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.
From one softball player to another, I wanted to give you a few things to do and know that can help you become the best softball player you can be. Here are 10 things to know as a softball player (no matter your age or level).
1.Take Care of Your Glove.
Your glove should not look like a pancake. Pay attention to how you care for your glove. Keep a ball in it. When you set it down on the ground, set it down with the palm down. It should not look flat. This doesn’t change no matter how old you are or the level you play at. The way you take care of your glove is representative of how much you take pride in small details of this game. Small details of this game are VITAL for success.
2. Train explosiveness.
Think about it – our game is nothing but quick, explosive movements. Running to first base as quick as you can. One explosive pitch. 10 steps to run down a fly ball as an outfielder. One step to snag a line drive as an infielder. It does no good to run 4 miles. It’s better to do agilities or sprints. It’s better to do movements that are explosive – squat jumps, box jumps, broad jumps, etc. Those types of movements will help create the habit over time to be more explosive in every softball movement you do. Running long distance is great if you are trying to shed a few pounds, but that is not how our sport is played. Our sport is quick and fast. And that’s how you should train.
3. Listen to your parents, they can help you.
A lot of times your parents have the answers to help you make corrections. I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s true. Listen to them. Respect them. Build a relationship with them by communicating with how you would like to be given corrections, how often you would like to hear them or if YOU are going to be the one to go up to them and ask for their help. If they’ve been to lessons, practice and games with you, more times than not they have information that can help you, so develop a plan WITH your parents in how that information will be relayed and shared. They need to be able to listen to you, too, as you coach them on how to coach you where you can HEAR what they are telling you.
4. It’s cool to work hard.
You will come across teammates who don’t want to work hard for one reason or another. They will come up with excuses to get out of practice with the team, practice on their own, and games. No matter what anyone else is doing, know it’s super awesome to work your hardest at anything you are doing. Limit excuses and go out and play.
5. You are not defined as a person based on how “good” you are at softball.
Remember there is more to life than softball. 20 years after you are done playing, your friends will not remember how many strikeouts you had or how many homeruns you hit. They will remember if you were a good teammate, a good friend, and if you set a good example for younger players. Those things are more important than being labeled a “good” softball player. The awards you win or do not win as a softball player is NOT a direct reflection of the type of friend, daughter, sister or person you are. When your softball career is over, you don’t’ want someone saying, “Yeah she was a really good short stop, but I would not trust her as far as I could throw her.” Be loyal. Be trustworthy. Don’t gossip. Stay humble. Be appreciative.
6. Being a pitcher is not about striking everyone out.
Even if you are NOT a pitcher, this is an important one. Defenders – your pitchers are not going to strike everyone out. Get used to it. Make plays behind her. Pitchers – get it in your head that you are not going to strike everyone out, and don’t TRY to. Usually when you TRY to strike someone out, it doesn’t quite pan out how you want it to. Know your pitching strengths and how you get outs. The defense should be aware of your strengths such as best pitch, which side of the plate you throw to and if you generally get more ground ball outs or pop ups.
7. There’s always something to do in a game.
If you are at the ball field on a team, you have a job to do whether you are in the starting 9 or on the bench waiting for your chance. Even if you are injured and are not going to play, you can still contribute. Pick pitches or signs, notice pitching tendencies, pick up your teammates who are down, chart pitches for YOUR pitcher, chart pitches of the opposing pitcher. Get creative with how you are finding a way to still help your team, because in the end, if you are on a team, you are wanting to WIN even if you are not the one starting at your position.
8. It’s good to play multiple sports.
Playing multiple sports makes you a more diverse athlete. Every sport is going to work different muscles and different athletic skills, so the more sports you play, the better athlete you become. Don’t live your life in fear of getting hurt – that can happen anywhere. Be ATHLETIC. It’s one of the biggest things coaches look for when you get older, and you can develop a more diverse athletic skills profile by tackling different sports.
9. With every rep you take, you are either getting a little better or getting a little worse.
If you are going to practice, make that time worth it. The most valuable thing we have is time. So if you are using your time to take reps, take those reps and get BETTER. If you are not paying attention to your reps and just going through the motions, you might even be getting a little worse. Every time you go out to practice, remember that day you are either getting a little better or a little worse.
10. You will not be perfect – accept it.
You chose to play softball. Understand that this choice comes along with the fact you will NOT be perfect. Find a way to balance trying to be perfect with the acceptance that it is not going to happen. The longer you hang on to being up set that you were not perfect in a game, at practice or for a certain rep, the longer it takes to recover and get better/grow. Learn from your mistakes more than you hang on to them. It’s ok not to be perfect. Every person you play with, against, or who you have watched played before and may even look up to, has not been perfect at this sport. You are not alone. Trying to be perfect and the inability to work through NOT being perfect is one of the biggest limiting factors your game can come up against.
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but everybody is not always a winner. We live in a society where everyone is scared to tell a kid that they lost and in a society where everybody gets a trophy or a ribbon, proclaiming they won. This just isn’t real life. How does this prepare a young player for the real world once sports are done?
Now, if you know me, you know that I am 100% always about making girls feel great about themselves and helping them become the best people they can be, not just the best players they can be. But here is what I know: There is always a winner, and there is always a loser. If there is not a winner or a loser, then there really isn’t a competition happening. If we are teaching kids that everyone is a winner, then we aren’t teaching them real life; we aren’t preparing them for what’s ahead. Knowing that there is a winner and a loser is what drives competitiveness. That competitiveness is going to be needed and used long after softball is over.
The more competitive players are going to be the players who show up to the ballpark every day with a desire to WIN. That idea of winning is going to be what motivates them to practice more, so that they can help out the team more when it is game time in order to WIN. The idea of winning is always going to be what motivates them to stay focused during the game for the entire 7 innings, because they know that if they lose focus, there could be a bad inning, which could result in losing. A will to win will also motivates them to be a leader and help their teammates become the best players they can be, thus ensuring more wins than losses.
Doesn’t this sound like the recipe for success in life? — Hard work. Focus. Leadership. Teamwork.
Hmm…those things sound familiar. Oh right! They’re the major keys to having success in life and success in a career. But, if everyone wins, then players will not feel that sense of urgency to have a work ethic and drive unlike any other. There has to be something at stake. And every time you enter a game, winning is at stake. Learn to win. Learn to lose. Hate losing more than you like winning.
Take an in-game example. Other than just on the scoreboard, throughout the game there is a winner and a loser with every at bat that happens. A pitcher either wins the battle or a hitter wins the battle. Think of that tense situation with the bases loaded, 2 outs, tie ball game. I want the pitcher in the circle or hitter up to bat on my team who KNOWS there is a winner and a loser. She doesn’t get scared of it. She just accepts it. BUT, she wants to win so bad that the will to win overcomes the fear of losing. Sometimes this player with the will to win and uber competitive drive isn’t even the most talented player on the team, and that’s totally okay. When it comes down to it, I want the competitive player over the talent.
Be so good they can’t ignore you.
If we aren’t coaching to win (to truly be the ONE winner), then we are not teaching to compete. You must lose to truly be able to appreciate winning. The way we learn is to fail. Losing is considered failing. If everyone is always a winner, then we never truly learn to fail and won’t push ourselves as hard to become better, learn more, work harder and become more dedicated. Losing is not a BAD thing. This is not a problem of erectile dysfunction. We’ve all been losers at some point. BUT, I would be likely to say that the loss fueled your desire to win even higher. It’s human nature. Nobody WANTS to lose. Everybody WANTS to win. It’s not always about your record, but it IS about teaching how to lose and teaching how to win. You can still be teaching these things and have a winning record. I totally get that it’s not all about your record or all about the scoreboard. However, the lessons to be taught by having a conversation about winning and losing, and teaching kids the meaning of winning and losing, has a lot to be said.
Hate the feeling of losing more than you love the feeling of winning.
Competitiveness is going to be what drives players and drives a team. A team understanding that there is always a winner and always a loser is one of the most important, fundamental concepts to learn about sports at a young age; let’s not ignore it. It’s there. It’s real. Teach it at a young age so it’s not a surprise once they become older, when the wins and losses and at bats have more meaning behind them. By teaching winning, you’re teaching fight, leadership, focus, hard work and team work. Sounds like a winning combination to me.
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The offseason for a college softball player is the fall semester August – December. When a freshman sets foot on campus, her life is about to greatly change when it comes to time management, responsibility and number of hours you are working out/playing softball. The different things you have to time manage for in the fall are:
Study hall hours
Hours you go to class
Hours you are studying on your own outside of study hall
Recruits coming in
Every university is different. I’ll give you a little insight as to what my schedule was like when I played at Texas A&M.
Coming into the fall season, right when school begins, most schools have a conditioning test to make sure that the players were doing work over the summertime. It’s usually a pretty big deal, as it’s the first glimpse at the team to see who put in time and effort over the summer to become better. I feel like during the conditioning test you learn a lot about your team; you even learn who are going to be the leaders. Not only did we have a conditioning test (ours was called the Gasser test), but we also had to get tested on our bench press max, vertical max, agility time, squat and deadliest. For the freshman, the first time you get all these numbers, it is used as a baseline. For the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, this number is used to monitor and compare to make sure you’re getting stronger, and once again, to make sure you worked out over the summer. For those sophs-seniors, if they did not come back in shape and pass all their tests, then they had to go to what we call Club Del Ray (our strength and conditioning coach’s name was Ray). CDR are extra workouts during the week first thing in the morning in the fall to get you BACK into shape…preparing you for season coming up in the spring.
As a freshman we were required 8 hours of study hall a week. This study hall takes place usually at night between the hours of 6-10. Those were the most popular hours athletes were getting in their study hall time. Athletes of all sports – football, basketball, volleyball, etc. You go, check in, get work done, check out and leave. The way you get out of study hall hours, is to keep a high enough GPA. At your freshman year, if your GPA is high enough, you will no longer be required to go to study hall on an hourly weekly basis. If your GPA drops at any time during your 4-5 years playing softball, then you’ll be required to go back.
As a freshman, we were required to live on campus. When I was there, we had to live with someone from a different sport; I lived with a golfer. Now, the girls at A&M generally live with another softball player their freshman year, and they still live on campus.
A typical “full time” course load is 12 hours. As a general rule, 3 hours = 1 class. So in any given semester, you’re taking at least 4 classes. Some players will take 15 hours (5 classes) depending upon how heavy the classes are and knowing how much required work will go into them.
Softball practice is a little different in the fall. During the fall, you will have about a month (the coach can decide when this takes place) of team practice. This means that the team will practice every week day from certain hours, say 3-6, and everyone gets to be out there together. Other than that month of team practice, you are doing what is called Individuals. Individuals are much more limited, as every player is allowed only 4 hours with the coaching staff per week. This is tough, especially for pitchers who hit, because you have to split up 3 things during that 4 hour week: hitting time with coaches, pitching time with coaches and defensive time. Now remember, the team practice time and individual time are limited based on the coach requiring you to be there. Outside of that required time, you can, and are encouraged, to get more work on your own.
Typical day of individuals:
6:30-7:00 – Wake up, eat breakfast
8:00-12:00 – Going to 2-3 different classes on campus, eat a snack before lift
12:30 – Weight room lift
5:00-6:00 Hit/Pitch on your own
Go home, regroup
6:00-8:00 Study hall
Home for dinner, then sleep
OR maybe it looks like this…
Typical day with Team Practice:
6:00 Team lift/Run
Eat lunch, go home, relax, maybe study a little more, run any errands
3:00-6:00 (0r 7:00) – Team Practice
Go straight from team practice to study hall
7:00-9:00 Team Practice
So that is just a basic schedule for a freshman, and everyone’s will vary based on class times during the day. The weekends in the fall are generally reserved for recruits to be coming into town (you hang out with the recruits as a team) and also reserved for football games! In that 1 month I told you about in the fall where you have team practice, you will also played around 10 games. Could be a little less or more. These games could be against anybody – Blinn Junior College or Texas State University. They will vary. They generally will be games with teams that are from close by to limit travel since and also teams that are not in your conference.
What’s your biggest worry about playing softball in college? What do you get most excited about when it comes to playing softball in college? Do you have any questions for me? — go ahead, ask below!
You’re inside the circle, both feet are on the rubber, it’s a 3-2 count with bases loaded, tie ball game and the clean up hitter is up to bat. What’s going on in your head? Do you hear the opposing team in the dugout? Do you hear your own thoughts more than the loud voices in the stands? Is your mind clear? The more important question that helps you feel good about answer these questions is, how did you prepare for this moment? You’ve got to slow the game down….
PREPARATION GIVES MORE CONFIDENCE
To me, it all comes down to preparation for the big moments. Preparation breeds confidence. The more prepared you are, the more confident you can feel to handle any situation that comes your way in a game. Preparation gives you tools to handle adversity or tense situations. Practice competitive, tense situations at practice during the week. By putting players under pressure at practice to perform, they are going to be more used to the feeling when it comes game time. If you have players who never practice pressure situations, then most of them are going to get tense and fail when it comes down to it. Give the loser a consequence. OR give the winner a reward. It doesn’t have to be anything major. But, they need to learn what it feels like to be put under pressure and learn both – what it feels like to succeed and what it feels like to fail. To appreciate both, you have to learn both.
In order to be successful in a tense, important situation, the one thing that has to happen, is that you have to be confident.
With confidence, you are SURE of which pitch to throw to get that clean up hitter out. With confidence, the game slows down. When the game slows down in your mind you have better chances of breathing. If you’re not breathing, there’s no way to get oxygen into your body. That oxygen is going to be another form of fuel so that your body uses so it can perform to it’s highest potential. Instead of giving focus to being nervous, give focus to remembering to breathe and slowing your breath down. When your breath slows down, the game slows down.
WHAT ABOUT CROWD NOISE?
I’ve gotten asked, “How do you drown out crowd noise?” Those players who slow the game down do not often hear crowd noise. They are so focused on the task at hand and living presently in every single moment and every single breath, that outside forces do not affect them as much. You are able to truly give focus and belief in yourself by preparingbefore game time comes. If you are not as prepared, you are going to be the player who gives outside forces more attention and focus, and be the one who hears the crowd or dugout trying to rattle you.
PRACTICE IDEA: Have a pitcher and a catcher out on the field with a better up, with the rest of the team in the dugout yelling at them for an entire at bat. This is going to help the pitcher focus, this is going to help the batter focus. PRACTICE noise. Practice working through adversity so that you are a little bit more prepared for it, or at least FEEL more prepared for it, when it comes down to a significant in-game moment.
STAY WITHIN YOURSELF
Stay in your own thoughts. Remember to have positive self talk. Don’t talk yourself out of the positive talk that should be going on in your head. Be confident and so focused that nothing else matters other than the catcher who is in front of you behind the plate. Be so focused you don’t even see the batter standing in the batter’s box – she doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what YOU do. Remember you are in control. Remember if you put the ball where you’re suppose to, and you are 100% behind the pitch with confidence before you throw it, you will have success.
SITUATIONS CREATE FEELING – (this to me is the most important to understand)
In this critical moment in a game, instead of letting thoughts run through your head about what might happen if you don’t succeed (i.e. she gets a hit off of you, you throw a ball, you a hit a batter), only let positive FEELINGS run through your mind before the pitch. Yep, FEELINGS. What do I mean by this? Everything we go through in life creates a certain feeling (a reaction) when it is happening (happy, sad, mad, nervous, etc), even sports. There is an instant feeling of excitement or happiness created after you throw a strike (if you’re a former player, you know exactly what I mean!). There is an instant feel of madness or sadness after you walk someone or give up a hit. Whether you know it or not, those feelings are being created….
Before you throw the pitch, let a situation run through your head where you see yourself having success in an event that happened in the past. (This could be the pitch you threw before that was for a strike on a corner; it could be a game winning strike out a year ago; maybe even you had been in a tough situation earlier in that game and you got out of it). When you think about that moment, your brain automatically connects with the feeling that was created in that moment to give you more positive energy and positive feel for the task you have at hand. When you see yourself having success, your body feels like it wants to create that same positive feeling again. (Warning: it can happen for the negative situations too….so when you think about not wanting to walk someone, your brain thinks about those negative feelings and doesn’t want to feel it again, which makes you way more tense). So, draw from past experience to create positive feelings in your head that you will feel throughout your entire body, so that you are entering the most important pitch in the game feeling nothing but positive energy towards what is about to happen. Have belief in yourself and confidence in your skills and preparation.
Being mentally tough in the circle is a huge thing to work on as a pitcher. The more tense situations you are put in, the more experience you get with it, and the better you will be able to handle adversity when it comes along. The best advice I can give is to be the most prepared person on the field; you gain confidence from that preparation. Also, start paying attention to your feelings and being able to draw on past experiences and what they felt like. Be in touch with your body and what you are feeling. Know how to talk about them, articulate them, and recreate those positive feelings!
What are other ways that you have found that help to be mentally tough in the circle?
I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while now. I would say I can’t imagine what you are going through, but that’s not true. I know exactly what you’re doing through. There are some things I’ve been wanting to share with you. I need you to know that what you are feeling is normal. It is tough being a pitcher, I don’t care who you are. You are gong to cry, you are going to laugh, you are going to fail, you are going to succeed. ALL of it is a part of being a pitcher – not just the good moments. The pressure you are facing on a daily basis is something that most of your friends will never go through. It is something that makes you special, and it is something that makes you remarkable.
If you haven’t already, you are going to have moments where you feel completely isolated and alone. But it’s in those moments, where I need you BELIEVING in the opposite – that you are never alone. At the same time you are feeling sadness and frustration, there is another pitcher somewhere out there feeling the exact same way as you. We have all been there.
Everything you have felt and everything that you have gone through, is totally normal, and I can tell you without hesitation that someone before you has already gone through it. We’re all in this together….
Dear pitcher, the biggest thing I need you to understand before I can tell you anything else is you were born to believe in yourself. That is where it all starts. Your journey of pitching never really starts to feel enjoyable until you have a glimpse into this inner belief. This one thing is THE key to you having success when pitching, really no matter what age you are. YOU have to believe in yourself before anyone else can. SEARCH for your belief. WORK for your belief. KNOW that your belief will come.
Easier said than done sometimes, trust me, I know….
Dear pitcher, I know some days you will want to cry – over not winning, over giving up a homerun, over not being able to make an adjustment, and maybe you’ll cry because you worked so hard, but you feel like you’ve gone no where. Your frustrations will start to build so much that tears may start to form in your eyes – fight them off and stay strong. The best place to show that emotion is in your own home, try your very, very hardest not to do it at the field – even though I know sometimes it can be hard. Other pitchers have cried before you, and sometimes it feels good just to let it out.
Dear pitcher, I can tell you that there will be days you are going to want to quit. Actually, there might be more than one of them. However angry and upset you are feeling, you are not alone. We’ve all been there. Being a pitcher is one of the hardest things you will ever try. It will test you and it will push you so much to the point where you feel like you can’t go any further with it. During those times, take a step back, take some time off if you can, and listen to where your heart is directing you after you get a few good nights sleep.It’s amazing how time is able to heal you and make the thoughts in your head more clear.
Dear pitcher, know that every single day, and I mean every day, you are getting better – even on the days you want to quit. It doesn’t matter if you just gave up the game winning homerun or if you struck out 15 in a game. There is always something to learn, and at the end of every day, you are progressing and getting better IF you are willing to learn through the “bad” days and the “good.” You will feel both every single time you go to pitch…and you are not alone.
Dear pitcher, you are never ever, ever going to be perfect. I know you want to be so badly. I know that you expect it of yourself, but no one else expects it of you. One of the hardest feelings to overcome is not feeling like you’re letting your teammates, parents and coaches down. It’s in those times where you need to remember that this is a team sport. I know that you want to be perfect, especially because you worked so hard at practice and at pitching lessons, but, perfection will never happen at any age or any level. You are not alone that you want to BE perfect, and you are not alone that you won’t ever be perfect. It’s ok to strive for perfection, it will motivate you, but don’t EXPECT to be perfect, it will destroy you.
Dear pitcher, this is a tough to hear, but there will be someone or some people who might say bad things about your skills as a pitcher. You are not alone. If you are considered the “best” pitcher, there will be someone telling you why you can’t make it. If you are not considered one of the “best” pitchers, there will be someone giving your opinion of why you’ll never make it. If YOU believe in YOU, that’s WHY you’ll make it. I want you to hear me clear when I tell you this, but their opinion does not matter. It just doesn’t. People, for some reason, just like to be negative. It’s your choice whether you listen to them or not. Every time, choose not to. Allow your belief in yourself to be greater than any outside noise you may hear. Don’t let it get to you.
Dear pitcher, your parents are always on your side. Your parents truly are your biggest supporters. You will have moments where you don’t want to hear what they have to say. You have two choices: You can either listen anyway, or you can ask for some time alone – you have every right to do so. I am not telling you or condoning doing this every time, but I totally get it. There are those moments where you just want to be alone in your own thoughts. Your parents just care so much about you and with everything that they do and say, it is FOR YOU to HELP YOU. Often times, your mom and/or dad can be your best pitching coach outside of your lessons. Allow them to help you as much as you possibly can. You are not the only pitcher in the world going through this struggle with your parents. Learn to work with them instead of against them. You are not alone.
Dear pitcher, you do not HAVE to be a pitcher. You should never feel like you HAVE to pitch, you should WANT to pitch. Being a pitcher truly is privilege, but it’s not something everyone wants to do deep down. I know there are players out there who have probably felt like it’s something their parents wanted them to do more than they actually wanted to do it. You’re not alone. Find something you full enjoy doing. Whatever it is – do it with all of your heart and have the courage to tell your parents and coaches that pitching is not for you.
Dear pitcher, trust your gut. You might not know what this means yet, and it’s ok…you soon will. Your body and mind is constantly talking to you. Can you hear it? Start paying attention to what your gut instinct is telling you. Don’t ignore that feeling in your stomach – it’s telling you something.
Dear pitcher, through all of your ups, stay humble, no matter what. Let others compliment you if it presents itself. You earned it, but you don’t need to tell others how good you are – your play will speak for itself. Also, when you have good games, remember to always credit your teammates – you are never playing the game by yourself.Don’t assume they are going to make plays for you, show gratitude towards them always. Every game tell your catcher good job and thank her for how hard she worked behind the plate.
Dear pitcher, remember this phrase – there’s no win in comparison. Every single pitcher is a different type of pitcher. It can be easy to be jealous of someone because they throw harder or have a better change up or their ball moves well. We do this in every day life about our body and our hair, but no one is YOU. Find what you do well. Know your strengths. Have pride in those strengths without comparison your strengths to someone else’s. It can be exhausting to compare yourself to someone else, so instead of easting the time doing that, spend time learning and recognizing your own strengths. Pitch to those strengths without comparing them to anyone else. Be you.
Dear pitcher, block out any negative energy towards the umpires and errors happening behind you. Remember how I told you that YOU are never going to be perfect? Well, neither are they. Your teammates may even make 5 errors in one inning behind you, but you won’t be the only pitcher who has ever gone through that. I’m telling you right now that there are going to be times that you have to actually throw 6 outs in one inning. It’s happened to every pitcher. But it should not change your attitude and your teammates who just made the error(s) should feel like you still have their back. You are not alone and you are not the first pitcher in history who has gone through a never-ending inning. Hold your head high. Don’t let it effect your game. Work through it. Be your very best, and it’s at that time when I need you to be the best teammate.
Dear pitcher, find a way to balance competing for a spot with support and compassion for the other pitchers on your team. You are all doing the same thing – working for the same team goals – never forget that. Turn any jealousy into respect and support for her when she is pitching instead of you. Wouldn’t you want her to do the same thing? She should FEEL your support. And when you get an opportunity for innings in the circle, you have to make the absolute most out of them – no excuses. You have to step up. You have to step up for your team and you have to step up for yourself. Remember, each pitcher has an important role. Take so much pride in that role and more pride in being a good teammate than unhappiness that you aren’t the one who doesn’t get the innings in the circle. When you do get those innings, you gotta rock’em. If you are a pitcher who gets lots of innings, never get complacent. there is always someone who wants your spot. Regardless of how many innings you have, every day work on being a good teammate, even if it’s towards someone who you are competing with.
Finally, I want you to be the one who asks your parent to practice. Do not have them be the one who brings it up every single time. If this is what you want to do, you have to be hungry, you have to want it. You must consistently push yourself and allow to be pushed on the days where maybe you’re slacking. There will be those days where you may feel a little bit lazy. It’s normal, you are not alone. In those days where you can’t push yourself as much, have someone there to push you.
Work as hard as you possibly can. Know that you are going to fail, but failure is not something to be scared of. Every single pitcher will fail at some point. You are not alone. Push that fear aside and have the belief in yourself be stronger than any fear that starts to creep inside you. No one said this was going to be easy. If you are a pitcher, it is something that you ARE 7 days out of every week. You work harder than anyone else on the team, you have more pressure on your shoulders than anyone else on the team, and you get celebrated more than anyone else on the team. The reason you do it? You can’t imagine your life without it.
So have fun, smile more, and when you’re not sure what to do, take a deep breath and remember that you are not alone.
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 LEARN. Failure 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.
Q1: Is there a such thing as too much pitching at 8-9yo? Don’t want to hurt her, she says she’s fine so thought I’d ask.
A1: Nah! I really don’t think so! There’s not enough force on her arm quite yet! Just make sure you’re practicing all the right mechanics and focusing on detail with all those reps! Want to create good muscle memory! Maybe check in with a sports doctor just in case!
Getting Burned Out
Q2: My daughter will be 11 years old in September. She has been taking pitching lessons for a year and a half. She is really good and continues to get better. However, She seems to be getting burned out. Any suggestions?
A2: Keep it fun for her and keep encouraging her without putting too much pressure on her to go out and practice! Clearly she is athletic if she’s really good and is just getting better and better! Make sure to give her breaks, and make HER come to you about practicing and playing. If she is 10 and getting burned out already, that’s an early age for that to happen! Sometimes a player can be really athletic and talented, but they don’t always have the heart and passion to continue; it’s not THAT uncommon for that to happen! Remember that as she gets older, it’s only going to get more time consuming and the older you get, the more you have to sacrifice for lessons, games and practice! She is still young and growing, so don’t make any decisions quite yet, just see where her choices and heart take her!
Longevity of Pitching Shoes
Q3: This might be a silly question…but my DD has only been pitching a year, and I’m sure we have a lot of things to learn about softball. But is there an actual training shoe or sneaker for pitchers for indoor pitching on turf. She wears her regular sneaker down on her front right toe from dragging it. Her cleats of course hold up really well to this. But around here we have to move practice indoors in the winter time so she is pitching on turf. This is really hard on sneakers….do they make something better built to handle this?
A3: There used to be pitching toes that you could put on sneakers that we were able to put the shoe laces through to keep on the toe and cover it up! I would google search “Softball Pitching Toes.” If nothing comes up and they don’t make that anymore, my mom would just buy me the cheapest sneakers at WalMart or a sporting goods stores. They would be my “Pitching Shoes.” Not worth spending $100+ on a pair of shoes that will just get ruined. They weren’t the PRETTIEST shoes around, and when I was younger I didn’t always like wearing them, but totally understood that you’re going to go through sneakers FAST from dragging! Also – another suggestion you can put lots of duct tape over the toe of the shoe to help it hold up a little bit longer!
Tendency to Pitch Too Inside
Q4: Hi I have a 15yr old daughter that pitches a lot of inside pitches she been pitching for about a year and half, can you help?
A4: For any pitcher, usually pitches that consistently miss too far inside is a true sign that your hips are getting in the way at your release. It’s so important at your release point that your hips are more “open” so that your hand and arm can get through the bottom of your pitch. When your hips get in the way and are “closing” too soon, then your arm hits your hip and causes the pitches to go low and inside. Your arm just can’t get through. So you can either a) speed up your arm speed or b) try to stay open longer to let your arm clear through. I would also encourage to have your catcher set up way outside to give her a different target and something to look for. Last thing, sometimes inside pitches are caused by falling off to the side before you release your pitch. Stay balance longer. For example: If you are right handed, don’t fall to the right BEFORE you release the pitch. Try to stay balance and on the “power line” for as long as you can through your release and stay balance at the end!
Rise Ball Spin for Fastball
Q5: We have watched you over the years and my daughter looks to women like you to compare herself. My daughter is soon to be 16 and she throws rise with the backward spin which in some places really blows others minds and batters get so frustrated. My question is can this spin be thrown as a fastball all the time? Or is it too hard on the body? She throws it all the time and starts it at the knees and if it breaks it breaks and if it don’t it usually gets a an infield pop-up or a little dink behind first, that second can get or right plays in. Just wondering if this is okay?
A5: It’s always good to have good spin and a little bit of movement on your fastball. Really the NAME of a pitch is not as important as the ability to be able to get outs and throw it for a strike and throw it with command. If you have correct foundation of mechanics, I don’t see it being too hard on the arm. I honestly have never come across someone who has spun a “fastball” like that consistently, so I can’t tell you from experience if it will or will not hurt someone’s arm to repeat that motion thousands and thousands of time. The best thing you can do is to just monitor how it is making her arm feel and since she is 16, I would start icing her elbow and/or shoulder after games. Take good care of that arm, it is so very important for longevity in the sport.
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!!”
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.
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.
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.
An umpire’s strike zone should NEVER be used as an excuse of not performing well.
Can you control the umpire’s zone? No. What can you control? Keeping your emotions in check to be able to adjust to his/her zone. What are you going to choose to do about it DURING the game? An umpire should establish his/her zone within the first two innings. All you can ask of that umpire is to be consistent with what he is calling, and as a player it’s your job to pay attention to the zone that is set. You can actually use an umpire’s strike zone to your advantage if you look at it as an opportunity instead of disadvantage…
All you can ask is for an umpire to be CONSISTENT with his zone and whatever he is calling
As a Pitcher…
There is a lot a pitcher has to think about during a game. Pitch calling, setting up hitters, what a hitter saw her last at bat, what a hitter hit her last at bat, situational pitching, etc. To add to that list, it’s important for a pitcher to understand the zone behind the plate. You recognize it, understand it, and work with it. You are seeing with your own two eyes what IS and what is NOT being called. Is the umpire’s zone wide? (calling a lot OFF the corners of the plate or up/down in the zone). Is the umpire’s zone small? (squeezing you, not calling a lot of pitches you think are strikes). Recognize it. Don’t be fearful of it. Rise to the challenge – this is a great time to prove yourself. This is your time to bring out the competitive mentality that sports is all about.
You are definitely going to come across umpires out there who will have a smaller zone. Realize on the day you throw to these umpires, you will probably get hit a little bit more than you’re used to. Honestly, this is a tough challenge for a pitcher, especially one who is inexperienced with this type of situation. Consider it an opportunity to get better, not a disadvantage. An umpire with a smaller strike zone is making you tougher mentally and physically. Can you handle it? Look at it positively rather than negatively. An umpire with a smaller zone is challenging you to get more accurate and precise than you ever thought you would need to be. When you have a small strike zone, work on the plate to try to establish the strike zone early in the at bat, then as the count goes on and you get ahead, work more off the plate.
Work inches. Have you heard this term before? “Working inches” as a pitcher means to not make MAJOR adjustments at first with your location to try to find the strike zone. Work on bringing your pitches a little bit higher in the zone (if the umpire is not calling a low zone) or a little bitmore on the plate (if an umpire is not giving you much off the corners). See how far you can still live on the corners and get the umpire to call it a strike. If an umpire is not calling a certain placement of a pitch a strike, STOP THROWING IT THERE! It’s not rocket science! Don’t go from throwing a pitch a little bit off the plate to throwing it right down the middle when you are trying to adjust to the strike zone. WORK INCHES to find the zone. Try to find the pinpoint spot that makes an umpire happy. Remember, he’s not going anywhere. It’s your job to adjust to him, not his job to adjust to you.
It’s important with a smaller strike zone to challenge the hitter. Still make them earn their way on (i.e. put the ball in play, get a hit). Try to limit your walks, as when you have an umpire with a small zone, walks usually increase. Challenging the hitter means on a 3-0 or 3-1 count, you come more on the plate, even if it means throwing it closer to the middle of the plate, so that you do not walk the hitter. Challenge them to hit a strike. When you are challenging a hitter, think in your head how a hitter is meant to fail (remember a good batting average is around .300-.400, which means 6/10 or 7/10 times a hitter does NOT get a hit).
What is even more important, is not to get frustrated and show it with your outward appearance – your body language, facial expressions and overall presence. First and for most you are a leader on your team, and your team feeds off of your energy. If you show them that you are frustrated with the strike zone, they are going to get frustrated with you and play tight back behind you and up at the plate. If you show them that everything is under control, they will play more relaxed (aka stronger) defense back behind you — you will need it as hitters usually put more balls into play when there is a smaller strike zone because you have to come more on the plate to the hitter. Not only do your teammates feed off of the energy you are giving off, either positively or negatively, in response to the umpire, the opposing team recognizes your body language, confidence and attitude towards the zone. Don’t give the opposing team any ammunition to use against you as they will try to push you further down than you already are if you are showing emotion. And finally, the umpire is looking right at you for most of the game. When he sees your attitude and body language, that’s not really going to give him a reason to have more calls go your way. In fact, it’s probably going to have the opposite effect because you are embarrassing him and pretty much calling him out when you are showing emotion for not getting your way. Don’t make balls and strikes about you.
A wide zone should be in every pitcher’s dream. A wide zone should help a pitcher dominate a game. Understand how/when the umpire is widening the zone – Is it a certain count where he/she widens it up? Is it a certain pitch? Is it a certain location (up/down, in/out?) Analyze the strike zone! Analyze the umpire! If you are given a wide zone to throw to, there is no even point of coming on the plate with your pitches, unless it’s a 3-0 or 3-0 count. Why would you? See how far you can push the limits of the zone. Don’t come with a pitch on the plate unless you absolutely have to! When you have a wide zone, you have the ability to work off the plate first, then come back onto the plate later, only if you absolutely need to.
Notice the furtherst distance you can pitch off the plate (or down) and still get it a called strike. Live there until the hitter proves they can make an adjustment to hit that pitch. Honestly, most hitters will never be able to adjust to the wide zone, and you will be able to live on a corner or live on a certain pitch. Trust me on this! (Something extra to pay attention to is if a hitter makes adjustments as to where they are standing in the box based on the strike zone at hand).
With a small zone, you work inches to come back onto the plate. With a wide zone, you work inches to move the ball off of the plate.
Use a wide zone to your strategic advantage. A hitter is going to feel like they are going to have to defend the plate when there is a wide strike zone. They are going to be more defensive than offensive. With that being said, when you have a pitchers count, 0-2, 1-2, a hitter is going to be more likely to chase. The hitter is aware of the wide strike zone, just like you are. When she is aware of it, she is going to be more likely to swing at something out of the zone, especially with 2 strikes, because she doesn’t want the umpire to strike her out with his crazy calls.
Be proactive in your approach to understanding strike zones. Practice on your own by pitching “innings” to your catcher at lessons or your own practice time. Pitch to fake hitters in a line up and keep track of the count and outs as you try to work through the innings. Be your own umpire and challenge yourself. Work on a wide zone, where you are able to give yourself a lot of calls off the plate. Work on a small zone, where the umpire is squeezing you and you have to challenge up. Both of them are important to work on so that when it comes game time, you feel like you already have experience under your belt in dealing with adversity.
Don’t ever blame the umpire for not getting results you want in a game. The only person you can blame is yourself. There is always some kind of adjusting you must be doing as the game goes along, and adjusting to an umpire is something that can make or break your game and possibly even make or break your pitching career.
How do you practice dealing with umpires? I’m interested to hear other ways you guys have either practiced this situation or how you made adjustments in the middle of the game!