinion of her own about what she thinks works for HER. By talking about what you feel with your pitching mechanics and having to actually talk about out loud about them, you learn to have more confidence and truly understand what your body does in order to make a pitch happen. You’re learning. You’re making mistakes. You’re growing. Most importantly, you are learning to take responsibility for YOUR pitching craft. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it is SO good for you, and you will eventually get more and more used to it.
Be your own pitching coach means thinking for yourself and being able to come up with an answer on your own without someone telling you what to do. Come game time, your pitching coach may not be at warm ups with you and he/she definitely won’t be out on the field with you. So how are you going to handle your own thoughts? How are you going to make your own adjustments and even REALIZE that it’s time to have adjustments? THIS is what pitching is all about. You can’t look to your parents for answers you can’t always look to your coach for answers. A lot of times, you have to look deep inside yourself. Don’t be a robot out there in the pitching circle. Be you. Trust your thoughts in the game by learning to trust them in practice.
Look to yourself for the answers first.
Try new things. Be inventive. Something may work for you that a pitching coach didn’t TELL you to do, but if it WORKS (if it REALLY works), then you should be able to do it. I loved when I gave lessons and one of my girls would come up to me and say, “At practice, I was playing around with my curve ball, and I realized that when I throw it, if I put my hand HERE then it doesn’t work, but I slightly moved it back a little, and then it helped with the movement of it.” <— THIS IS AWESOME…AMAZING…INCREDIBLE. If you can do this, if you are willing to even try new things on your own, you are going to grow and grow and grow. Nothing will stop you. This means that you are truly feeling what you are doing and are taking the time to understand pitching mechanics, think for yourself and isolating different body parts to make small changes along the way that will pay off to be big changes down the road.
At your next practice, think on YOUR OWN and be your own pitching coach. Think about what you FEEL is going wrong with a certain pitch or your mechanics. Slow your mind down to think about what your adjustment is. This pays off down the road. We should be free thinkers, able to express ourselves and come up with our own solution. It’s good to ask people for help, but it’s not good to ask people for answers ALL the time. Figure out some things on your own, it will stay with you longer and make you feel like later on when you need an answer or a quick fix, that the answer is already inside of you….just have to think about it a little to pull it out!
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:
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.
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.
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!
My recent vacation was a reminder to myself we all need a break and to take a step back sometimes. We easily get caught up in the go-go-go of every day life, working hard and pushing ourselves to our max. In America, the never-stop mentality is embedded in our culture and we get lost in the shuffle that surrounds us. I preach as much as anyone that hard work is my own personal manifesto, and I will never stop believing that hard work is the key that unlocks door to your dreams. However, sometimes our bodies and minds need a break, and it’s important we listen to their request.
Especially in the sport of softball, many play it year round, taking breaks only for the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pitchers throw thousands of pitchers, players take thousands of swings and get caught up in the current to become the best. Always remember, becoming the best means you know not only TO take a break, but WHEN to take a break. It’s all about finding a balance, and what balances one doesn’t necessarily balance another.
Take time off. Give the mind and body a break from the grind of continually wanting to get better at softball. Most who play ball are perfectionists, and softball is a sport of failure that takes a toll on the mind. It’s in those times we need to take a step back, remember to breathe and remember that sports should always feel fun and bring joy to our lives. Our lives are too short to feel anything but.
Allow time away from something so that when you come back to it, you fully appreciate its beauty in all its splendor.