My mission is to inspire softball players to DREAM bigger, WORK harder, and SMILE more often. I look to not only help to improve their physical softball skills, but also show them the importance of confidence on AND off the field. Through my website you will find information on all things softball—motivation, inspiration, blogs, quotes, videos, tips, preparation, etc. Feel free to leave questions/comments, I’ll get back to them as soon as I can!

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

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

But you ARE strong enough to overcome.

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

5 Essentials of a Change Up

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

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

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

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

2. Throw the Change Up LOW.

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

3.  Keep it UNPREDICTABLE.

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

4.  Find the perfect SPEED.

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

5. THROW it!

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

Do not give up on your Change Up!

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

 

Happiness. Is. Beautiful.

For those who don’t know, I am 27 years old and I am on a mission to make our sport even better in whatever ways I can.  What do I mean by “better”?  I mean help more girls feel great about themselves, teach them how to be happy and confident to where yes, they may be great players on the field, but off the field, they are just as confident, self reliant and self assured.

 In essence, one word comes to mind – beautiful.

Now this is a big word, I know this.  But this is the word that should come to mind when you go out and watch your daughter or the other girls on your team play.  It’s a feeling.  It’s an attitude.  It’s a way of playing the game.  It’s happiness.  It has nothing to do with stats or wins or losses.  When you are doing what you love, it’s beautiful in every way.  When young girls are playing the sport they eat and breathe, they should not look fearful, timid, unsure or scared.  When you’re playing the sport you love, your inner beauty should come out, radiating happiness.

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I played it, I’ve been through ups and downs, and failure after failure and success after success.  Every player will go through this.  The different maker will be the role models and mentors she is surrounded by.  I was around parents who supported me no matter what and coaches who did not scream at me in the middle of games or at practices.  They weren’t controlling, they were helpful.  They didn’t yell, they developed me.  They taught without an ego.  Looking back, these adult influences played a major part in making me the player I was in college and the person I am today.  They played a huge role in a mindset that I carry with me every day I wake up — believing that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Amanda Scarborough Softball Players are Beautiful

We all want to win.  And at the end of the day, I am just as competitive as anyone and want to see my own girls I coach go out and get the W.  However, to me, the W’s come after they understand that feeling of playing beautifully and playing with happiness  & joy. With any sport, it’s sometimes forgotten of WHY we play.  Egos and winning percentages aside, we play to have fun and see the girls smile on the field like the beautiful, happy athletes they should be. THIS should be the standard.  THIS should be the norm.

Happiness is the secret to all beauty. There is no beauty without happiness.

Remember, we as coaches should be in softball to help girls feel their very best about themselves.  They are learning attitudes, emotions, and feelings on the field that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives off the field.  If we can teach them to feel beautiful while playing one of the most challenging sports and hardest sports in the world, they are more likely to feel beautiful out in every day life.  Softball is a sport where you are constantly dealing with failure.  While teaching them to handle their emotions and deal with failure after a poor at bat, I know that it will carry over to dealing with any other kind of failure or adversity that comes along in real life.  The more beautiful you feel in the inside, the easier that failure is to deal with – on or off the field.

Let’s encourage players to feel awesome about themselves and have confidence.  Why would we want anything else? As coaches and parents, don’t degrade a player because they performed poorly on the field.  No player fails on purpose.  Nobody fails on purpose.  No matter what their stats are or if you won, every player out there is still absolutely beautiful.  Softball players are beautiful.  Athletes are beautiful.

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How to Get Mentally Tough in the Circle

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 preparing before 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.

I can. I will.

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?

 

Dear Pitcher, You Are Not Alone

Dear Pitcher,

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.

10 Ingredients to Succeed in Elite Softball

Lessons. Practice. Travel. Games. Recruiting. Repeat. The ingredients of elite softball are all in the air. Getting lost in emotions, information and games can be an everyday occurrence. Some days are easier than others.  It’s a grind. Always remember there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the benefits of making it through the months ahead of you are completely worth it in the end.  As a parent, remember there are other parents going through exactly what you are going through. As a player, remember there are other players going through exactly what you are going through. It helps to remember you’re not alone. It also helps to keep some things in perspective along the way to help you and your family stay sane.

Realistic Expectations: There is a home for everyone.

I feel as though this is tougher for parents than it is for players. Players usually have a realistic understanding of their talent level and they can see through lenses that are not rose colored. When you start to get into elite softball, there is a general understanding and goal that you want to play at the next level. Period. Understand from the very beginning that at the top 25-30 schools, only 3-5 players will be recruited in your year. Putting expectations of only going to those 25-30 schools can be quite a letdown if you don’t make it. Put into perspective the amount of girls vying for those positions and how the probability is most likely higher that you won’t make it to that school.  BUT, if you love the game and are invested in continuing your career, you are going to find a better fit at a school that has your name written all over it. Playing with unrealistic expectations makes you play tight, and usually leads to being let down. There is a great home for everyone.

Stay Humble.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from my dad when I was in the recruiting process was to stay humble. I was extremely lucky that many bigger schools were after me. At the time, since recruiting was happening a little later than it is now, it was quite common for schools to send in questionnaire profiles through the mail early in the recruiting process. I would sit down after dinner in front of the TV and fill out every single questionnaire that was sent to me. It didn’t matter if it was a junior college, a mid major or a top division 1 school. My dad’s thinking was that I was not too good for any school. If they were interested in me, I was going to be appreciative and never turn my nose up to anybody. You never know what could happen and you don’t want to completely shut anyone out until you know for certain where you are going. What if you think you are going to go to a big D1 school and you have a major injury? What if you go through something major that mentally takes you out of the game? You never know what can happen. Be appreciative for attention. Stay humble with coaches who are interested in you. Stay humble around your teammates. The same can go for the opponent you are playing. You’re an elite team, but the game doesn’t know that. Go into every game with consistent emotions by respecting every opponent. Respect the game. The game doesn’t know…

Don’t Compare your Experience to Your Teammate’s.

You and each of your teammates will most likely have a different experience in how you get recruited and who is watching you. It takes too much energy to compare. That energy should be put into YOUR skills, mindset and plan. Worry about yourself. If you are doing all that YOU should be doing on and off the field, then what other people are doing should not matter! Be you. Do you. Grow you. YOU are awesome. YOU have your own story.

Make friends, not enemies.

This goes for players AND parents. With every person you come in softball contact with, you never know how much you might be around them in the future. I’ve noticed enemies in the softball world usually come from jealously. At every exposure camp, combine, all star event, opening ceremonies, make a good impression! A good impression could be just that, a good impression or it could be a lasting friendship. You just never know when you are going to possibly play with these people you meet again. You may meet someone at an exposure camp and may end up being college teammates with them. In the stands, be nice and supportive. Everyone you meet is going through exactly what you are going through. Don’t judge. Be respectful and just know that the softball world is a REALLY small world, so make a good impression. People talk, coaches hear. You want what they are talking about to be nothing but positive things about you and your family. With that being said – avoid drama.

Take Breaks.

As an elite athlete, you are pushing your body to its limits on a weekly basis. You have to pay attention to your body and realize when it’s talking to you and when you need a break. Be honest. Create that relationship with your parents and coaches from a young age where you can gain their trust and you can say “I need to take today off” or “I need a break.” Breaks are GREAT. They absolutely have to happen for your mind and for your body. You live a softball-is-life mentality, but mixed in there, there has to be time with no softball. You create your own balance. Figure out what that balance is so that you can perform the best. You want to love softball, not hate softball because at the end of this ride, softball continues to still pay off in your life – promise!

Own Your Role.

I get it, you want to PLAY; you don’t want to sit the bench. On an elite team, 15/15 girls on your team are GOOD and there are only 9-10 starting positions. The talent only gets better once you go to college.  Many times, a player will learn a new position just to find a way on the field. Be flexible and be studious. There are so many examples of players getting to the next level and not playing the same position they played on their travel team and in high school. If you are not physically out on the field, it does not mean you become a spectator to the game. There is always something to learn, to watch, to do.  Try to pick pitches. Try to notice pitcher’s tendencies. See if the defense is giving away anything. Create a role and totally own it. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, you have a team to help, you have a game to win. Championship teams have roles and buy into those roles. This game is not about one person’s playing time, it is about the entire TEAM. Learn to contribute to the team and find a way to be involved in the game.  THIS is a team player. THIS is the kind of person a college coach wants to recruit. If you are on an elite team, you will be competing for championships, so find a way to contribute.

Parents – Stay out of it at the field.

Give your children responsibility for their softball career. Give them a voice. If it’s about playing time, have your daughter call a meeting with her coach to discuss what she can do better. Eventually your daughter will have to speak to a boss or another authority figure. Give her practice NOW so she can learn to communicate LATER.  Mentor her and help her with what she should say or when she should say it, but don’t say it FOR HER. Once warm ups start, parents should stay completely out of the way.  No bringing hot dogs and Gatorade to the dugout. No coming up to the dugout to remind her to keep her front shoulder in on her next at bat. The days of that are over. Elite softball is conducted in a businesslike manner. You’re there to compete; no distractions and you have a job to do.  IN the stands during the game, remember you never know who is in the stands WITH you. If you are going to cheer, yell only positive things. (I honestly feel that saying nothing positive nor negative can sometimes be your best bet. Just let them play the game.) If you are going to chat with another parent on the team, make it positive. You NEVER know who is listening. Your daughter is taken as a direct reflection of YOU.

Make good grades.

Even if you are not planning on going to some place like Harvard or Yale, your grades are so important. Your goal is to play at the next level right? Well, at the next level, if you don’t make the grades, you don’t get to play. Create good study habits and make school a priority. Because you are playing at an elite level and have big tournaments every weekend, some of which you are having to travel far, you are going to miss out on things with your friends because school + softball + family are more important. While you may be missing out on a birthday party or going to the movies, your friends are probably going to miss out on playing a sport collegiately. Rent the movie later and send her a birthday card/present to let her know you wish you could be there and you’re thinking about her. I PROMISE, getting the opportunity to play softball in college is WAY better than any movie or birthday party you miss. There is a much higher percentage of those you don’t play sports in college than those who do. Do whatever it takes to find time to study, write papers and do homework because this prioritizing is not changing any time soon once you make it to the next level.

Play on the best team where you can PLAY.

This is tricky, but I am going to give you my mentality on this. I encourage people to play on the BEST (most competitive) team they can possibly play on AND be in the starting 10-11 players on that team that get playing time. It goes no good to be on the “best” team in your area, and all you do is sit the bench. If you are only sitting the bench, you are missing out on college coaches being able to see you in action and gain the experience of competing on the field against top level teams and competing for championships. Again, I know people are going to have different opinions on this, and I am just giving you my perspective. Find a team with a solid tournament schedule. Two things I want you to remember while thinking about this: 1) The college coaches are going to be where the best teams/talent are. 2) Don’t be jealous of the best player on your team, that “best player” is most likely pulling college coaches in to watch. Don’t just think of those coaches as being there to watch that player, think of this as an opportunity to grab some attention and as a mini audition! You WANT that player on your team because she helps you win and she draws attention…especially standout pitchers.

Softball Does Not Define YOU.

Understand there is a difference between performance skills and moral skills. This, to me, is the most important thing a parent can teach a player. The way you teach it is completely up to you. Some examples of performance skills: hardworking, competitive, motivated, confident, disciplined. Some examples of moral skills: unselfish, appreciative, loyal, caring, trustworthy, caring.  There HAS to be a balance. When softball is all said and done, all you have is your character…your inner you.  This goes for players and it goes for parents. Parents, you are not defined by how your daughter is at softball or the scholarship she gets. Neither is she. She is defined by being a good teammate, a good friend, a good daughter. Start noticing the differences and explaining the differences to your daughter and your team. THIS will help make leaders out in the real world and empower them with a different skill set once they grown into WOMEN.

We are all in this softball world together – don’t lose sight of that. While everyone wants to be on the team that is the last team standing at the championship game, this sport is so much more than just that. Play softball not to just eventually grow to pitch 70mph and hit 20 bombs in a season. Play softball because it grows you together as a family and each individual as a family. Along the way, be genuinely excited for teammates who get the big hit, the big strikeout or the big verbal commitment. Remember karma is a real thing. No matter how good you are, never stop learning. Never stop being appreciative. The schedules and commitments can get a little crazy, but always remember to take a step back and see something bigger than the scoreboard. Big things are ahead of you….

YOU Are YOUR Best Pitching Coach

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!

Softball Pitching Tips 101

Was just going back through old videos and came across this pitching mechanics one that has basic tips to help you out a long the way. What I love when I look back over this video is the fact that no matter what age you are at, you can always re-learn from going back over basic fundamentals and make sure your body is in check.

I would love to hear your feedback. Here is what others have said:

Thank you, you helped so much! I am 12 and I am going to try to be a pitcher for the fall at my school. I love how you say stuff like “it is just like opening a doorknob” those tips help sooo much!

-Rebecca S

This video helped me alot i am a 12 year old going into 12 -15 and im a pitcher thankyou so much ur amazing!!! 🙂

-SoftballPitcher22

This helped soo much! im in 7th grade and working on my pitching. i just wish i had a softball when i watched to remember where my hand goes! thanks team express!!

– Anna Williams

Thank-you I’m really new at pitching.This video is helping me with the basics.I am 12 and trying to become a good pitcher.I CAN DO. THIS!! 🙂

-pancakelover5656

 

Leave your comments below

Sometimes, You’re a Loser

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 teamA 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.

If you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments or on Facebook.

Understanding The Strike Zone – As a Hitter

A discrepancy that comes up in about 90% of all games is the umpire’s strike zone.  Pitchers complain about it.  Hitters shake their heads in the box about it.  Coaches whine about it.  And parents in the stands let the umpire know exactly what they think about the zone.

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 his/her zone.  You can actually use an umpire’s strike zone to your advantage if you look at it as an opportunity instead of disadvantage…

As a hitter..

Recognize if the umpire has a wide zone (calls a lot of strikes) or small zone (doesn’t call a lot of strikes).  You can recognize this by paying attention to the first couple of innings when you are in the dugout or out in the field.  Even when you are not up to bat, you always need to be paying attention to your surroundings.  If you do not hit at the top of the order, or if you are a hitter who did not start the game, your job is to pay attention to your teammates at-bats and recognize where exactly the umpire is calling strikes, and where he is not. Sometimes one side of the plate might be wider than the other side.  Sometimes he may be an umpire that has a lower strike zone.

Small zone

A game should be controlled by the offenses when there is a small strike zone.  Games with small zones usually lead to higher scoring games.  When there is a small zone being presented, it’s your job as a hitter to have patience at the plate.  With a smaller zone, you change your game plan and approach to not be as aggressive, especially in an important situation.  You want to challenge the pitcher to throw strikes.  Don’t help her out until she proves that she can find the umpire’s strike zone consistently. With a smaller strike zone, comes more walks.  It’s important to pay attention to the hitter in front of you.  Did the pitcher just walk that hitter on 4 straight pitches?  If she did, then you probably should not swing at the first pitch of your at bat, since clearly that pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone.

Finding a way on base is critical in our game.  Realize that a walk is just as valuable as a hit.  It may not seem the same to you as a hitter statistics wise, but taking that walk puts you 60 feet closer to scoring than you were before you started your at bat.  Have patience at the plate, and definitely challenge yourself not to swing out of the zone.

When you’re up to bat, look for a mistake in your at bat.  With a smaller strike zone comes more added pressure to the pitcher, not the hitter.  With added pressure, a pitcher is more likely to be more tense and frustrated.  She will probably start aiming the ball a little bit more trying to find the strike zone, and she is going to be more likely to come over the heart of the plate.  LOOK FOR THIS MISTAKE.  Don’t fall asleep at the plate just because a pitcher is throwing more balls than strikes.  Be ready to hit.

In the dugout, be paying attention to the pitcher’s body language.  If she is getting down on herself and showing that she is not confident with what she is throwing, then it’s even more important to not help her out in your at bat.  Don’t give a pitcher any confidence when she is struggling to find the zone by helping her out and swinging at a pitch that is not a strike.  That gives her a little bit of positive energy and could be exactly what she needs to get back into her groove. When a pitcher is struggling, offensively, it’s your job to keep her struggling.

Wide zone

A wide strike zone can be a hitter’s worse nightmare.  If the umpire is going to have a wider zone, you can be a little bit more aggressive.  You still never want to get out of your true strike zone.  If an umpire strikes you out on a pitch that was clearly not a strike, don’t get discouraged or consider it a failure.  Don’t let that at bat take you out of your next at bat, and more importantly, don’t let the wide strike zone carry over into the next game and get you out of your zone.

When I was playing and there was an umpire with a wide zone, I made it my goal to get not get 2 strikes.  I wanted to hit a strike early in the count so that the umpire didn’t even have a chance to strike me out! YOU can control hitting early in the count. You CAN’T control the umpire calling you out on a pitch that is out of the zone.  So be aggressive early in the count so that you get a better pitch to hit, and you don’t stand a chance of getting struck out on a pitch that is out of your zone.

Also, if an umpire has a wider zone, DON’T SHOW EMOTION.  Players show emotion at the plate when they get strikes called against them just to make sure everyone else knows who’s watching that they didn’t think it was a strike.  Control your emotions.  Don’t let your opponent know that something is wrong with you – that fuels them and let’s them think they have you right where they want you.  If you’re showing body language (i.e. rolling eyes, shaking head) after a certain pitch, and I am pitching against you, I am probably going to throw you that exact same pitch again, since you just clearly showed me disgust after the umpire called that strike against you. Why would I throw you anything else? Clearly you are not looking to hit that pitch that you were just shaking your head about…

Understand which part of the plate the umpire is being “wide” on.  For example: Is it the outside pitch to a right handed hitter that he’s calling way off the plate? If this is the case you have 2 options: 1) Go up looking for an INSIDE pitch, if the pitcher is still showing you that she is working on that side of the plate. 2) If the pitcher is controlling the outside corner because that of where the umpire keeps calling it, crowd the plate the very most you can, and take away that outside pitch so that it doesn’t seem as far outside to you.  The same can be applied for the inside corner by backing way off the plate and looking for that pitch.  If an umpire has a higher strike zone, it’s important to not swing at pitches that are too far high and out of your zone.  Something I did when facing a pitcher who threw higher pitches in the zone was to hold my hands a little bit higher when I was in my stance before the pitch was thrown; this adjustment helped me keep my hands on top the ball so that I was not as likely to pop up.  This was a small adjustment on my part to be able to able to win the “battle.” Your job is to win the battle and do whatever it takes to come out on top – no excuses necessary.

The best players are going to be able to adjust during the game, no matter what is thrown at them!  Softball is a game of adjustments.

Instead of complaining about a wide zone, be proactive in practicing during the week about the approach you will take as a hitter or as a team if you come up against an umpire with a wide strike zone.  It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.  By practicing this, you’re turning what some think as a disadvantage, into something you can feel more confident about at bat when it happens in a game.  Have the discussion before it happens about how your approach changes at the plate when facing different umpires.  An umpire is never the one who comes away with a win in the win column at the end of the game.  By letting the umpire beat you, you indirectly are letting the other team beat you.  Quit the excuses, and use an umpire to your advantage when you’re up at the plate by adjusting how YOU approach YOUR at bat.

 

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